Kate Holmes

Department: Drama
Discipline: Drama

Project Summary

In my AHRC funded thesis I argue that female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s contributed to strength being absorbed into some stereotypes of femininity at a time when attitudes to femininity were changing. These women were glamorised when performing on aerial equipment suspended above circus rings or vaudeville and variety stages, yet, their celebrity has generally been forgotten. Traditional narratives of circus history consider the 1920s to be a period of decline in both the USA and UK and I re-evaluate circus history using audience capacity and available audience figures to reconsider circus as the largest mass live entertainment of the period.

Because these women were very much stars of their time, I have analysed their feats in light of the fashionable 'modern girl' stereotype and the increasing popularity of female exercise. I have also examined how aerial celebrity is distinguished from other forms of celebrity due to the special relationship between risk and skill. In doing so, I have been able to make more general statements about the form, such as how risk and skill are performed and the impression of weightlessness constructed.

Supervisory Team

First supervisor: Professor Kate Newey

​Second supervisor: Dr Adrian Curtin

Wider Research Interests

Contemporary circus, performance histories (including those that involve embodied practices), and archives (including processes of acquisition/selection, as materials with the potential to inspire new artworks and embodied responses to the physical archival materials etc).