Oct 29, 2021 - News
Circus could return animal-free in 2023
Dashed outline of an elephant balanced on a circus ball.
Maura Losch/Axios

The pandemic might've saved the circus.

What’s happening: Word got out that Ellenton-based Feld Entertainment has plans to revive the Greatest Show on Earth in 2023 for a modern audience.

  • And that means a circus with no animals.

Flashback: Feld Entertainment — which also runs shows like Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Sesame Street Live — cancelled its Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2017 under increasing pressure from animal rights groups.

  • They called the final show in Tampa the last act for an enterprise that started in 1870, when the Ringling boys of McGregor, Iowa, heard calliope music spilling from a circus barge on the Mississippi River and started their own.

Driving the news: The official announcement isn't expected until 2022, but a "choked-up" Feld Entertainment COO Juliette Feld Grossman let the news slip during a Q&A at an industry conference, trade magazine Venues Now reported.

  • The magazine reported that Feld's new circus will focus on human performers and use technology to connect with people.
  • "We are still in the very initial planning phase, but we do know that the Greatest Show On Earth will return without animals," a spokesperson confirmed to the Bradenton Herald.

What happened: When the pandemic struck in March 2020, the company ended 28 tours and pulled nearly 3,000 performers and crew members and tons of equipment off the road from all over the world.

  • The break let them reassess operations with an eye toward updating traditional shows.
  • "We looked at our company like a 50-year-old startup," CEO Kenneth Feld said, per Venue Now.

The other side: Now PETA, which protested Ringling for 36 years, might actually buy tickets "because the company has abandoned the chains, cages, and whips in favor of hiring only human performers — who are allowed to go home to their families at night," the animal rights group said in a statement.

  • "The animal-free version of Ringling may well inspire any remaining animal-abusing circuses to let aerialists, jugglers, clowns, and other talented human performers shine under the big top," the group said.

💬 Ben's thought bubble: I gained a new appreciation for the Tampa Bay area's connection to the circus while covering the last one at Amalie Arena. Those same visitors will be thrilled to bring their loved ones to a cruelty-free circus, especially one run by a local company with a long history of family entertainment.

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