The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its 146-year run this year. Sunday marks the final performances in Miami.
With its latest circus extravaganza, “Out of This World,” Ringling Bros. – and its parent, Feld Entertainment – is embracing enhanced technology and more compassionate animal regulations.
“We wanted to do something different,” Alana Feld, executive vice president and producer for Feld Entertainment, said before the company’s announcement that the circus was closing. “We didn’t want to just say we were doing something different – we wanted audiences to come into the arena and know right away that this was different.”
Mission accomplished. From the start, crowds should notice the changes.
“The beginning of the show is pretty amazing, because rather than just starting off with a big announcement and a big song, we actually start to transition the arena to space,” said Feld, who as daughter of company CEO Kenneth Feld joined the family business — which is also responsible for the “Disney On Ice” and “Monster Jam” shows, among many others — in 2003. “The lights go out, and you start to see a space-scape, with lighting and video, and you start to hear the sounds of space. And before you know it, you look up and see an astronaut orbiting Earth.”
The addition of a story line into the show for the first time has even the technical crew fired up.
“We have a lot of new things that we’re really excited for,” said Lorelei Owens, 25, who has been an electrician with Ringling for three years. “We have an evil queen who tries to steal the circus performers from the Ringmaster [Johnathan Lee Iverson] and [acrobat] Paulo [dos Santos] the Starseeker. And the entire show follows Paulo and the Ringmaster as they travel from planet to planet trying to find all the circus performers to put the circus back together and take it back home to Earth.”
Feld says that the story line gives the performers much more purpose.
“When you see them perform, they’re moving the story along, they’re defending someone or finding them,” she says. “And it adds a lot of excitement, and I think it helps the audience connect and deepen that relationship.”
Owens – who works with the lighting department, which takes care of the spotlight tracking system, special effects such as fog, pyrotechnics, snow machines and any kind of atmospherics – says the story line has allowed the technical staff to get really creative.
“That’s really where a lot of our projection comes in,” she said. “A lot of our new technology is because we went with this outer space theme – we have kind of an unlimited canvas to play with, and we were really able to explore different ideas and still have it fit the story.”
The addition of ice is another first for the circus.
“We thought amazing performances on ice would be such an interesting element to bring to Ringling Bros.,” said Feld, “and we also challenged a lot of performers to perform on ice for the first time. And the audience doesn’t really know where the ice ends and the floor begins, because the performances transition from the ice to the floor and to the air throughout the entire performance.
“We also wanted to think of the ice in a different way than what we’ve done on ‘Disney On Ice,’” she continued, “and because this is a circus and because Ringling Bros is all about showing the amazing and bringing thrills, we wanted the skating to feel more thrilling. We actually call it ‘thrill-skating.’ You get more stunts out of the skating – it’s a little less lyrical and graceful. It’s still beautiful, but it’s a lot more stunt and freestyle-type skating, which adds a more contemporary nature.”
Regarding the phasing out of the elephants, which is now complete and which has placated many animal-rights activists, Feld explained that the legislative landscape had been cracking down specifically on the caging practices of the animals.
“We got to a point where different legislation and guidelines changed from city to city, and when you travel with animals, you really need consistency from week to week,” she said. “And we felt like it was in the best interest of the elephants, of our company and our audiences to retire them.”
Feld says that the transition was bittersweet, but necessary.
“The elephants have been part of Ringling Bros for 145 years, and I think they were certainly a reason many people came to the show,” she said. “But from what we’re hearing from the audiences, they love the new show and the direction that we’ve gone.”
The elephants of the Ringling Brothers Circus once crossed the Venetian Causeway. Read about how the circus changed through the years.
Again, it’s all about embracing change. As Owens put it, “The elephants will always be a part of our circus history, and now we’re building the next chapter of circus history.”
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey present Out of This World, 7 p.m. Friday and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; running through Jan.15 at AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Ticketmaster; $16-$84