Take a bow

Circus makes one last Queen City stop before leaving center ring

Special to the Union Leader
April 19. 2017 1:17PM
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been a familiar sight in downtown Manchester. 
If you go...
WHAT: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

WHEN: 7 p.m Friday, 11 a.m. and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: SNHU Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester.

INFO: ticketmaster.com; 800-745-3000.

For many generations Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is synonymous with a part of childhood.

But this coming-of-age story is coming to a symbolic end this spring, when it returns to downtown Manchester for the last time.

“These are the final weeks of the world’s longest-running show,” said the circus’s first-ever female ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson. “After 146 years, this is America’s last chance to see this classic American tradition.”

Two of the circus’ touring units are on the road. “Circus Xtreme” will take over the SNHU Arena Friday through Sunday before moving onto Hartford, Conn., April 27-30 and concluding its run in Providence, R.I., May 4-7. “Out of this World” will be in Baltimore today through April 30 before moving on to Charleston, W.Va., May 4-7 and concluding its run in Uniondale, N.Y., May 12-21.

“Circus Xtreme,” coming here, will feature high-wire acts, strongmen, BMX trick riders, trampoline daredevils, contortionists, a human cannonball and a bungee aerial skydiving display. In total, more than 300 cast and crew will provide two hours of entertainment.

“Circus XTREME is really amazing,” said Wilson, a Florida native. “It takes audiences all over the world. We have 14 different countries represented … It’s a very multicultural affair.”

Prior to joining the circus, Wilson studied multimedia production at Tallahassee Community College and later attended Florida State University, where she studied international affairs. After several stints as a host for local TV shows, she pursued a career in live theater in 2010. That led to a lead role as a singer and master of ceremonies in The Cirque Magique.

And in just a month, she will become part of history as the only female ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, something that she said means “everything.”

“It is such a special position to be able to show young girls and young boys that women can do anything, people can do anything,” she said. “The circus makes the impossible possible and highlights the best of humanity.”

As ringmaster, Wilson said she serves as narrator of the circus.

“I tell the audience where to look and explain the back stories about all the acts they will see,” she said.

“The emotional aspect of this show is what I think creates amazing memories for families,” she added.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey showcases a variety of animals, including tigers, horses, goats, snakes and prancing poodles. The elephants were phased out of the circus following protracted opposition from animal rights groups over the years.

“Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” said Kenneth Feld, chief executive officer for Feld Entertainment and the second generation of his family to operate the circus since the mid-’60s, in a statement on ringling.com in January. “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”

Before then, though, children can get a closeup look at “Circus Xtreme’s” cast of animals and performers.

“We have an all-access pre-show,” Wilson said. “It is free with your ticket purchase. You can come into the floor of the arena where a mini circus takes place. There is a bouncy house and you can try on costumes (and) meet the performers and the animals.”

It’s bittersweet that this will be her first and only tour with the celebrated circus.

“I am seeing multiple generations coming out to see this last epic part of our American history,” she said. “It is definitely not something people want to miss. These are memories that will last a lifetime.”

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