The Wednesday, June 7 edition of USA Today has a big, light, front page story about changes at the Ringling Bros circus, headed, “Circus gets a makeover; In Hip-hop, a ringmistress Out Lions, tigers, the 3 rings.”
Ringling has changed the style of its circus, dropping the three rings. The article tells us:”Circuses of all sizes and stripes are straining to meet the fractured attention spans of the iPod generation. They’re also reflecting the influence of Cirque du Soleil, the hugely popular Canadian acrobatic troupe that is expected to draw 7 million people this year with its modern mix of music, street art and multicultural flair.”
The influence of Cirque du Soleil, which uses no wild performers, is welcome news. We read, “The new show has elephants, but it does not have the big cats — lions and tigers — associated with a Ringling circus.”.”I personally didn’t think it was up to the standards of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth,’ ” says Pete Adams, a retired high school administrator in Sarasota, Fla., and southern vice president of Circus Fans of America. “It was awfully plain.” Adams says one of his biggest gripes was the spare use of animal acts. The new show has elephants, but it does not have the big cats — lions and tigers — associated with a Ringling circus.Adams believes the change was made because of the pressure on Ringling Bros. and other circuses by animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose members routinely picket circus performances, claiming animals are treated cruelly. Animal welfare groups sued Ringling in 2000, alleging that the rigors of circus life violate the Endangered Species Act, which covers the Asian elephant.
Legal maneuvers continue. Nicole Feld says there’s no connection and points out that although the show has no big cats, it features elephants, horses and performing cats, dogs and birds. But Davis, the historian, says animals “receive such diminished attention, compared with the past. The show is under considerable pressure from animal rights activists, and everything they do speaks to the fact that they’re responding.”• The Cole Bros. Circus, which still performs under a tent in smaller cities and suburbs, tried a no-ring format last year in a show that also featured comic-book super heroes Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk as a way to lure young, TV-saturated viewers. Cole Bros. also dropped elephants and tigers from its show because of the cost and complaints in some cities about animal rights activists picketing shows, says Renee Storey, vice president for administration of Cole Bros.However, the circus dropped most of the changes this year — and brought back its elephants — after audience research showed its patrons wanted a more traditional style. “We were trying to be more high-tech, but that wasn’t something that was most important to the public,” she says.