After years of protests by animal rights groups, the first edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus without elephants begins a six-day run at Staples Center Thursday night with a show its producer describes as “an outer space adventure with a complete story line of good versus evil.”
But activists will still be outside the circus in Los Angeles protesting any use of animals in performances.
A circus official said the company takes good care of its animals, but eliminating elephants came as the firm was tired of trying to avoid localities with “anti-circus” laws.
“Out Of This World” is “unlike any other circus we’ve ever produced,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, the circus’ parent company, and producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
It is the first circus to incorporate “an ice floor into the performance space, which enables us to increase the speed and pace of the performance in novel ways,” Feld said.
“We knew when we transitioned the elephants from our touring circuses that we had an opportunity to really do something different for the Ringling Bros. brand and the show,” Feld told City News Service.
Following years of protests by animal rights organizations — and cities including Los Angeles passing laws banning the use of “bullhooks” and other types of goads and prods employed in wrangling elephants — Feld Entertainment announced plans in March 2015 to relocate the 13 elephants traveling with the three Ringling Bros. circus units to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018.
Ringling Bros.’ final performances with elephants occurred on May 1 in Providence, Rhode Island and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
“It was a bittersweet decision to transition all of the elephants from the traveling circus to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation,” said Stephen Payne, Feld Entertainment’s vice president, corporate communications.
“We looked around the legislative landscape and realized it was becoming more and more difficult to route our tours based on the unnecessary anti-circus legislation that was popping up in some cities. Rather than fight city hall, we decided to transition the elephants to the center and make an even largest investment in the conservation of this endangered species.”
Animal rights groups, however, want the circus to stop using all animals in its shows.
Members of animal advocacy organizations Last Chance for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Mercy For Animals will be among the protesters outside Staples Center during the circus’ run, accusing Ringling Bros. of abusing its animals. The groups also say the use of animals for the entertainment of humans is inherently abusive.
“We are very proud of our animal care,” Payne said. “What most people don’t know is we are inspected in almost every city we visit by local, state or federal animal welfare officials, including in LA.
“We meet or exceed every requirement for the care of our animals. The protestors outside the Staples Center are entitled to their own opinion but we know the facts. All of our animals are healthy and thriving.”
“We really have created a new genre of circus that blends a storyline, the most amazing human and animal performers and state-of-the-art technology that will transform the arena into an outer space adventure we know families are going to love.”
Work on the production began about 18 months ago, Feld told City News Service.
“The theme and story line really grew out of brainstorming with the creative team,” Feld said. “When we arrived on the outer space theme and started to develop the story we knew we had hit on something special and different.”
Rehearsals started in May and much like a Broadway show working out the kinks in New Haven, Connecticut, there were performances last week in Fresno to make adjustments.
This is the first time in Ringling Bros.’ 146-year history that it is premiering a show on the West Coast, Feld said.
The circus’ plot has ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and “Circus Star Seeker” Paulo battle evil forces, the intergalactic circus Queen Tatiana and her bumbling henchman Davis to return the most talented circus performers in the universe back to Earth.
Acts include the Simet Family Astronauts, who perform what is billed as a one-of-its-kind aerial “spacewalk” with three members balancing zero gravity maneuvers on a spinning wheel; the Heilongjiang Provincial Acrobatic Troupe, who perform Chinese acrobatics, including an 11-person human pyramid and hoop diving on ice; thrill skaters who combine lyrical figure skating with freestyle skaters performing tricks and stunts on ice; and Davis climbing a 47- foot pole to complete a handstand above the audience.
“Out of this World” also includes equestrian stunts, motorcycle daredevils, trapeze artists, unicycle comedy routines, clowns, lions, tigers, a leopard, dogs, pigs, llamas and a kangaroo, Feld said.
Ringling Bros. is also releasing its first app, available free at the Apple Store, which “lets circus fans experience the magic of Ringling Bros. every day,” Feld said.
“With it you can take circus selfies and share them with friends and family, play games, answer trivia questions and learn more about our performers,” Feld said.
“At the show when our performers greet fans, new content opens and they can also share their family’s special moments with everyone in the arena on our large projection screens. It’s a lot of fun and we’ve already received a huge amount of wonderful feedback, and some great photos, from our fans.”
Tickets are $20-$130. Discounted tickets for opening night are available for $15. Tickets for children ages 2 to 12 are available for $10 with a discount coupon from participating Chick-fil-A locations.
Here is the schedule for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at Staples Center:
Today — 7:30 p.m.;
Friday — Noon, 7:30 p.m.;
Saturday — 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.;
Sunday — 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.;
Monday — 7:30 p.m.; and
Tuesday — Noon, 7:30 p.m.
After its run at Staples Center, the circus will play at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario from July 22-26 and Honda Center in Anaheim from July 29-Aug. 7.
—City News Service
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