A Visit to the Circus – Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey open in Orlando

Filed under: Entertainment,Orlando Events |

Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey opened their first of seven shows at the Amway Center in Orlando last night. I’d never been to an American style circus show before so I was interested to see how things went compared to the circus I had seen in the UK. Off memory, and it’s a long one, I recall visiting Blackpool every Easter and one of our evening trips would be to Billy Smart’s circus.

For those not familiar with Billy Smart, he was a showman and fairground proprietor who bought a circus in 1946. The circus toured alongside Smart’s funfair and on occasion the four masted Big Top tents blew down and the circus carried out its performances in the open air! Smart was also a familiar figure in the gossip columns of the 1950s and 1960s as a well-known performer and eligible bachelor: His publicized liaisons included celebrities such as Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and Shirley Bassey.

A Billy Smart circus would usually open with a clown act and then slowly build the audience excitement to a crescendo as many fabulous acts took the stage to wow the audience.  The shows menagerie carried more than 40 horses, 15 elephants, and a large variety of exotic and wild animals and every Christmas folks in the United Kingdom would look forward to the special televised circus show Billy Smart’s Christmas Spectacular.

The one major difference I noticed immediately was how the drama started immediately. Once the introductions and national anthem were played, the show started with a bang as “The Globe of Steel” was brought into the arena and then the superb Torres family proceeded to amaze the audience as up to eight motorbike riders performed in a 16 foot sphere at speeds up to 65 mph. It was exhilarating to watch as more and more riders were added to the mix.

After that, we then enjoyed the lion and tiger show as Alexander Lacey (pictured above right) superbly demonstrated how to tame and train some of the most fascinating animals on the planet. Something he would go onto repeat this morning when 60 lucky 4th and 5th graders from Lake Eola Charter School got chance to witness an up-close, fun and educational presentation about the training and care of the shows magnificent lions and tigers.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey bill the show as “The Greatest Show on Earth” and with approximately 100 performers, including a nine-member live band and 85 animals of various kinds, they aren’t kidding. It really is a spectacular feast for the eyes and you dare not take your eyes off the stage for one moment for fear of missing something dramatic.

All animals are groomed and exercised daily, either in the arena or in practice areas set up in the animal enclosures and once you’ve sat through the show for an hour, you really start to think about everything it takes to put such a show together. In all, it takes about 16 hours to set up the entire show for the first performance in each city and around 10 hours to tear it down and load the circus train ready for its next trip.

One of the things that Billy Smart’s Circus became known for was its elephant act and Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s “Legends” show is no different. Elephants feature predominantly and you get the opportunity to see then on several occasions.

At this point, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the circus wasn’t always kind to its elephants or its other animals and today, animal rights are a huge issue. Many people don’t like the idea of highly intelligent animals being used to entertain or that they are seen as a way to make money. In fact, before we entered the arena  a group of protestors gathered but the fact is that many of these people don’t actually take the trouble to find out more. if you are thinking of visiting the circus but find yourself having mixed emotions then hopefully this blog can help you out a little.

Elephants respond to over 60 voice commands. Elephants drink 100 times more water than humans do and it is rather like a human drinking 800 glasses of water a day! Each elephant also eats 150-200 pounds of hay along with an assortment of local fresh fruits and vegetables, each and every day. They also love to eat whole unsliced loaves of white bread as a special treat and the Ringling Bros. elephants receive frequent pedicures and brushing and exfoliation scrubs. It’s important to understand that while these elephants are used to entertain and to educate that they are extremely well looked after. Evidence of this can be found as far back as 1995 when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation was established in Central Florida as a deep commitment to the conservation of the endangered Asian elephant.  It has now become a global leader in the reproduction, research and retirement of these magnificent animals, and works with partners world-wide to help ensure the survival of the species.

If you visit the circus, you can’t help but notice that all of the animals are well looked after. A couple of days ago on this blog we saw how the humans were looked after aboard the Pie Car but the evidence is also there that the animals are equally as well treated. Another example of the commitment the circus makes is when you consider how much food a tiger eats per day. On average they eat more than 100 lbs. of meat a day…something in the region of eating 400 hamburgers!

As you can see, the circus makes a huge commitment to putting on their show and you should have no fears about the animals being badly treated. There is absolutely no evidence of it, and, in fact, it’s quite the opposite when you talk and speak to the trainers, as its clear just how much love they have for the animals in their care.

That was one of the other major differences I saw on last night’s visit. One hour before the show ticketed guests had the opportunity to interact with the clowns and the other performers on the arena floor. That was something I never had the chance to experience as a child and I can’t help but wonder how many of those children who attended last night or this morning felt after getting up so close and personal to the stars of the show, both the human and animal kind!

That’s the thing about the circus, it can entertain and it can really educate. Not only do you get to learn about the animals but you also get to see their behavior patterns and understand how animals that most humans would be frightened to get to close to, can actually be a friend to man. Of course, you still need to be wary of what these animals can do but going to the circus can really educate a child that there is another side to an animal they may have once feared.

Of course, a circus visit is supposed to be fun. The always popular clowns ensure a chuckle along the way and you’ll simply marvel at the costumes on display, like the one worn by ringmaster – Johnathan Lee Iverson, pictured above. In all, there are over 550 costumes in the production, with more than 100 hats, and nearly 1,000 shoes. More than 3,140,000 rhinestones and sequins are applied to the costumes for the “Legends” production and these are all taken care of by more than 100 costume technicians, milliners, cutters, drapers, tailors, finishers, and assistants who spent a total of 48,000 hours to create them.

Hundreds of Pyrotechnics effects are used to add pop and excitement to the show, adding electronic exclamation points which punctuate the total performance.  Highly trained pyrotechnicians travel with all Feld Entertainment touring productions to ensure safety in the use of flames and pyrotechnic effects. 8 confetti Canons are also used in the finale number of each performance Legends and over a one year tour, more than 2000 pounds (one ton) of confetti will be used.

The show continues tonight with a 7.30pm performance and then runs at  11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m on Saturday before wrapping up on Sunday, January 12 at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Tickets start at $16. Tickets are available at www.ringling.com or www.ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster outlet, by calling 800-745-3000, or at the Amway Center box office (phone: 407-440-7900).

More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com

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