Many have heard by now that the Ringling Brothers circus will no longer be performing shows after May. I have already seen a lot of commentary on social media today regarding that decision, but I also happen to know someone who worked on that show. It provided a different perspective to the whole thing. The following is a guest post from my husband about what it means for this era to end.
As I emerged from our bedroom this morning, my wife was the first to tell me the news. I was in disbelief for a moment. The place I called home for over three years and made my living was shutting down. The Greatest Show on Earth, a.k.a. Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was going to close after 146 years on the road. I thought about many things today as the day went on. Read many articles and well wishes. My Facebook feed was filled with old friends commenting and posting and sharing stories and photos from their time with the show.
I myself spent a large portion of my time as an audio engineer mixing the live band for the show. There aren’t any shows left like this on the road. With a train to transport it, performers take two days to set up a show that typically runs about a week. A spectacle if ever there was one that contained—at one point—tigers and elephants, acrobats and clowns, horses and camels, tightrope walkers, high flyers, and countless other wonders of human performance. To say this show will be missed is an understatement. My only wish is that my young children could have seen the place where their dad worked several years ago.
This was no real surprise and I don’t blame the owners of the show for closing the show. It wasn’t the owners who killed the circus; it was false accusations, changing public opinion, and kids who are inundated with media. When asked over and over again about how the animals were treated on the show, I often joked that they were treated better than the humans. This wasn’t far from the truth. Often times the animals had better quarters, full veterinary care, and meals that a king (if you were an elephant that is) would envy.
I believe that had the elephants stayed on the show, it would have helped, but may have only prolonged the inevitable. As our society continues to change and become more oversaturated with entertainment, true art forms lose their impact and meaning on us. While there are other shows out there filled with acrobatic feats, there are none as long-lived and so-loved as RBBB Circus.
I find myself thinking back to my days living on the train, going from city to city with several hundred performers, crew, and support staff. Setting up the largest traveling show on the planet and mixing a live band in front of thousands of audience members was a thrill. One that now, fewer and fewer will be able to say they had the opportunity to do.
I think of all the performers and crew—as one article pointed out—who will be out of homes as well as jobs. When you work on the circus, you live on the circus. I selfishly look at my kids and am sad. They will never get to see the elephants come in to the city walking in a parade to get to the arena. I will no longer be able to see some of my friends as they travel through town yet another time. In May, when The Greatest Show on Earth performs its last performance, the world will lose a great wonder. Good night Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. May all your days be circus days!