As Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brings its latest production to Southern California, it’s important to address the elephant NOT in the room.
The Asian elephants that have been a mainstay in the circus for nearly a century and a half are officially retired at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. When new show “Out of This World” has its world premiere at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday for a 12-performance run, the massive creatures will be absent, in a first for Ringling. (The circus will play Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario from July 22-26 and Honda Center in Anaheim from July 29 through Aug. 7.)
Feld Entertainment announced in March 2015 that all touring elephants would be moved to the conservation center, where 40 currently live. The decision was driven by restrictions on housing and transporting the animals in more cities, said Alana Feld, Feld Entertainment’s executive vice president and show producer.
“There’s been a change in the legislative landscape, and some laws and things that have come up, and it makes it difficult to tour elephants when the laws and guidelines change from city to city; they really need consistency,” she said. “So we just thought it was in the best interest of the elephants and of the company to do that.”
This is not the only change the multimillion-dollar national touring circus will be presenting in its new intergalactic-themed show. With regular upgrades and tweaks, the circus has continuously evolved over its 146 years.
Mixing traditional circus bits, including clowns and a ringmaster, and contemporary frills such as daredevil motorcyclists, has been the recipe. However, Feld said “Out of This World” will be unlike any show that came before.
“We are taking audiences to outer space, and the technology and devices we are using to do that are really innovative and are going to be really compelling to audiences, and really deepen that relationship the audiences have with the show and the performers,” Feld said.
While many past shows have revolved around some sort of theme, “Out of This World” follows a storyline with characters played by the various acrobats, clowns and other performers. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, who has performed in past Ringling Bros. shows including “Built to Amaze,” will return to narrate.
The stage is set up to look like outer space, with a black backdrop and high-resolution LED projections and 3D images of planets and stars. The show will also feature two large video screens whose taped content is intended to carry the audience from scene to scene.
“It’s a story of good vs. evil,” Feld said. “We have an evil queen who has banished the circus stars in the entire galaxy. And our ringmaster Johnathan and our star-seeker Paulo are on a quest to find all of the circus stars and bring them back to Earth. We have many different characters, and audiences are able to cheer for their heroes or root (against) the villains.”
Another first for Ringling will be the ice flooring, which will feature skaters doing tricks. Aerialists, acrobats, hoop divers and more will also perform in the air and on the ice.
Among the acts making their United States debut will be an acrobatic troupe from China whose members perform feats such as tumbling with their hands, like a trapeze act without bars, on the ice. The Simet family will present their “astronaut walk,” which will feature the performers dressed like astronauts as they perform high-wire routines.
Returning performers include the Torres family from Paraguay, who race motorcycles in a 16-foot “Globe of Death” at up to 60 mph. Cat trainer Alexander Lacey will return with his lions and tigers, but Feld said all performances will be different from those of past shows.
“Everyone is a part of the story, so every performer has a greater purpose than they have in past shows,” said Feld.
A faithful Ringling feature is its troupe of clowns, who bring comedy as well as risky tricks. Laguna Hills-born David Honigman, who studied theater in South Coast Repertory’s youth conservatory before going on to graduate from Cal State Long Beach, will make his clown debut in “Out of This World.”
“I was lucky enough to join the company as the ‘Legends’ tour was closing, including the very last show of the beautifully iconic elephants,” Honigman said. “I’ve never seen such love as my new circus friends said goodbye to their massive, gray family members. An elephant never forgets, and will never be forgotten.”
A final addition is the free Ringling Bros. mobile app that was recently developed to allow fans to interact during the performance as well as learn about the acts, take circus selfies and play circus-related games.
Feld encourages circus-goers to download the app before attending.
“Not only is it a lot of fun for these families to interact with and play on the app anywhere, anytime, but for the event, it really is part of the experience. They can have interaction like they never have before,” said Feld.
“Ringling Bros. still stands for what it has always stood for: to create an experience that is for all ages and wholesome for the entire family, with this high-quality spectacle production and presentation. The experience is changing, but it’s still Ringling Bros.”
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