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Circus At Home

Art of the Circus: Costumes and Set Design

By now, you’ve learned a bunch of tricks and skills to perform for family and friends on Friday, so today, you’ll put it all together. Dust off your old Halloween costumes or dig in the back of the closet because you’ll be using today to create your costumes and stage set. With inspiration from real circus performers and a little history of Big Top costuming, who knows what you’ll come up with?

what you’ll need

  • A computer, tablet, or mobile phone and access to the internet
  • Markers, pens, or colored pencils
  • Paper or cardboard, colorful scraps of paper, and a sketchbook or blank paper
  • Miscellaneous costume items (old clothes, Halloween costumes, hats, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous art supplies (sequins, pom-poms, whatever you've got!)
  • Blankets

For optional face paint:

  • Cornstarch, flour, or baby powder
  • Face lotion
  • Baby oil or vegetable oil
  • Nontoxic, washable paints
  • Water
  • A bowl and spoon
  • Plastic containers for storage (Tupperware or old takeout containers will work)



Ask About Today

Tell me about the different ways we see "art" in the circus.

Dinner Discussion

A costume can transform someone from a regular person to something magical. How do you feel in a costume during Halloween or at a costume party? Do you behave differently in disguise? Share a story.

Skip the Ads

Unfortunately, online videos often start with short advertisements. Remind your campers to click the "Skip" button as soon as they can to move ahead to the video.


15-30 minutes

There is a reason they call them the circus "arts." Performance, expression, design, ingenuity—the circus has everything from architectural creativity and masterful storytelling to ornate costumes and transformative makeup.


Makeup Magic

Circus performers make the whole thing look easy, but that's part of the magic. Behind the scenes, as you know, there's plenty of hard work. At Cirque du Soleil, all of the artists even do their own makeup. Check out how these multi-talented acrobats, dancers, and clowns moonlight as makeup artists.


Remember: Online videos often start with advertisements. (Annoying, we agree!) Click the "Skip" button as soon as you can to move ahead to the video.


Meet the Circus Kids

In this longer documentary, you'll meet a group of kids for whom the hard work of circus life is no mystery—because they've grown up with it.

For younger explorers

Genius Juggling

Circus artists seem to do the impossible. Watch this incredible juggling act from the Cirque du Soleil show "La Nouba."

For younger explorers

Up, Up, and Away!

Next, fly in the air with this aerial hoop act from the Cirque du Soleil show "Quidam."


60-120 minutes

Get a mirror ready...it's time to create your own circus look.


Costume Craziness

Think about what each character in your circus might wear, then draw your designs in a journal or on a piece of paper. Will you transform from clown to tutu-wearing acrobat? What materials will you use? There is a lot you can do with old Halloween costumes, clothes from the back of the closet, and other things you can find around the house.


DIY Face Paint

If you want to add makeup to your show, make sure to ask a parent or caretaker's permission first—then take a look at this simple recipe for homemade, non-toxic face paint. When you're done experimenting, save the rest of your face paint in plastic containers (old takeout containers will work) so you have some left for tomorrow's performance.


Note on Ingredients: If you have any allergies or skin sensitivities, be sure to sure only ingredients that are safe for you. And if you don't have cornstarch, regular flour or baby powder can be used as a substitute. Before you start, remember to ask for permission and mix your paint in a place where it's okay to make a mess!


Set the Scene

What’s a circus without a stage or center ring? It's time to design your circus set. Spend some time making a backdrop. Start with some cardboard and add colorful paper, designs, and anything else you want to make it your own.

For younger explorers

Make a Blanket Tent

Every circus needs a tent. There are lots of ways to make a circus tent in your home. Ask an adult or big sib to help you make the circus tent of your dreams. This video has some helpful ideas for making blanket tents in the house. Once your tent is up, practice your circus routines under your very own "big top."


15-30 minutes

Costumes are a huge part of bringing a circus to life. Read on to learn more about the history and magic of circus costumery.


A Costume for Everyone

Famous circus costume designer Miles White imagined and created costumes for clowns, elephants, and just about everyone in-between for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Learn more and explore this exhibit of his costumes at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.


10,000 Costumes?!

The Centre national du costume de scène (CNCS, or the National Museum of Stage Costume) in France is home to 10,000 costumes and accessories! (That's a lot of fancy outfits.) Find some inspiration by exploring this exhibit, where you can take a look at costumes from some of the most famous circuses in the world.

For younger explorers

21 Elephants and Still Standing

Read along with 21 Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince and Francois Roca, which tells the true story of when famous circus founder, P.T. Barnum, tested the strength of the Brooklyn Bridge...with elephants.


30-60 minutes

Add a few more tricks to your circus bag before the big show tomorrow.


Next-Level Circus Tricks

Choose one or two activities from this amazing list of at-home circus tricks from Twisted Orbit and give them a try. And don't forget, if these tricks were easy, they wouldn’t be AWESOME. Practice and be kind to yourself.

For younger explorers

You're the Ringmaster

The ringmaster is the director of the whole circus. Imagine you're the director of your own circus and your toys are the performers. Tell an imaginary audience all about your show and have your toys perform the circus acts.


45-90 minutes

Behind every great performance, there's plenty of rehearsal.


The Final Rehearsal

Get up and do a run-through of your entire show! A run-through means you practice the show from start to finish, as though you have a full audience. Use this time to rehearse your juggling, stilt walking, clowning, or tightrope performances. All costumes, props, and backdrops should be set up and ready to go (but skip the makeup, since you'll need it for tomorrow).

Challenge Yourself: How can your show be even better? When you’re done, ask yourself what went well and what you can do better tomorrow. Spend some extra time practicing any tricky parts.

more to explore

15-30 minutes

Can't get enough of the circus arts? Explore some more!


More Magic

Magic is also an art form. Check out these 20 magic tricks (and with adult supervision and permission, you can even try some of them).


Ask Your Parents: One of these tricks contains matches. Please do not try any of these without parental supervision!


The Elephant Game

If you’ve got a big family (5 people or more), play the “Elephant Game” together. This video shows you how.


Need a Team? Invite grandparents, other remote family members, or friends to try this activity with you over Zoom or FaceTime. Can you make a socially distanced elephant?