When Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced they were closing the big top, that was a wake-up call. As a young adult that was never allowed to go to the circus as a child, I was eager to see the show before I lost the opportunity forever. I very quickly looked up the remaining tour dates to check if they were coming to my town, which luckily for me they were. My inner child could not wait to see the show that I had never been allowed to see, but my other side couldn’t help thinking about the social issues that had become synonymous with the circus. I realized as I sat in the arena that I might not be the only one.
As I watched the show I found myself never fully getting caught up in the story. I found the spell getting broken over and over by the lack of enthusiasm that could be felt by the audience. The performers had to keep pushing to get the audience involved. The clowns, the big cats, other trained animals, and even the equestrians just were not enough anymore. They seemed stale at some points, even uncomfortable. It was the “modern” elements, the ones that seemed able to seamlessly transition into the 21st century: the trapeze, acrobats, and caged motorcycles that got the biggest reactions from the crowd.
Gauging the reaction of the crowd was fascinating to me. I could not help, but find myself at points feeling sorry for the performers and, even sometimes, the show itself. I could almost see as the performers kept losing the crowd just how much our culture had outgrown this 145-year-old form of entertainment.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the show. The story was cute. It followed Ringleader Jonathan and sidekick Paulo as they went on a quest across the galaxy to find their missing circus performers and fighting the Evil Queen Tatiana and her henchman Davis. The show was set up with each circus act taking place on a different planet, finally bringing the entire company back to Earth for the finale. All in all, with a couple of big musical numbers and a theme song that was stuck in my head for a couple of hours the show was what I expected, a couple of hours of carefree entertainment.
Even though it was sad to see the end of the circus, I’m glad I went. It is something that even though I didn’t find perfect, I appreciated. Ringling Brother’s has toured this country for 145 years, but even they couldn’t hang on. To me, that’s a scary a thought. Something that is so ingrained in our culture that children grow up with coloring books full of pictures of the circus, couldn’t overcome I guess partly itself and partly our culture’s obsession with information and technology. The simple things just don’t seem like enough anymore.