Sunday will be one of the darkest days the entertainment world has ever known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, known to millions as "The Greatest Show On Earth" comes to a close after 146 years, the circus will give its final production at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
Among the reason for the show's closure are declining attendance, high operating costs, changing public tastes, and prolonged battles with animal rights groups. In the past 10 years, the circus has seen a gradual decline in attendance but when it did away with the elephant act in May of 2016 after a long and costly legal battle, there was a dramatic drop in ticket sales which led to the final decision of closing the circus permanently.
"We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see the elephants. This was what the audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role" says Juliette Feld, Chief Operating Officer of Feld Entertainment, a family-owned production company who has owned and produced the circus since 1967.
Juliette's father Kenneth, who serves as Chairman and CEO of the company says "There isn't any 'one' thing", he also stated that time is a major competitor in many ways. In a world where young minds are dominated by movies, television, video games, and the internet, the show has simply lost its appeal since there has never been any product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to boost its image.
Upon hearing this news, many people are probably wondering "does this mean I'll never get the chance to take my family to enjoy the circus?" A Ringling Bros. clown known to his fans as "Bello" answered that question in a recent interview when he said "it's not the end of the circus, it's just one company closing its doors." This rare and unique art form is far from becoming extinct, which was evident here in Stephenville over the past year after three different circus companies performed to well-attended audiences at Lone Star Arena.
So what makes this form of entertainment that's as synonymous with popular culture as Coca-Cola and Babe Ruth so special? According to Ringling Bros. performer Ashley Vargas, the circus is "a rare form of live entertainment where there are no second takes, you either have to nail it or that's it." Johnathan Lee Iverson, who serves as the show's ringmaster says "the circus opens the world to so many people, you're awestruck by extraordinary talent. We love to see human beings overcome the impossible, that's why the circus exists."
As we prepare to draw the curtain on a worldwide entertainment icon, let's remember some words by Ringmaster Iverson, who says "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" and you can be sure there are smiles on faces across the world because from the mid-1800s until now, the Ringling Brothers, P.T. Barnum, James A. Bailey, and the Feld Family put them there.
It's probably hard to imagine life without Ringling Bros. but somewhere in the world, a calliope is playing that familiar tune, a ringmaster is shouting "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS", clowns are making people laugh, and brave individuals are risking their lives handling wild beasts such as elephants and African lions, all for the sake of carrying on the legacy of an entertainment phenomenon that has brought us all a bit of joy even through some of history's darkest days such as both World Wars, the Great Depression, and 9/11, it's comforting to know that even in times of despair, the circus will always be there to bring that little bit of happiness we all need.
Tim Turnbeaugh is a musician who was born and reared in Eastland County but currently resides in Stephenville. Tim can be contacted at email@example.com.