Saturdays from 8 January, 9.30pm on Documentary Channel

Circus is a landmark documentary series which combines breath-taking action with intimate portraits of circus life throughout a year in the life of the world-renowned Big Apple Circus. Not just under the big top but far beyond it – into what circus folk call “the back lot,” the place where the trailers are parked and the real heart of the circus beats.  

Constantly in motion, startlingly insular and completely interdependent for months on end, the circus community demands a high level of sociability, diplomacy and flat-out patience.  As the members of Big Apple Circus share their fears and frustrations, triumphs and failures, the drama that unfolds will feed our curiosity about a world so different from our own, while simultaneously appealing to our shared humanity. Walden, NY is home base of the Big Apple Circus, where every summer the sets are built, the costumes fitted, and essentially, where the new show is put together before it goes on the road. A circus season is a lesson in gruelling predictability.

It’s performing the same act over and over again. It’s packing up the trailer, stuffing the big top into a truck, and moving to another city. It’s waking up in the same trailer, but in a different city, just to repeat what you did the day before. But in the midst of all this hard work and monotony are magical moments that spring up like mushrooms after a hard rain.

Some of these special memories come under the hot glare of the circus lights, but many happen in the back lot or on the city streets that play host (and semi-permanent home) to the personalities and talents that compose a circus family. As the performers and crew of this 150-member company prepare to set off on their year-long, 350-show, town-to-town tour, we introduce our central cast of characters – a newbie clown who wears his heart on his sleeve, the zany, larger-than-life director of this year’s show, the alluring all-female trapeze group who look great on the platform but can’t seem to catch their tricks, and the rough stock guys of the ring crew, who come from troubled pasts but are looking for a fresh start.

Circus is created, executive produced and directed by Emmy and Sundance award-winning film-makers Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre. After their previous award winning documentary Carrier (which was about life aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz) ended, they were unsure what to do. So they did what many of us dream to do – they ran away and joined the circus.