Hadi Shrine Circus begins a four-day, eight-performance run at the Ford Center on Thanksgiving
Hadi Shrine Circus also includes tigers, elephants
Photo by Kyle Grantham, The Evansville Courier & Press - 2010 Kyle R Grantham - 2010
Courier & Press file
A poodle in a skirt follows its trainer through one of the rings at the Hadi Shrine Circus at the Ford Center during a 2011 performance.
By Sean McDevitt
November 17, 2012
Joe Vezzoso remembers the thrill of being a kid and attending the Hadi Shrine Circus when it was at the Evansville Coliseum, back in the days before Roberts Stadium was built.
Generations have changed hands since then, but for Vezzoso and his fellow Shriners, the commitment to one of Evansville's most enduring events remains as strong as ever.
On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, that commitment will be renewed when the 79th annual circus kicks off a run of eight performances over a four-day period at the Ford Center.
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"Johnny Rocket" does a flip on his motorcycle high in the air above the Ford Center as "Galaxy Girl" balances on the opposite side of the balance beam attached to his bike, during the first day of the Hadi Shrine Circus at the Ford Center in Evansville on Thursday afternoon, November 24, 2011.
"It's a labor of love for all of us," said Vezzoso, the executive director of the Hadi Shrine Circus. "It's a great value when you think about all the entertainment that we provide at a very reasonable cost."
The performances will kick off at 3 p.m. Thursday, with shows scheduled for 9:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The finale will be 3 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices range from $21 to $36.
This is the event's second year at the Ford Center following more than 50 years at Roberts Stadium. While the Downtown venue is new, much of the entertainment that will be on hand — including the tigers and elephants — is deeply rooted in the event's grand tradition.
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"Ernestina" hangs and spins from her neck above the Ford Center floor during aerial acrobatic performances at the 2011 Hadi Shrine Circus.
Vezzoso said that what circus-goers see is a production that's organized locally. Instead of simply hiring a pre-produced, packaged circus, the Shriners buy their own entertainment.
The hired talent, acting as independent contractors with the Shrine, are under the direction of a Las Vegas show producer, Jody Jordan.
"He actually produces the show for us," Vezzoso said of Jordan. "But the acts are selected based on recommendations from circuses that we visit, from past relationships in the circus world, and (Jordan) will also recommend certain acts to us.
"But Evansville is the only place that you'll see this show," he continued. "Once we close Sunday night, the show goes away."