This reply from David Carlyon to my earlier posting, "Recipe for Revival: Tough Love for Troubled Big Tops" is so interesting, that I am reprinting it here in full.
From David Carlyon:
On June 15, in Steps #1 and #8 of “Recipe for Revival,” you put your finger on perhaps the most important element of circus: Structure. Aristotle called it plot, though that means more than the ordinary sense of story. Instead it's the underlying architecture that the audience shouldn't notice but pulls together everything that they DO notice. Another way of putting it is internal rhythm, similar to your point about pacing. With a good structure / plot / internal rhythm, each moment is a surprise and yet somehow seems to flow inevitably from what came before. That's true in good plays, good movies, good dances, and good circuses. (It has interesting parallels to the excitement of sports too.)
That flow doesn't necessarily play on a conscious level. Compare Broadway: People may come out praising a favorite song or great singer or funny comedian but if it's not all tied together well, they're unsatisfied, at a level below thought. It's that flow, based on structure / plot, that excites us, and makes us want to return.
It may also be the most neglected element of circus. I believe Cirque du Soleil made such a smash because it employed structure / plot so well at a time when many circuses ignored it.
It applies to clowning too. I was a Ringling clown out of Clown College, and though some lump us all together (apply the cookie-cutter criticism?) as cookie-cutter clowns, working on the show offered opportunities to learn. And as a clown who became an actor and director, I know that many clown gags fall flat because they simply string together a series of bits, rather than constructing a structure / plot with pacing.
This element is so crucial that a circus could probably overcome concession sales (steps #2 and #3), audience participation (#4), unspectacular acts (#10), or even a story (#12), as long as the structure / plot / internal rhythm is strong enough.
[Carlyon is the author of Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of]