Flint resident Skip Taber, 62, carries a "Sno Cones" sign as he helps set up for Shrine Circus on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 at Perani Arena. Jake May
By William E. Ketchum III
firstname.lastname@example.org The Flint Journal
on January 15, 2014
FLINT, MI — Flint's Perani Arena & Event Center will host the first of a multiple shows of one of the longest-running live productions in the United States starting Thursday, Jan. 16.
The venue will host 11 presentations of the Shrine Circus through Monday, Jan. 20.
Tito Valencia, the circus co-manager, said the shows will have tigers, dogs, pony rides, elephant rides, camel rides, snakes, camels and the only male performing elephant in the world, which weighs 14,000 pounds.
The circus will also showcase tumbling troupe The Chicago Boys (of "America's Got Talent" fame), aerial acts, clowns, juggling acts and hula hoop acts.
But first, they have to set everything up. Many of the animals have already arrived to the Perani Arena and Event Center, and on Wednesday morning, Valencia was giving orders to workers who were carting chests of supplies into the arena floor.
Valencia said the show's longevity — "well over 200 years," he said — comes from appealing to families. He cites auto racing and mixed martial arts fighting as live competition.
"You can always bring your family and you don't have to expect any profanity that isn't appropriate for children. If you go to the motocross things, or the MMA things, unfortunately you see some accidents and people getting hurt," Valencia said. "We supply the thrills, but we also supply the family entertainment, so we keep you up and down."
Jeremy Torrey, general manager of Perani Arena, said circus attendance has also done well because of the variety of activities it has, and because of good coupons. One coupon package gets one adult in free with an adult ticket purchase, and another gets two kids in free with an adult ticket purchase.
"The coupon program has really helped during the down economy, it bolsters attendance," Torrey said. "That makes it affordable for everybody."
The circus will have an experienced cast on hand for this tour. Valencia has been a co-manager for about 15 years, and he represents the sixth generation of his family in the circus.
"I haven't experienced much of what we call 'town life' — going to school, and getting a job in town. This is really the only life I've ever known," he said. "It's hard, it's a lot of hours, it's a lot of work, but in end it's all worth it to see how much people enjoy what you're doing."
The clowns also have years under their belts. Byron Vowell, 66, has been a clown with the Shrine Circus since 1990. He said that the crew has a couple newbies in their first year or so, and veterans who have been in the team for 35 to 40 years.
But before earning seniority, they have to spend a year learning the ropes.
"Our clown unit has a one-year period where a guy comes in and he's an apprentice," said Vowell, who lives in Lennon. "We teach him how to put makeup on, the different types of clowns there are, costumes, walkabouts -- which are things you may use while going down a parade route -- how to tie balloons, and just the general stuff that a clown would do. After that year period, an apprentice becomes a regular clown, and works to help train some new ones."
The clowns have 60 to 90 outings per year, including the circus' 33 shows. The circus will use between 15 And 30 clowns per show, depending on the day of the week. They will perform two acts during the circus and greet people and sign autographs before and after the show and during intermission.
Between work and prep, they may be occupied from 7 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m., Vowell said, "but we enjoy it. We have a good time."