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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Circus delivers big-top excitement to Southaven


Photo by Brandon Dill 
Melvin Urias (left) and his sister-in-law Jodie Urias assemble parts for the "Urias Globe of Steel" inside which Melvin and two other cyclists will race around a dangling Jodie during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Landers Center in Southaven.
By Chris Van Tuyl 
From: Memphis Commercial Appeal 
March 22, 2012 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey didn't get too creative when naming the circus clown for its Barnum Bash, which opens tonight and continues through Sunday at the Landers Center in Southaven.

"We don't go by Fluffy or Sneezy or anything like that," said 31-year-old Dean Kelley. "It's just our regular names."

So, as it's been for the previous 12 stops on the 45-city tour, the Mid-South will be entertained by Dean Kelley.

"I'm the one with the big, floppy shoes, the wig and everything," he said. "I've always wanted to be a clown. I went to my first Ringling Bros. circus when I was a kid, when I was 4 years old. I saw the clowns and I was like, 'I want to do that when I grow up.' ... It stuck."

Kelley is one of about 100 cast and crew members who rolled into town from Chattanooga Wednesday morning for the load-in -- where the arena floor, customarily reserved for a hockey rink this time of the year, is transformed into "The Greatest Show on Earth."





Rafael Hernandez unfurls a banner as the circus sets up Wednesday at the Landers Center. 


"They started at 9 a.m. We have six semi-trailers that are pulling all this equipment and they start unloading it all," Kelley said. "Within 10 hours, they can be fully set up and ready to do a show.


"We're in a brand new venue every week. Our show -- we adapt to every space -- so we fit into wherever we need to. It's really impressive to me, because at the end of the day, when we're done on Sunday and everything gets torn down, every nut and bolt will be accounted for. It's amazing."


While the acrobats are a staple of the performance, there are also the animals, which get tended to along the way by veterinary tech and Knoxville native Jessica Clowers.


"I oversee the 24/7 care of all the animals," she said. "It doesn't seem like work. It's too much fun."


The complete lineup rolls off her tongue too easily: Two camels, four Arabian horses, two Shetland ponies, one miniature horse, 13 dogs and three Asian elephants. This year's caravan includes snakes as well.


"It's cool when I can look out in the audience and see a family. Say there's a 2-year-old, 40-year-old and an 80-year-old and all three of them are ooing and ahhing at the same thing," Kelley said. "Not too many people can say they have a job where you have an 8,000-pound elephant. That's awesome to me."


Circus officials, though, are aware that protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will be near the Landers Center, beginning at 5:45 p.m. The demonstration is expected to be led by a group of 25 with leaflets and handheld posters. The controversy over cruelty to the elephants is also making national headlines at another performance in Baltimore.

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