HOST INTRO: The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus has been traveling for 130 years, to deliver their show to cities and small towns across the United States. It’s such a institution that during World War Two, when railroads were under strict government regulation, President Roosevelt gave Ringling special permission to ride the rails, hoping to boost the nation’s wartime morale. When the storied train rolled into Brooklyn recently, Hilary Brueck was there to bring us this audio postcard.
RINGMASTER: “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the greatest show on earth!”
New Yorkers watching the floor at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn munch on popcorn. Tiny feet dangle off the edges of their chairs. The big lights go down and the pint-sized audience members get out their own toy lights. LEDs in oranges, greens and pinks dot the audience.
*Fade up light sound*
It’s a glittering backdrop for the show. In full force even before the National Anthem ends.
*Fade up Star Spangled Banner under narration*
RINGMASTER: “o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave”
A sparkling ringmaster in top hat and coat regally holds court above it all, perched on his remote-controlled podium on wheels. Chinese acrobats in neon spandex march in step with colorful clowns in oversized wigs.
The China National Acrobatic Troupe is this year’s newest act.
*Fade in Chinese music*
They balance more than 18 bodies on two golden bikes turning round and round in the big ring. The athletes are running and jumping, latching on to their teammates atop the moving target. As they dismount and head backstage, A family of eight whirling motorcycle riders
*Fade up moto ambi*
from Paraguay roll into a cage of steel. Whizzing round and round at 65 miles an hour.
But even in this modern show, there are still the big hulking grey stars of the old circus:
RINGMASTER: Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey elephants!
Sparkling, high-kicking dancers circle the trotting elephants.
When the elephants make their lumbering exit, the big ring goes dark. Show staff assemble cages and netting.
*Fade up clown slide whistle*
Clowns rush around the smaller rings of the stage, miming, jumping and flipping, a light distraction before …
Roughly a dozen lions and tigers join their tamer under the big net. They’re big, and though their act is rehearsed, it’s a relief to see them “go home” to their cages. There’s time for one more docile mammal appearance:
RINGMASTER: woolly the mammoth!
(for the unbelievers, this wooly mammoth is just a shaggy elephant in disguise.)
The show culminates with traditional horse riders of Kazakhstan,
The riders attempt terrifying feats, wrapping their bodies around horse bellies, dragging themselves around the ring and performing splits straddled between two galloping horses. Soon, the show ends, and all of the performers take the stage.
It’s hard to know where to look in the sea of colors. Women are dangling from hoops in mid-air, elephants serenely parade around the ring. No time to linger in Brooklyn, the acrobats and their hoofed and clawed ring-mates are moving on, down 700 miles of railways to South Carolina, to their next audience of tots with twinkling lights.
RINGMASTER: “we are the legends!”
Until the next circus rolls into town, I’m Hilary Brueck, Columbia Radio News.