HAWKINS TEAGUE • Staff Writer
April 4, 2013
Murray, KY--The old cliché about running away from home to join the circus doesn’t really square with reality.
The phrase implies that one would run away from one’s own family to make a new family with circus performers. In Cathy Carden’s experience, though, most circus performers have known the ins and outs of the business their entire lives.
Cathy performs with her husband, Brett Carden, in the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey: Fully Charged Gold Edition, which will be at Murray State University’s CFSB Center Thursday through Sunday. The two met through the circus, and both of them come from a long line of circus performers.
Cathy is a seventh-generation animal trainer and has worked with animals since she was 5 years old. She said the five Ringling Brothers brought her ancestors to America from England around 1919 when the Ringling Bros. combined with Barnum & Bailey for the “super circus.” Her parents performed with the company in the 1960s before Cathy was born.
Cathy herself became the third generation in her family to work with the company in 1998. Before then, she had worked with several other circuses.
“I’ve worked with pretty much every circus in the country,” Cathy said. “The circus business is a small business. Everybody knows everybody and it’s very family-oriented. It’s a tradition, so it’s brought up through your family. Everyone learns the family act, so it’s like the family business. It’s just passed on from generation to generation and it’s a small business, so all the kids that I grew up with, we were kids together and have worked together over the years in circuses as adults. We meet and date and get married, and it all stays within the business. It’s a small community.”
According to a press release, Brett also grew up with his family’s circus, the George Carden Circus. A fourth-generation circus performer, Brett and his brother, Larry, grew up with 14 elephants, and Brett would get up early every day as a child to help feed, exercise and take care of all their needs. Brett is a third-generation elephant trainer.
One of the first elephants Brett trained as a teenager is Duchess, who is one of the three elephants that currently tour with Brett and Cathy. Duchess and Brett have been together for the last 18 years.
Brett and Cathy first met when Brett was visiting his brother during Winter Quarters for the 129th Edition, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents The Living Carousel, which was the first Ringling Bros. show for which Cathy worked. Their paths crossed again when Brett’s father was in search of a new act for his circus and hired Cathy. The two fell in love on the road, and they have now been married for the last decade. They have two sons, George, 5, and Cash, 3.
Although it’s a bit early to tell if George — who is called simply “G” — and Cash will continue the family tradition, Cathy said she often teases G about how his life is a bit different compared to her childhood.
“Right now, they just express interest in their iPad,” Cathy said. “That’s what I always tell my 5-year-old, I’m like, ‘Dude, I already had a job by this time. Come on, when are you going to start helping? When are going to get a job?’ Because I was already working, I was making two bucks a week already at 5 years old.”
Another animal trainer with the show is Gala, who is originally from Russia and whose parents were also circus performers. She has worked with animals since the age of 5, starting by training dogs and cats and most recently training sea lions. She said she has also worked a lot with horses and camels. She has been with Ringling Bros. for about six months.
“I really feel like my dream as a young child came true,” said Gala, whose given name is Galina. “I always saw myself performing with horses in the ring. Literally, I would fall asleep and imagine myself in a pretty costume with horses running around me. And, hey, I’m doing it now!”
Jillian Kaplan Collett, publicist for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, said the Murray Calloway County Chamber of Commerce would host a ribbon-cutting with performers from the show at the CFSB Center 11:30 a.m. Thursday. The public is invited for a picnic lunch with the show’s three majestic Asian elephants on the lawn afterward, and animal trainers will be on site to talk about the care, welfare and training of the elephants. In case of rain, the public event will be inside the CFSB Center.
Cathy said families really should arrive an hour early to the shows this weekend to get the full experience because they can meet the performers, try on costumes and see the animals up close. The All Access Pre-show Party is free with the price of a ticket.