Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

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Notch 8
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Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by Notch 8 » Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:24 am

Saturday, January 14, 2017 09:20PM

ELLENTON, Florida --
After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on "The Greatest Show on Earth." The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

"There isn't any one thing," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. "This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family."

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn't have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

"The competitor in many ways is time," said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks - such as providing a traveling school for performers' children- are throwbacks to another era. "It's a different model that we can't see how it works in today's world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you've got all these things working against it."

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment - a tiger act - clocking in at 12 minutes.

"Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes," he said.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company's chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.

By the time the elephants were removed, public opinion had shifted somewhat. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers, as did Oakland, California. The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a "dramatic drop" in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn't want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

"We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants," she said. "We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role."

The Felds say their existing animals - lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas - will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company's other, profitable shows - it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things - but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.

In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.

"We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren't successful in finding the solution," said Kenneth Feld.

http://abc7chicago.com/entertainment/ri ... s/1702905/

I have ZERO respect for Liberals... afterall..,. PETA stands for People eating tasty Animals !
RBB Red Train leaving e/b Garrett Indiana after a brief stop to feed and water the animals

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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by D.L. » Sun Jan 15, 2017 12:58 pm

:x Another example of the current stupidity that runs rampart in this country now. What a shame.

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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by Hotbox » Tue Jan 17, 2017 5:12 pm

Notch 8 wrote:

I have ZERO respect for Liberals...
Must one be "liberal" to oppose animal abuse?

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Notch 8
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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by Notch 8 » Tue Jan 17, 2017 7:19 pm

Hotbox wrote:
Must one be "liberal" to oppose animal abuse?
No, But I still stand with my original statement. Feld Entertainment spent a fortune fighting PETA.. PETA has an unlimited budget and can break anyone they choose to go after... and they seem to only be warming up ! I also see what happens to Bull Elephants that live in the wild too..

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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by rrnut282 » Fri Jan 20, 2017 6:06 pm

If only I could get treated as well as some of those poor abused animals. :roll:

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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by Hotbox » Mon Jan 23, 2017 4:15 pm

Notch 8 wrote: PETA has an unlimited budget and can break anyone they choose to go after... and they seem to only be warming up .
I've seen PETA do a few things that really made me roll my eyes. As with many organizations I believe they meant well when they started out, but later suffered from what I call "the septic tank" syndrome (where the really big ones just naturally float to the top) They become more enamored with the power they see themselves to have than they do with the organization's original mission statement.

It's sad to see Ringling Bros shuttered. But, having read up on the business dealings of many of the circuses popular in America during the last century or so, I can assure you that they are no "white knight" themselves.

"Live by the sword, die by the sword" is a fitting epitaph.

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Re: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Post by Notch 8 » Sun May 21, 2017 11:46 am

With the wave of a hand it is gone and never to return

"Damn everything but the circus!"

— E.E. Cummings

It began in 1871 as P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome. It survived the Depression, two world wars and the new media of its time.

But on May 21, the world's most historic circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, will shut down after failing to sufficiently dazzle the children of the smartphone age and to overcome the fierce opposition of the animal rights movement, which does not want to see animals in the circus.

Backstage and from the bleachers during a four-day run in Washington, the frenzied spectacle of today is still rooted in its 19th century traditions, with a dash of the modern mixed in. Clowns flop. Trapezists fly. Wild animals jump. Contortionists bend. Horses gallop. Tightrope walkers wobble.

But ticket sales, which had been declining for a decade, plummeted last year, when the elephants left the ring for the last time. Feld Entertainment in Manatee County, which owns Ringling, spent years battling animal rights groups and accusations of elephant abuse. The circus never lost in court; it won a total of $25 million in two settlements from animal rights groups and beat back allegations that it had mistreated elephants with chains and bullhooks.

"We won in court — and obviously in the court of public opinion, we didn't prevail," said Kenneth Feld, the 69-year-old chairman and chief executive of Feld Entertainment, which bought the circus in 1967. In an unforgiving marketplace, he said, it just became too hard for the circus to hold on to its most crucial fans: wide-eyed kids and their nostalgic parents.

Now, in its last days, the men and women who have dedicated years to an enterprise that felt eternal are looking back with pride, grief and a sense of disbelief that "the greatest show on Earth" is going dark for good.

The ringmaster

There is no place like the backstage of a circus. Unicyclists weave past motorcyclists who rev up to roll into their globe of steel. Clowns in slapstick shoes cross paths with lions waiting in cages for their cues. Acrobats sidestep trapezists who pull up on a practice bar. Poodles in a wagon zip by equestrians who jog in place next to their horses.

Above it all, literally, stands the ringmaster — Johnathan Lee Iverson, the 6-foot, 5-inch man who became the first African-American and, at 41, the youngest person in Ringling history to don the bedazzled top hat and tails. (Last year, a woman stepped in as ringmaster for the first time in the other show.) With his megaphone tenor and towering presence, Iverson opens the circus on a float — a rocket ship, in this case.

These days, with the circus ambling toward its final farewell, Iverson does less presiding than marveling and philosophizing over this "theater of the impossible." He has spent 18 years and five months as ringmaster with Ringling; the circus is where he got married, welcomed a son and daughter (who are now in the show), saw the world unfurl through the window of a train (his home) and adopted an extended family of international circus performers.

"I wear the moniker of circus freak with pride," said Iverson, who grew up in Manhattan and sang with the Boys Choir of Harlem.

As for his own future, opera may lure him back. A talk show would be wonderful. Playwriting is a possibility.

But Iverson also carries traces of disappointment. The way he sees it, Feld Entertainment should have used a little more razzmatazz in its publicity and marketing — concepts that P.T. Barnum practically invented — particularly on the "World Wide Web," as he calls it, to save the circus and counter the narrative of the animal rights groups.

"We are selling miracles," Iverson said. "I don't care how old you get, how much technology advances, people will always be enamored with other people flying and doing daring things."

The animal trainer

The first thing Alexander Lacey, Ringling's heartthrob animal trainer, does every morning after he feeds and waters the 15 big cats he has raised since birth is gauge their mood. Who is grouchy? Is a female in heat? Does Max the tiger's growl mean he's hungry or tired? Is Goldie the lion's penchant for laziness just that, or something more?

"You have to really learn to read them," said Lacey, 41, who was born in England into a lion- and tiger-training family. "Once you understand your animals so well, there is no reason to be scared of them, because you are never going to put yourself in a position where it is dangerous."

The worst injuries he has suffered are scars and scratches. On and off the ring, he hugs many of his lions and tigers and, with Masai, a male lion, he kisses him on the mouth and lets the lion lie on top of him. In his last act, he stuck his head in Masai's mouth.

"His breath doesn't smell, but if he burped, I was green by the time I came out," said Lacey, whose quips backstage are as common as clown gags onstage.

Like so many other Ringling performers, his family springs from the circus. His mother and father ran a zoo in Chester, England, until he was 6. Then they ran a circus and started breeding big cats.

At 12, their son announced that he wanted to be a lion trainer. "Everyone does," his father replied. He suggested his son prove his dedication: He told him to care for the animals and pick up their poop for five years. Lacey obliged. At 21, he finally took the stage with his own lions and tigers.

Wild animals at Ringling have long sparked protest. In 1925, the Ringling Bros. dropped the acts because "the impression has been spread that wild animals are taught their tricks by cruel methods," they told the New York Times. They changed their minds when legendary lion tamer Clyde Beatty was hired in 1931.

Beatty's whip, pistol and chair are long gone. Gunther Gebel-Williams, the trainer and performer, changed the culture of animal training, one that Lacey embraces. Starting at 8 months, the lions and tigers learn through a system of meat treats, guides (a thin pole) and repetition. Lacey puts his nose in their mouth and blows when they are teeny to get them used to the feel. As they grow, his face goes in deeper. Two years later, they perform, doing jumps, lying down, rolling over.

He notices which tiger stays up the longest on hind legs when they play, and assigns them that trick. The less social ones he teaches to fake-attack onstage. They know to snarl and wave their paws to draw oohs and applause.

"Audiences want to be excited a little bit," he said. "Everybody wants to see the trapeze guy fall off and the lion trainer killed."

The cossack riders

The act never fails to draw gasps and cheers. Tatiana Tchalabaeva hangs upside down off her horse, Bunny, one strap across her foot, her head inches from the ground. Two men ride horses side by side at a gallop as a woman straddles them, one foot on each man's shoulders. It seems a fall could come at any moment.

Equestrianism was a building block of Ringling, along with clowns and acrobats. For Tchalabaeva and the other 15 equestrians, who come mostly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mexico, the job is about pushing boundaries. And that requires constant work. (The person in charge is her husband, Kanat, the trainer.)

"We try to keep our act at a very, very high level," said Tchalabaeva, 43, with her Russian lilt, as she waited to put on her flowing green costume for the role of the evil Queen Tatiana. "We are creating something new every day."

Broken bones, stitches and bruises are part of the job, even though the equestrians learn to roll away from horses to avoid being crushed. Horses can trip, sending riders flying. Riders can mistime the speed of a horse and fall.

It is dangerous and exhausting work. Staying fit is crucial. "Horses require a lot of your strength," she said. "To do it, flawlessly and nice and easy looking, you have to be in great shape."

Caring for the horses is a full-time job. The equestrians exercise them, visit them in the barns, feed them treats and rub their noses. The result can be seen backstage. Fourteen horses, lined up two by two, look serene before racing into the ring.

Tchalabaeva, who started as a rhythmic gymnast, has spent 13 years at Ringling, on and off, and her two daughters, 7 and 14, have grown up here. When news spread that the circus was closing, she was in shock. Her children wept. This is home.

"You know, it's the best show in the world; it's everybody's goal and dream," she said. "It's like underneath, the floor, being taken out of you."

She is bitter about the loss of the elephants and the virulence of the animal rights groups, she said. She recounted spending $10,000 on surgery to save a horse badly injured by another stallion. It was misrepresented by animal rights groups as a tale of abuse, she said.

"To me, I wish more people would believe us and protect us and support us," she said, her voice cracking. "If I can be a spokesman for that, believe me, I will go anywhere I need to go."

The clown

Davis Vassallo paints red cheeks on his daughter, then moves over to her lips, getting her ready to play a child version of his character. Adriana is 7. It is a family business, clowning, and she is its fifth generation.

"My father and grandfather were clowns in a little circus in Italy," said Vassallo, 37, the head clown. "My father was an acrobat and a clown because a clown needs to do a little bit of everything."

If elephants were Ringling's most famous icons, clowns embody its soul.

"We go out there and make people forget about their problems," said Vassallo, who has been with Ringling for four years. "And then we forget our own problems. We live for that.''

Right before a show, Vassallo, who spent his childhood in Italy shuffling from town to town, changing schools every time, empties his mind. He thinks about nothing, and then gauges the audience. "You can't plan clown gags," he said.

Clowns have always been multitaskers, a survival technique. Vassallo is an acrobat and a tightrope walker, which his father taught him. In the show, he walks the tightrope, performing several sitting somersaults, and does a handstand atop a 47-foot sway pole.

Vassallo is a "sweet clown" because he was told he has a sweet face. Even for a clown, it's hard to cut against type. And he wears little makeup. ("I've been told I look stupid in makeup," he said, laughing.) Mimicry is his signature. He uses his expressive face and, in this show, his squeaky voice to embody a character.

Soon, he will move on, as he always has, to another circus, or perhaps theater. With sawdust in his lineage, walking away is impossible. "Every time I go home, I get bored," he said. "That's when you realize you love your job."

After 146-year run nears end, Ringling Bros. performers left with pride,

Pictures taken just west of Hicksville Ohio.
The end of an Era.jpg

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