The entertainment world's lord of the rings, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is turning the spotlight on the audience as it celebrates its 135th anniversary this year.
The show, which rolled into Baltimore this week and will run at 1st Mariner Arena through March 19, includes an audience-exercise routine, the chance to partake in a few circus stunts, try on costumes and talk with the performers.
"We're one year older than baseball. Things need to be done to keep fresh," says Melinda Rosser, a Ringling Bros. spokeswoman. "Childhood obesity is becoming a more and more serious problem, so we're going to show the audience how our performers get and stay circus-fit. We teach the audience an exercise dance routine and some will be brought out onto the arena floor and get to show off what they learned."
Those who want in-your-face circus action can purchase Circus Celebrity tickets ($60), which guarantee center-ring seats and the chance to be taken from the crowd onto the arena floor to become part of the show.
But even those holding less-expensive tickets can turn up one hour before showtime for the Three Ring Adventure, where spectators are welcome on the floor for pictures and autographs.
In this tour through Baltimore, the audience will still see the traditional three-ring circus that made Ringling famous. But the show's Blue Tour, which will come through Hershey, Pa., in May, is ditching the three rings in the center of the floor and opting for a stage and a jumbo screen.
The touring units rotate each year, meaning Baltimore is likely to see the new Blue Tour the next time the show passes through. It is still unclear whether the new format will become the norm for all three of Ringling Bros.' touring units, but circus-goers can expect even more changes the next time.
Those who can't let go of tradition can breathe a sigh of relief for now. This year's show features three rings, clowns, acrobats and, of course, animals, despite protests from animal-rights activists.
"Not everything in their propaganda is accurate," Rosser says. "When they talk about circuses, how they do this and that, they clump all circuses into one. What a smaller circus might do, we may not. They make us guilty by association."
This year's show will be led by ringmaster Tyron McFarlan, who has a background in musical theater and is a former captain in the Army National Guard. Acts include the Windy City Acrobats and the married team of Brian and Tina Miser, who will shoot themselves through a double-barreled cannon.
The crowd also can see the antics of Bello, the big-haired clown, who was named America's Best Clown in 2001.
"Bello is a clown of all trades. We call him a comic daredevil," says Rosser. "Bello has that 8-inch-high red hair, all his, all clown."
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus runs through March 19 at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Tickets are $13-$60.
Schedule of shows:
Today - 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m.
Tomorrow - 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 14 - 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 15 - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 16 - 10:30 a.m, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 17 - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 18 - 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 19 - 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
If you're interested in seeing Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus' unconventional blue show, check it out at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., May 24-29.
For more information, go to ringling.com
Other circus performances in the area
Russian American Kids Circus will perform at 7 p.m. March 18 at the Amoss Center at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air. The circus performers, ages 6-18, are trained by the veterans of the World Famous Moscow Circus. Tickets: $12-$24. Call 410-836-4322.
AGA-BOOM will perform 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Cast includes veterans of Cirque du Soleil. The performance style is based on the venerable tradition of Russian clowning. Tickets: $12-$50. Call 301-581-5100.