STILL A HARD-KNOCK LIFE. The Public Broadcasting System followed the Big Apple Circus during the 2008-2009 tour, producing a six hour series, Circus, that aired recently. The circus is a non-profit organization (by design, unlike many of the small shows of the late nineteenth century) featuring relatively few animal acts (the broadcast showed a canine comedy act and a rosinback, perhaps the absence of an elephant is a nod to modern sensibilities.)
That noted, the kinker's lot is still an endurance test, with injuries in rehearsal or performance, artistic directors seeking to cut a few seconds out of each act to step up the pace, and performers coming and going. You don't just patch together a trapeze act out of whatever aerialists happen to be available at the time.
The roustabouts aren't doubled up in three-high bunks in a converted coach anymore; they now have crosswise compartments in semitrailers (the show does not show these being used as quarters on the jump, although it's likely that some show hands have the responsibility of driving the tractors) The performers, often long-time circus families, have motor homes now, instead of the staterooms of the train circus.
One sub-plot in the series was the Circus School, a form of organized home-schooling for staffers' children. One of the children finished high school that season, and enrolled at Illinois State. To join the circus. The things you learn ... there's a performance coming up weekend of April 15-16, 2011.
(Northern Illinois steelband performs on April 17. The featured guests for that concert will be Miami of Ohio's steelband.)