Melha Shrine Circus coming to West Springfield
4/26/12 Springfield- Republican Photo by Mark M.Murray-
Peter Sturgis the ringmaster for the Melha Shrine Circus, introduces the next act during the circus preview held in downtown Springfield Thursday afternoon.The Melha Shrine Circus is running thru Sunday at the Big E in West Springfield./foto-Mark M. Murray
By Keith O'Connor / Special to The Republican
April 22, 2014
It’s called the “Circus with a Purpose.”
It’s the Melha Shrine Circus, now celebrating its 60th anniversary, bringing its chills and thrills to “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages” once again at the Coliseum on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield beginning Thursday, May 1.
All proceeds are used to support the work of the Melha Shriners in western Massachusetts communities and to spread the word about the orthopedic and other care being provided at Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield.
Ringmaster Peter Sturgis will officiate over the 2014 Melha Shrine Circus – produced by Hamid Circus – with seven unforgettable performances over four days of daring-do and laughs galore with the comedy and breathtaking stunts of Johnny Rocket, juggling genius Shane Hansen, Galaxy Girl and her Diamond Divas, aerial daredevils The Winns, giggles and gags from the Shriner Clowns, tons of fun provided by the Hamid Circus Shrine Elephants, Star Christi’s Alaskan Malamutes, the Hamid Circus Performing Tigers, and many other stylish and stunning acts, including a live circus band led by Larry Rothbard.
“I’m the guy who guides audiences through the show and sets them up for what they are about to see, without giving away too much information because you don’t want to take away the surprise. My job is to also make sure that the acts continue to flow. We don’t want anybody sitting around and getting bored waiting for the next one, although it’s unlikely that you are going to be bored at the circus. But, there are some points in the show that are slower than others, and I work to keep up the audience’s interest at all times,” said Sturgis.
Sturgis said audiences are going to love Johnny Rocket’s stunts.
“He has what we call the Wheel of Destiny, where he walks inside of a cage, similar to what you might see a hamster doing. Then he climbs outside to walk on the wheel and even jumps rope. It’s a very dangerous act,” said Sturgis.
The flashy ringmaster also said audiences will also meet one of the fastest hand-to-hand jugglers in the entertainment industry who has worked at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“Shane Hansen is very handsome and the ladies especially love him. There’s a lot of variety to his act and Shane juggles balls, clubs, square cubes and finishes with the most dangeious thing to juggle – fire,” said Sturgis.
Looking back over 60 years, Allen G. Zippen, past potentate of the Melha Shriners and circus chairman, said Jack Butterfield “got us into the circus as a fundraiser way back before he was even a Shriner.
“It’s my understanding that Jack and his cousin Teddy Shore, Jr. used to promote the Ice Capades and many other shows like the circus coming into town. We wanted a family-oriented circus, and that’s what we’ve been delivering for 60 years now. The Shrine Circus provides a very comfortable, safe environment for children of all ages, as they say, and there aren’t many of those opportunities today, especially at such a low price,” said Zippen.
“From a financial standpoint, this is the fraternity’s biggest fundraiser. We have separate fundraisers for the hospital, but the monies raised from the circus enable us to get out into the community and bring our story and talk about our Shriners Hospital for Children,” said Zippen.
For those who can’t wait until the circus officially opens at 7 p.m., there will be a special promotion in downtown Springfield on opening day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Main Street between Boland Way and East Court St. will be shut down as one of the prominent circus acts displays their hijinks in a demonstration of free-style motor cross. Rock 102 will also be on site offering free giveaways.
Last year, circus lovers saw the return of the popular old-fashioned circus parade which had been discontinued in previous years. The new, smaller version returns again this year beginning at The Big E’s Gate 9 and continuing onto the grounds just prior to the first night’s show.