The Circus

By Cynthia KirkThe Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is America's oldest entertainment attraction. It has been a family tradition for more than one-hundred-twenty-five years. I'm Steve Ember.And, I'm Shirley Griffith. We tell about the circus and its new ringmaster on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.



"LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES RINGLING BROTHERS BARNUM AND BAILEY PRESENTS THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!"The Ringling Brothers circus recently performed in Washington, DC. Its new ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson, opened the show. At twenty-four, Iverson is the youngest ringmaster the circus has ever had. He is also the first African-American to lead the acts. Iverson said he was shocked and excited to be chosen as ringmaster over twenty-nine other candidates.

Johnathan Lee Iverson was born in New York City. When he was eleven years old, he began performing with the famous Boys Choir of Harlem in New York. He developed his singing skills and traveled around the world with the Boys Choir. Iverson says he understands the importance of being the first black ringmaster in the history of the Ringling Brothers circus. But he says he does not want his race to be the most important issue. He says he wants people to remember him because of his ability and his part in the show.The ringmaster is in the center of the circus. He shapes the presentation, the timing and the feeling of every performance. Iverson is a tall man. He wears a colorful costume, a long coat, high boots and a tall hat. Being the ringmaster of the circus is important to him. Iverson says the ringmaster shows the audience that, in the circus, the impossible can be possible.

But he says most people do not come to the circus to see the ringmaster. He says they come to experience something bigger than life.



((CUT FOUR: -- PUT A LITTLE CIRCUS IN YOUR LIFE))The circus is a live production. There are acrobats, high wire and trapeze artists, animal trainers and other performers. Trained animals play an important part in most circuses. Clowns with funny faces and silly costumes make the audience laugh. The ringmaster, the circus band and dancers add to the color and excitement of the circus.

For many years, circus shows were held in large cloth structures called tents. The main circus acts appeared in the largest tent, called the Big Top. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus had a Big Top until Nineteen-Fifty-Six. Then the circus began to perform in large sports centers. But many circuses still perform in tents.The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is a three-ring circus. This means there are three circular areas. There are clowns in one ring, animals in another ring, and performers in the third ring. The ringmaster announces the acts and sometimes describes the tricks being performed.

Many circus acts are dangerous. Performers risk their lives at each show. Some of the performers breathe fire. Others twist and swing through the air.

Still others walk on wire high above the audience. They leave people wondering "How did they do that?"

Circus performers often teach their acts to their children. When the children grow up, they continue to perform the traditional family acts. Sometimes aunts, uncles, grandparents and other relatives become members of a family act.The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus has more than two-hundred performers in the show. They are from thirteen countries, including China, Russia and Brazil. The circus has two separate and complete shows, called the Red and Blue Units. Each unit has different circus performers. Each unit performs in about one-hundred cities a year. More than ten-million people will see the circus during its two-year tour.

The performers travel to each city on a very long circus train. The animals ride in specially designed parts of the train. The train also carries the equipment needed for the show.

((CUT FIVE : MUSIC BRIDGE))In recent years, the circus has become a battleground for animal rights activists. They are attempting to end a form of entertainment they claim is harmful to elephants and other wild animals. They say some of the animals are kept in small cages for many hours and are forced to perform unnatural acts. They say such mistreatment has led to the deaths of humans and animals.

There are measures in Congress and local city councils designed to ban the use of elephants and other wild animals in circuses. Some cities already have banned them. Other cities are considering such action. A number of newer circuses do not include wild animals in their shows.

However, spokesmen for the circus say their animals are treated well. They say the animals are the reason millions of Americans come to the circus every year. They say it is unfair to punish the whole industry for a few problems. Ringling Brothers says it also has a center designed to protect elephants and to prevent them from disappearing.At the Ringling Brothers circus, many performers grew up with the animals with which they work so closely. Mark Oliver Gebel is an example of the trust that develops between the animals and performers. He is the son of the famous animal trainer, Gunther Gebel-Williams.

Mark Gebel stands face to face with nine Bengal tigers in his act.


The crowd watches in disbelief as he floats through the air with the tiger on a swing.

The excitement continues when Juan Pedro Carillo balances on a wire nine meters above the tigers. He also performs back flips on the high wire. His partner jumps from Carillo's shoulders onto the narrow wire without looking.Two of the most popular circus acts are the Globe of Death and the Wheel of Wonder. Performers in the Globe of Death ride motorcycles at ninety kilometers an hour inside a five-meter steel ball. This act is led by Victor Urias, and includes his two sons and his wife Jodie. She stands in the middle of the ball dangerously close to the speeding motorcycles.

Wilson Dominguez thrills the crowd on the Wheel of Wonder. This act is so dangerous that he is the only performer who will do it. Wilson runs on top of a twelve-meter high wheel as it turns. He has no safety net to catch him if he falls. He has only balance and skill. The excitement builds, the crowd screams, and Dominguez wins the battle between man and machine.

((CUT SEVEN: "THOSE FABULOUS ANIMALS" ))The show's biggest act is called The World's Only Living Carousel. The Living Carousel is a colorful scene of more than twenty-five animals and one-hundred performers. It looks like a real carousel ride. It represents the special relationship between the circus animals and the human performers. The performers praise the animals in a song led by Johnathan Lee Iverson called "Those Fabulous Animals."This program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced by Paul Thompson. Our studio engineer was Efim Drucker. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.