When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey closed in 2017, it was supposed to be for good. After 146 years of operation, the self-dubbed “The Greatest Show in the World” simply couldn’t keep up with the rapid pace of modern times. Facing animal welfare issues and grim economic realities, the cultural icon folded her tents for what seemed like the last time.
Now, after a five-year hiatus, the show continues. As the New York Times‘Sarah Maslin Nir reports, the circus will reopen next fall and be different from the three-ring extravaganza of old. It will be more story-driven, more online, and most importantly, animal-free.
Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Circus Curator at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, recounts the New York Times the show had to “react to the world around it in a very flexible way” as modern life has made it “difficult to impress us as before”.
The revamped circus will do its best to generate that admiration in new ways. Feld Entertainment, which also owns Disney on Ice and Monster Jam, is planning an interactive, person-driven show that not only shows off the incredible things humans can do, but also highlights their individual stories (think Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic abilities). Sun with the background stories of “America’s Got Talent”).
Auditions have been held in cities around the world including Las Vegas, Ethiopia and Mongolia to find talent for the 50+ city tour which will begin on September 28, 2023. Next year will be a whirlwind for the circus , which will begin to repeat in June. Speak Timethe circus will also launch into TikTok and even branded NFTs.
Public outcry over the use of show animals has been one of the factors that has led to declining ticket sales – and costly legal battles – in recent decades. the Guardian reports that Feld Entertainment has been slapped with a number of lawsuits filed by animal rights groups. In 2011, the USDA fined the circus $270,000 after Mother JonesDeborah Nelson has published an investigation showing that circus elephants spent much of their lives chained in place, often in train carriages filled with their own excrement, and their keepers sometimes whipped them with hooked poles called bullhooks.
In 2015, local governments began implementing regulations to protect performing elephants. Some jurisdictions have prohibited the use of bullhooks; others have outright banned playing elephants. According to animal welfare organization Four Paws International, more than 150 localities in 37 states have some sort of regulation related to the use of wild animals for performance purposes today.
As more and more towns effectively opted out of the traveling circus, it retired the use of elephants in 2016. As Smithsonian‘s Theresa Machemer reported in 2020 that around 30 of the circus’ retired elephants were later moved to a conservation center in Florida.
PETA, a leading advocate for ending the use of animals in circuses, applauded the circus overhaul. “Ringling is coming back strong, turning the saddest sight on Earth into a dazzling display of human ingenuity after 146 years of animal abuse,” said Rachel Mathews, PETA Foundation Director of Animal Enforcement. captive animals, in a statement to Kate Gibson of CBS MoneyWatch. .
When the “Greatest Show on Earth” debuted in the late 19th century, show animals were a major part of the attraction. Historian Janet M. Davis writes for Zócalo public square that the circus was a way for Americans – largely isolated in their localities by the country’s vast geography and the oceans separating them from other continents – to explore the wonders of the world, including wildlife. Davis writes that whenever the circus was in town, “everyday life would come to a screeching halt”.
In 1882, PT Barnum purchased “Jumbo” the elephant from the London Zoological Society, which he claimed was the largest animal in the world. The elephant’s arrival sparked an obsession with Jumbo in the United States, and Barnum even walked Jumbo, along with his 20 other elephants and 17 camels, across the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge in 1884 to allay the concern of the public that he would not support the weight of Circulation.
Animal welfare activists protested Barnum’s Circus early on, and in the 1920s the Ringling Circus briefly stopped using lions and tigers in response to complaints from animal rights groups , writes Davis for PBS. Back then, circuses traveled by train from town to town, a tradition the “world’s greatest show” maintained until it closed in 2017.
The mile-long train is another of the circus relics left behind in the new tour. Performers will travel from city to city by plane or car and stay in hotels instead of the purpose-built train carriages they previously resided in. Not having to worry about allowing and keeping wild animals in different places should save the circus significant sums, perhaps ensuring its survival for another 150 years.