After nearly a century and half traveling across the U.S. and delighting audiences with “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is striking the tent on its iconic show. Its final performances will be in May.
In a statement on the Ringling website, Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment — the circus’ parent company — largely blamed declining ticket sales for its decision to permanently fold the big top on the 146-year-old organization. The slump in sales became even more pronounced after the circus pulled the iconic elephants from its shows last year.
After several years of protests and criticism from animal-rights groups, Ringling Bros. halted its elephant shows in 2016, retiring the popular pachyderms to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Feld says:
“This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses that will perform their final shows on May 7 in Providence, Rhode Island, and May 21 in Uniondale, New York.
According to The Wall Street Journal, although Ringling Bros. is the biggest and best-known circus to call it quits recently, other circuses have accepted the same fate.
Cole Bros. — a touring circus founded in 1884 — shuttered its operation last year. New York-based Big Apple Circus also recently suspended its performances, the WSJ reports.
Scott O’Donnell, executive director of the Circus World museum and a former circus performer, tells the WSJ that circuses enjoyed wildly prosperous times in their early years traveling across America because they provided live entertainment for the whole family with little to no competition.
“There was no ‘Barney Live’ show, there was no ‘Sesame Street,'” O’Donnell explains.
And while the imminent Ringling Bros. shutdown may appear to be the end of the circus era in the U.S., some industry experts disagree.
Wayne McCary, a veteran circus producer and vice president of global circus organization Fédération Mondiale du Cirque, notes that newer circus acts — like Cirque de Soleil — are flourishing.
Ringling Bros.’ closure “should not be read as the death of circus in America,” he says.
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