Society

Ringling Bros. Circus Prepares For Final Performance

| by Kathryn Schroeder

After putting on shows for almost 150 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform its last on May 21 in New York City.

The final show, taking place at Nassau Coliseum, is sold out, NBC News reports.

Closing down "The Greatest Show on Earth" has been lamented by circus performers and fans.

"[The show was] one of these wonderful dynamic miracles in the annals of time, and that's where it's going," Ringling Bros. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson said.

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"It'll be in the memories of many people for years to come," he said, adding, "It doesn't feel good, of course, you know that such a storied institution is at its end, but everything comes to an end."

Animal rights activists are happy the time has come to end the circus' run.

"It is long overdue for this very cruel company to end their days," Ashley Byrne, associate director of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told NBC News.

The roots of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus can be traced back to 1871, when P.T. Barnum founded his Grand Traveling American Museum. "The Greatest Show on Earth" itself, however, came to after the Barnum & Bailey circus merged with Ringling Bros. circus in 1919.

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At the height of its success, the circus' three-ring tent held 12,000 people and had two stages, according to Gary Payne, president of the Circus Fans Association of America.

"Depending on where you sat, you would see a completely different show, it was that enormous," he said. "In a day and age when the circus would come to town, it really was like a holiday."

The decision to close down "The Greatest Show on Earth" was made in January by parent company Feld Entertainment due to changing public tastes, declining ticket sales, and battles with animal rights activists. The ticket sales began dropping once the show stopped using live elephants in performances in May 2016, the result of animal rights groups and local governments passing anti-elephant ordinances. 

With Ringling ending, there will be about 23 circuses still in operation in the U.S., of varying sizes and formats.

Scott O'Donnell, a former performer with Ringling who now serves as executive director of Circus World Museum in Baraboo, is saddened by the end of the granddaddy of the circus art form.

"The thought of it not being there is sad and bewildering," he said. "It'll live on through those in our art form, and it will always be remembered fondly and respectfully for really being sort of the trailblazer -- there are not too many brands that have been around for 146 years."

Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne said the company "wanted to give fans one last chance to experience" the circus with its final tour.

"It really is the end of an era," he said.

For those who have been unable to attend a performance, Ringling Bros. will be live streaming the final show in New York City on its website, Facebook and YouTube.

Sources: NBC News, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey / Photo credit: Bob n Renee/Flickr

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