By Roger Kim
On Sunday night, May 21, 2017, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received its final standing ovation as it performed its last show held at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of New York City. It was an emotional 2.5 hours for those who worked on the circus and who watched the final show.
Dubbed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the Ringling Bros. circus was once a mainstay of entertainment in small towns and big cities across the country since 1919. Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island. That show was the more traditional, three-ring circus, while the one performing this weekend had a narrative storyline. Called “Out of This World”, it was set in a futuristic outer space.
A majority of Ringling’s employees are second, third, and even fourth-generation circus performers. Many met their spouses while touring. All spent months on the road each year, traveling from city to city in Ringling’s train cars and describing themselves as a giant family. Like the employees, Ringling fans watched the shows for generations, and they too felt like family. It was the fans’ immense love of the animal shows that led to the circus’ eventual demise.
Many animal welfare and animal rights organizations are opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses. Many of these groups actively campaign against circuses by staging protests outside of venues over alleged animal rights violations. The groups argue that animals used in the circus are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment during training, harsh conditions during transport, and a general lack of mental and physical stimulation.
In May 2016, Ringling Bros. removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline. It seemed people didn’t want to see a circus without elephants. Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January 2017 it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.
Feld executives said they knew the circus couldn’t compete with iPhones, the Internet, video games, and massively branded, carefully marketed characters. Their other productions: Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice, resonate better with younger generations.
References: ABC News, Wikipedia, Google Images