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A return to the rings

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey tweaks its high-tech presentation in this year's circus.

By Marty Clear
Published January 4, 2007


A year ago, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey unveiled a new kind of circus. Gone were the three rings that had shaped and defined big-time circus entertainment for more than a century.

The new circus featured a story line, and audiences got to watch it all on massive video screens.

The new, higher-tech circus was generally popular, Ringling officials say, but some people disapproved of tampering with a cherished American tradition.

The new edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which premieres this week at the St. Pete Times Forum, retains the 38-foot-tall video screen but abandons the story line. And the three rings return, in an altered form.

"It was time for the circus to get a facelift," said Jonathon Griggs, general manger of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. "Last year was the biggest change for the circus since we went from the big top into the arena in the 1960s. So, of course, we listened to the feedback, and we've made adjustments to make this year's circus even better."

One thing audiences said they missed last year was the three-ring format. The plot line of the 136th annual edition of the Ringling Bros. Circus was played out on an open floor, with a family visiting the circus and getting an opportunity to live out a circus fantasy.

For this year's edition, the "rings" are back, but for the first time they are rectangles. That shape allows crews to fold up the "rings" and remove them during the show when an open floor is needed, Griggs said.

Last year's show is still on the road; Ringling always has two companies touring. The show Tampa audiences saw last year is halfway through its 2-year run; the new show will set out from here for two years.

One of the most popular elements of this show is Bello, perhaps the world's most famous clown. Bello returns with a death-defying act in a spinning wheel high above the circus floor, Griggs said.

"We've had wheels before, but we've never had one like this, that breaks in half in midair," Griggs said. "This is absolutely unique in the circus world."

Also new in this edition is a tiger act that is performed behind a mesh fence.

"In the past the tigers have always been in cages with bars, so your view is interrupted by the thick bars of the cage," Griggs said. "Now they're in a mesh cage, so you're looking directly at the tigers, with nothing blocking your view."

Marty Clear can be reached at


Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus

Through Sunday, St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 7:30 tonight and Friday; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. $15-$75. (727) 898-2100 or (813) 287-8844.


[Last modified January 3, 2007, 15:20:41]

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