A trip to the Circus


Clown Juggler 3

Originally uploaded by acaben.

This was submitted to us by Ben Stanfield, and, given all the discussion a few weeks back on the Elephant parade, it’s very apropos:

Last night was opening night of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus at the DC Armory. Attempting to relive some of high points of childhood and hoping to get a few good pictures, I made the trek from Rockville to Southeast DC. I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime between my last circus visit (about 13 years ago) and last night’s show at the armory, they’ve managed to sanitize it. To suck the circus essence right out of the circus.

Sure, it had some of the hallmarks of a circus: elephants, clowns, acrobats, even white tigers. But there were elements missing, too. It was a packaged and plasticy affair. There was no seediness, nothing to add that slight twinge of sadness combined with wonder. No one looked like a carnie. Instead of having 3-rings and a ringmaster with a booming voice describing every death-defying moment, circus-goers were greeted with a Disney-esque narrative about how great it is to have an imagination that was so syruppy and fake it grated on every last nerve.

There was hardly any explanation of any of the acts at all, much less any talk of any of them being dangerous, suicidal, or death-defying. Even those performing high in the air without a net were accompanied not with Karl King circus marches and gasps, oohs, and ahhs from the audience, but cheesy lip syncing from a not-very-talented woman singing about dreams and imaginations. Blech.

Though it wasn’t, by any means, the greatest show on earth, kids will still love the elephants and be terrified by the clowns. (Who, by the way, were unable to get the audience to laugh at anything they did. Not that surprising since apparently their idea of a good clown gag is a fake food fight.) If you get there early, you’ll see the best part — a chance to wander around the show floor and see the clowns, acrobats, dancers, and elephants up close, without the sacharine narrative and cheesy music. The not-so-greatest show on earth runs through Sunday at the DC Armory.

Tickets in the cheap seats are $14, cheaper than the plastic light-up toys and cotton candy. Incidentally, plastic and sugar are the only things you should expect from the show overall.

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