By Jen Horton
BEACON STAFF WRITER
posted Mar 19, 2010 – 2:10:31pm
The smell of popcorn. The way you hold your breath when the trapeze artist makes an amazing leap. The fear and excitement in your stomach when a tiger enters a ring not 50 feet from your seat. Yes, the circus.
Chuck Werner, senior marketing director for Cole Bros. Circus, said this year’s show is new. The season begins with four shows in DeLand Saturday and Sunday, March 20-21. And, yes, there will be tigers.
In many astrological calendars, such as the Chinese zodiac, 2010 is the year of the tiger, Werner noted. After six years of tigerless circuses, Cole Bros. decided it was time to let the big cats out.
In addition to tigers, the circus will feature a daredevil ATV show, a Thunder-Dome, human cannonball, elephants, clowns, trapeze artists, lions and tigers and camels (oh, my), and Lana, the performer who can balance on one finger.
Werner said the circus is clean, affordable family entertainment.
“We’re one of the few entertainment acts in the United States that’s been rated G,” he said. “Nobody has ever had to come in and censor the circus.”
Many West Volusia merchants, including The Beacon, are offering free children’s tickets. And the circus is offering $5 off adult tickets that are purchased in advance.
“So, in theory, a mom, a dad and four kids could see the show for $25. You won’t get in to see Alice in Wonderland that cheap; you can’t go to Burger King that cheap,” Werner said. “And, it’s live entertainment.”
About two hours of live entertainment.
The circus has had its winter headquarters in DeLand since 1957.
Werner talked about some of the quirks of circus life, and he offered some statistics.
“We have 180 people employed,” Werner said. “We are considered an industrial employer. The circus is the second-largest [industrial] employer in West Volusia.”
The circus runs a side business of training people for a commercial driver’s license. With 70 trucks, recreational vehicles and trailers to tote the circus to its performances, it just makes sense to offer the training classes.
Additionally, Werner said, the circus is like a real-estate company, searching out land all around the country to use for circus showgrounds.
The circus, it seems, operates like a small town.
“In every town, we have to deal with water, water supply, water meters; in some towns, building permits, health permits, electric permits,” he said. “The logistics are really something.”
The circus buys local, no matter where “local” is that day.
“We have our own cookhouse that travels with us,” Werner said.
Every couple of days, the folks in charge of preparing meals go into the local community to buy food.
“We don’t do TV dinners,” Werner said.
On the road 35 weeks a year, Cole Bros. Circus will perform in 110 cities along the East Coast, and as far west as Louisiana. Stops usually last two or three days. At the end of one city performance, the trucks are packed that night, and the circus moves to the next city. The very next day, Cole Bros. is performing to an entirely different audience.
“There is no day off,” Werner said. “Well, not until after November.”
With the intense schedule, he said, circus folks joke that they’re going to run away and join a town. But, it’s just that, a joke. Werner said the circus runs on genuine love.
After November, the big top is packed away in DeLand, and the performers rest until spring.
“It’s something you do because you love it,” Werner said. “You get paid to do it, and maybe in this economy, you can make as much as a Walmart greeter. You do it because it’s what you do, or what your family does.”
Life on the road is fraught with a host of problems.
“Where is there a grocery store open late? Where is a restaurant open late?” Werner said. “How about a laundromat?”
The logistics can make a simple thing like laundry challenging.
Werner said a couple of clown’s wives (literally, not derogatorily) take out washing for performers. Others use drive-through services, dropping off their laundry and picking it up the next day.
“Every year, we have someone who says, ‘I left my laundry in the last town!’” Werner said.
DeLand is the big hometown kickoff: the very first show of a new year. Everyone is ready to give guests a spectacular performance, and everyone still has his or her laundry.
The big-top tent will rose on the DeLand Municipal Airport showgrounds Monday, March 15. During the week, the performers rehearsed.
Before the dress rehearsal, Father Tom Connery from St. Peter Catholic Church will come and bless the tent, the animals and the performers.
And then, the show goes on.
“It’s pure escape,” Werner said. “You can go and forget everything else for a while. … It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars will perform at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, and at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 21. The event is being hosted by the DeLand Jaycees.
Parking is free, and discounts are available on tickets purchased in advance. The regular prices are $17 for adults and $12 for children ages 2-12. Reserved seating costs an additional $3, and VIP seating costs an additional $5. .
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