Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performers are seen during a show Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Orlando, Florida.
ELLENTON, Fla. – After 146 years, the curtain comes down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, told The Associated Press that the show will be closing forever in May.
The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, managers say. Decreasing presence in combination with a high operational cost, along with the change of the public taste, and the long-term battle with the animal rights groups contributed to her demise.
“There is not one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This is a very difficult decision for me and for the whole family.”
The company broke the news in the circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will be performing 30 shows between now and May. The main stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and new york. The last shows are in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7, in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
The circus, with exotic animals, dazzling costumes and death-defying acrobats, is a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum a traveling spectacle of animal and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home in Wisconsin. Eventually they will be merged and the modern circus was born. The vast york, travelled through America with the train, wowing audiences with the scope of entertainment and exotic animals.
By midcentury, the circus was routine, healthy family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, children became less and less in the ban. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus had no smart product merchandising tie-ins, or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.
“The competitor in many ways, it is time,” said Feld, adding that transport the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as the provision of a travelling school for the performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It is a different model that we can’t see how it works in the world today to justify and maintain for an affordable price. So you have all those things working against it.”
The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocks in 12 minutes.
“Try getting a 3 – or 4-year-old today sit for 12 minutes,” he said.
Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the chief operating officer, acknowledged a different reality that has led to the closure, and it was one of the things that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling is the target of activists who say that forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.
In May 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in the Middle of Florida. The animals were the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year battle over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.
By the time that the elephants were removed, the public opinion had changed somewhat. Los Angeles banned the use of bull-hooks by the elephant trainers and guides, such as Oakland, California. The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals that are in the municipal property, 7,600-seat us Cellular Center.
Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic decline” in sales. Paradoxically, while many said that they do not want large animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to go to a circus without them.
“We now know that one of the main reasons why people came to the Ringling Bros. get to see elephants,” she said. “We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This is what the public wanted to see and it certainly played a major role.”
The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and lamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld said that the company will continue to operate from the Centre for Elephant Conservation.
Approximately 500 people to run and work on both the touring shows. A handful will be placed at the positions of the company of an other, profitable shows — in the possession of Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, and enjoy Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job and cv pages. In some cases, where a circus worker living on the tour or rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with the housing movement.
Kenneth Feld was visibly emotional when discussing the decision with a reporter. He said the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye to the other shows.
In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to stay relevant, the hiring of the first African-American ringmaster, is the first female ringmaster, and also the launch of an interactive app. The added elements from other popular shows, such as motorcycle daredevils, and skaters. But seemingly was no match for Pokemon and a generation of children who desire well-known brands and YouTube celebrities.
“We have tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported with a piece of the funding, and we were not successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld.