Over the weekend I payed a visit to Steve Worth's Animation Archive and he kindly let me take snapshots of a few posters in his oversized circus book.
One of my favorite pictures was of a lion taming act (above). I saw acts like that when I was a kid and they really did take place in a big circular cage and it really did contain lots of cats at the same time, though not as many as in the poster. Working with that many cats is dangerous since it's hard to avoid turning your back on them, and the poor cats are probably irritable from being so close to each other.
And talk about crowding...pity the humans as well as the animals! People are shoulder to shoulder in these pictures. Actually, in spite of the inconvenience, I believe in funneling crowds through relatively narrow spaces if it can be done safely. It makes getting where you're going an adventure and provides lots of opportunities for people watching. You just need to have lots of diversions along the way.
I also like the fact that the cages are on raised platforms close to the pedestrians, and not way back in the distance on a flat floor.
I wonder why circuses ran into trouble. There are probably lots of reasons, one of which might be competition from carnivals. Carnivals are cheaper to mount because they put more emphasis on sideshows and rides. People like sideshows.
They want to see acts up close. When you sit in a gallery in a giant tent or a stadium you're too far removed from things. Of course, you're less likely to encounter skilled performers in a sideshow.
exaggerated the number of performers...