Fully Charged: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus 2011 ExtravaganzaJanuary 19, 2011 2 Comments
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has a long and illustrious history. It actually began as three circuses: “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome,” the Cooper and Bailey Circus, and the Ringling Brothers Circus. Barnum and Bailey merged their shows in 1881. Following Barnum’s death in 1891, Bailey purchased the remaining interest in the circus from his widow. After Bailey passed away in 1906, the Ringling Brothers purchased the show. They operated the two circuses independently until 1919, when they began operating a single merged show. Through ups and downs and massive societal changes, the circus is still going strong!
Fully Charged Concept
Today the circus operates two different train-based three-ring tours: the Red and Blue units. The smaller Gold tour is a one-ring circus that travels by truck to smaller markets. This year, the Blue show is known as Barnum’s Funundrum, while the Gold show is Zing Zang Zoom. We saw the Red show: Fully Charged.
Fully Charged bills itself as the most electrifying edition of the circus ever presented, and the entire storyline revolves around energy. From the hijinks of a group of clowns trying to change an oversized light bulb to the Human Fuse, an updated version of the Human Cannonball, the energy level builds throughout the evening. Be sure not to leave too soon after the final act, as you’ll want to make sure you see the very last clown performance.
No longer small enough for intimate tent seating, today’s circus plays to sold-out arenas. Like any other show, the further the seats are from the stage, the less expensive they are. However, we found that the price differentials between various categories of seating were relatively low. So we decided to spring for tickets in the front row, center section.
There is a VIP option that is significantly more expensive than the seats we chose. The first two rows on the opposite side of the arena are considered VIP seats. Attendees with VIP tickets are invited to sit literally on stage, on provided boxes, during portions of the show. They have personalized interactions with the clowns and a literally unbeatable view. However, we honestly didn’t think that the VIP tickets were worth the money.
Our seats were on the side of the arena that the stagehands work from, and we enjoyed having a close-up view of the rigging. The only downside was that the occasional stagehand walked briefly in front of us, but overall they were quite good at ducking down out of the way.
Fully Charged was a fascinating blend of traditional circus elements with a modern flair. The look of the clowns has been heavily updated to appear a bit more hip hop and less Ronald McDonald. The classic animal acts, including elephants and tigers, have been updated with even more death-defying tricks. The horses were joined by a group of trained zebras. High wire performers, tumblers and other traditional acts performed feats that have been nearly unmatched in circus history.
A particular favorite was the pair of strong men. Built like sumo wrestlers, the men performed classic feats of strength during their main performance. Later in the show, however, we were stunned to watch them perform a surprisingly graceful strength ballet. They lifted and twirled each other with a smooth elegance that I wouldn’t have expected from men that large.
There is an all-access preshow for an hour before most performances (check the circus website to ensure that the preshow is offered in your city). Included in the price of your ticket, the preshow offers the opportunity to meet the performers and some of the animals, and even try your hand at a few simple tricks.
Unfortunately, we were running extremely late due to an unavoidable situation, so we missed the preshow. Instead, we were treated to a parade of animals departing the arena after the preshow, which we got to observe from the comfort of our car. We managed to park and run to our seats just as the opening parade was getting underway.
Of course, merchandise is for sale everywhere, along with extremely expensive food and sodas. It was pretty easy to avoid the temptation on the way in, since we were focused on finding our seats in a hurry. We opted to stay seated during intermission rather than fighting the crowds, which also let us watch as the technicians and stagehands set up for the second half. It can be tough to resist the strolling vendors, though, who offered everything from popcorn to coloring books and all sorts of light-up toys. If you are trying to conserve money, feed the family before you arrive and surprise your kids with small treats from the local dollar store during the down time. We did end up making one small purchase on the way out. A booth outside the arena offered DVDs of the show for only $7 each. We decided that was a nice memento at a reasonable price.
We would absolutely go again, and pay for the seats that we had this year. We’ve sat in different areas throughout the years and, while there are no truly bad seats, some really are better than others. Gunther Gebel-Williams was a legendary animal trainer from World War II Germany, who started working for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in 1969. We attended his farewell tour in 1990, with what we thought were good seats. Unfortunately there was a walkway directly in front of us. Gebel-Williams was the final act, and hundreds of people thought they’d beat the crowd by leaving the arena just before the show was over. Of course, Gebel-Williams’ natural showmanship stopped them in their tracks–standing directly in front of us! Since then, we’ve made sure to avoid any row with a walkway directly in front of it.
The circus is a fabulous experience for adults and children alike. I’m usually pretty jaded and cynical, and we had a particularly trying day leading up to the circus performance this year. Yet as soon as I was seated, with the big parade in front of me, I felt like a five year old. From my seat I was able to make eye contact with several of the performers including, believe it or not, one of the elephants! Those moments are priceless, and you never outgrow them.