Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck! Dramaturgy

Student Author(s)

Rachel Kennedy

Faculty Mentor(s)

Professor Michelle Bombe, Theatre

Document Type


Event Date



In the early 20th Century, circuses were one of the central sources of entertainment in Midwestern America. One of the most prominent circuses was the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus, known for their talented clowns and exciting animal acts. However, early in the morning of June 22, 1918, disaster struck as an empty military train crashed into the Hagenbeck-Wallace train as they passed through Hammond, Indiana. This crash left eighty-six of the circus members dead and another 127 injured. Due to poor record keeping in the circus, the vast majority of the deceased were left unnamed. Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck! is a play that brings to light the story of the Hagenbeck-Wallace train wreck that occurred in 1918 by giving life to performers that could have perished in the crash. As dramaturge for Hope College’s production of Roustabout, I explored how the circus culture in the 20th century influenced the Hagenbeck-Wallace train wreck and its aftermath. I looked at the performers, the animals, the advertisements, and the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus itself to find answers.

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