Running away to join the circus will not be as easy as it once was.
With the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus closing its tent flaps forever, it is hard to know who will fill the void left by the “Greatest show on earth.” I wrote about the clown shortage a couple of years ago, but little did I know, that circuses were feeling the pinch of elephant shortages. (To say nothing of the big cats and dare-devil performers).
With PETA successfully calling out mistreatment of animals and the federal government not allowing Asian or African elephants to be imported into the United States, the large costumes and headgear remain in wardrobe.
But since the show must go on, Shrine Circuses around the country are making sure there is still the opportunity for families to share in the spectacle and delights of days gone by. Unfortunately, the stands are not always full. The crowd of enthusiasts has dwindled, and the elephants are getting a bit long in the tooth.
Touring from Flint to Fort Worth, from LaCrosse to Milwaukee to Madison, the circuses are greeted with many fans who want to recapture their childhood experiences and introduce yet another generation to the excitement of live, up close entertainment that includes tightrope walking and tigers. Some of the exotic animals may be a little tired, but they are enchanting and breathtaking none the less. The smell alone can capture your attention and the spectacle of death defying acts keeps everyone enthralled.
While two of Ringling Brothers units will end their 146 year run in Providence , Rhode Island, May 7 and Uniondale, New York, May 21, other circuses are booked until 2020. After that there is a great unknown.
Everyone has a circus memory. One young family took their children to Milwaukee Shrine Circus and had a chance to relive their own memories of going with their parents and grandparents. One memory was of the huge crowds and packed stands. This year it was a sparse showing.
Pam remembers fondly the acrobats and the animals, and they still keep her on the edge of her seat. Her two daughters were totally taken with the whole show. Kiley, age 7, loved the acrobats and Aubry loved everything.
The couple agreed that the shame is in the fact that upcoming generations won’t be able to experience the family entertainment. The variety of acts keeps it moving. The costumes and sparkle up close are forever embedded in our memories.
The grandness of the arrival and departure of the circus are shows in themselves. I took the boys to the setup of the tents more than once when the circus came to the fairgrounds. We would get up early in the morning, pack a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast with juice boxes and off we’d go. This allowed us to see what occurs before the show itself. The unloading of the animals was the best treat of all.
Yes, they were caged and looked old, worn out and hungry even then, but that is the closest we ever got to wild animals of such majestic proportions. To say nothing of the size and grandeur of the elephants.
The setting up of the tent, done by men working together pulling the ropes all at the same time was impressive to say the least. Breaking it all down wasn’t as much fun, but sometimes there was loose change on the ground or a lost trinket making it a bit more interesting.
Whether you find the circus barbaric and demeaning to man and animals; or spectacular in only the way of the greatest show on earth, the end of an era is near. So, if you want one more viewing, the time is now. Founded by five brothers in rural Wisconsin, we still hold dear much of the performance and showmanship.
Who knew this would all morph into the global phenomenon Cirque du Soleil, but we can all miss the clown car.
As an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications, Kay Stellpflug challenges companies, organizations, and individuals to stretch. She lives in, works in and loves Beaver Dam.