Ringling Bros. returns to tour, without animals

NEW YORK – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus evolves to go animal-free as a thrilling family extravaganza featuring high-rope acrobats, trapeze artists and bicycles jumping off trampolines.

Feld Entertainment, which owns the “greatest show on Earth,” revealed to The Associated Press some of the details about the show that audiences will be introduced to on the circus’ upcoming North American tour that begins in fall 2023.

The 75 performers from 18 countries include tightrope walkers on a triangular tightrope 25 feet (7.6 meters) above the ground, performers soaring between trapezes and a double wheel powered by stuntmen on BMX mountain bikes, unicycles and skateboard stuntmen.

The tour begins in Bossier City, Louisiana, from September 29 to October 1, and will continue with stops in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, Indiana and ends in Oklahoma. It will start again in 2024 in Florida, where Feld Entertainment is headquartered.

The show is a totally different version of modern circus. Feld Entertainment has worked on every detail, from how to integrate clowns to branding and merchandise over the past four years.

“We knew we were going to come back. We didn’t know exactly how,” said Kenneth Feld, president and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “It took us a long time to really dive in and revisit Ringling in different ways. It was a way of reimagining it, rethinking how we were going to do it.”

The circus removed its tents after years of declining ticket sales and customers embattled the treatment of circus animals. After costly legal battles, the elephants were removed from the show in 2016. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) praised its “animal-free” renovation.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has been around since before there were cars, planes or movies, when Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States and this new version extends its longevity.

“There is no substitute for live entertainment. You can’t get the same emotional response from people watching two-dimensional screens that they get when they’re experiencing ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ or any kind of live entertainment,” Feld said.

The new production design includes escalators and two main sets. Audiences will have a 360-degree view with live camera feeds and virtual reality, and lighting and sound design that follows the performers.

“In-show technology is about enhancing the experience, it’s not just technology,” said Juliette Feld Grossman, Feld Entertainment’s chief operating officer. “We have so much activity and activity that we want to make sure we never miss the biggest moments of the show.”

Grossman said that when she and her team were thinking about what the circus might look like, they concluded that a concept of fun and a sense of play would be essential. The executive promised that they will give the audience “something they haven’t seen or even anticipated.”

The Feld family, which bought the circus in 1967, has branched out, buying and creating other large-scale traveling shows, including Disney on Ice, Marvel Live and Monster Jam. Feld said there’s something about the circus that people appreciate.

“The reason there is a circus and a form of circus in literally every place on the planet is that people are basically the same on an emotional level,” he said.

“When you’re on a tightrope and you’re doing a backflip or you’re doing something really extraordinary, it doesn’t matter where you are, you appreciate that. You understand the danger involved and the excitement of it.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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