BIG TOP FUN
After 144 years, circus still draws a crowd
Animals, performers entertain Richmond audiences till Sunday
AMES H. WALLACE/TIMES-DISPATCH
Children and parents who arrived early for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus at the Richmond Coliseum got a chance to dance with members of the circus during the one-hour All Access Pre Show, Wednesday 2/26/2014.
BY ZACHARY REID Richmond Times-Dispatch
February 26, 2014
The magic didn’t seem so magic anymore.
In the age of YouTube, where everything is accessible all the time, and Cirque du Soleil, where everything is amazing in 19 productions across the world, a traveling three-ring circus that sets up shop in 1970s-era sports arenas might seem a bit passé.
But after 144 years on the road, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey still draws a crowd.
It has four touring shows, and the current schedule includes more than five dozen stops. It opened here Wednesday and has 11 shows in five days.
Even in the digital age, kids still stare in wonder at clowns, high-wire walkers still defy gravity in ways that inspire awe and guys on motorcycles still find ways to spin circles around each other inside a cage.
“Nothing beats a live show,” said LaVahn Hoh, a theater professor at the University of Virginia who for the past 32 years has taught what’s believed to be the only circus history class at an American college.
“I look at stuff on YouTube for my class, but a live show … it still brings thrills and chills.”
Through the years, the popularity of the circus has come and gone, but it has remained a conspicuous presence for a simple reason.
“Theater treats conflict between humans; the circus treats a human’s struggle with himself or the environment,” the circophile and one-time circus school student Duncan Wall wrote in “The Ordinary Acrobat,” a memoir that was published last year.
“Theater is imaginative … but circus is real.”
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