© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A reimagined Ringling Bros. circus comes to Tampa

Circus performers on a stage with lights, fireworks, and participants standing and flying in the air.
Jeff Kavanaugh
Feld Entertainment
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is coming back to Tampa after a 6-year hiatus. "The Greatest Show on Earth" will swing through Amalie Arena on Friday, Jan. 5.

The Ringling Bros. return to Tampa with "The Greatest Show on Earth" for a three-day run. The reimagined circus will feature a storyline, stunts, and chest-grasping acts, minus the live animals and clowns.

The tent is back up for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After a 6-year hiatus, "The Greatest Show on Earth" is returning to Tampa. The reimagined show features live acts, singers, and dancers — but has no ringmaster, live animals or clowns.

The circus came under fire from animal activists and in 2017, after a run of 146 years, shut its doors. The company blamed its demise on declining audiences and high operating costs.

The Ellenton-based owner, Feld Entertainment, spent the past several years revamping the show.

"As we began envisioning the reimagined Ringling, it was important to balance evolving the show for today's consumers, while staying true to who we are as a brand," Kenneth Feld, Chair and CEO of Feld Entertainment said in a press release.

The company promises an experience "unlike anything audiences have ever seen" and "incredible feats that push the limits of human potential."

The entertainment group also produces Monster Jam, Disney On Ice, Marvel Universe LIVE!, and Jurassic World Live Tour.

Three rings of a circus shine bright with performers, trapeze artists, and bright lights.
Feld Entertainment
Three rings of the reimagined circus offers new stunts and acrobatic feats with 75 performers from 18 countries.

"The Greatest Show on Earth" morphs its iconic three rings into three stages with trapeze artists, acrobats, and a human rocket.

Casting directors searched for talent worldwide, culminating with 75 performers from 18 countries.

One of the lead performers of the show, Wesley Williams, said entertainers rehearsed for three months at Feld's studios in Palmetto.

"This isn't just a circus in a big top or in a theater, we're playing a 360 (degree) environment in this new Ringling, which means that people sit all the way around the arena, there's no backdrop,” Williams said.

The show's directors Dan Shipton and Ross Nicholson are based in the U.K. Williams said they had never seen a circus with live animals, but they had worked with artists like Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa. So when they were approached to direct, they brought a "whole new vision, a whole new light, (and) a whole different way of doing things" for Ringling.

Williams is from Broward County. He saw the circus when he was a young child and dreamed of joining the act.

"I got a unicycle for Christmas after seeing Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey when I was six-years-old, and then I learned how to ride the unicycle," he said. "My mom said I was doing shows in the neighborhood knocking door to door selling tickets."

Williams even reached out to the circus' costume director to see if they would make him a costume. Now, he is called the "One Wheel Wonder," and finally has a specially made costume of his own.

Audiences can see Williams ride a 34-foot unicycle at each show — a feat that earned him a Guinness World Record.

Williams said people can expect "two hours of non-stop fun and jaw dropping entertainment."

The new circus began a nationwide tour in September. Its first stop in Florida is in Tampa at Amalie Arena for a three-day run — Jan. 5-7.

Visit ringling.com to purchase tickets.

Circus performer rides on very high unicycle and is surrounded by yellow floor boards and bright lights.
Feld Entertainment
The Guinness World Record-setting Wesley Williams, the One Wheel Wonder, joins the Ringling Bros. in the revamped circus. He rides 10 different unicycles through the show including one with six wheels stacked and another over 34 feet high.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.