With a circus, the thrill is that it is all real
By Karen huelsman November 3, 2011 5:51PM
Ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
ringling bros. and barnum &
† Through Nov. 13
† Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim Rd., Rosemont
† Nov. 16 – 27
† United Center, 1901 W. Madison
† Tickets, $13-$60
† (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
Updated: May 9, 2012 9:57AM
It’s certainly animated. And it has drama, daredevil feats and a musical score all its own. But it’s not a computer-generated image.
It’s all live and in-the-moment at the 141st Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in town for performances through Nov. 13 at the Allstate Arena, and Nov. 16-27 at the United Center.
“I think the fact that the circus is all real is what has made it so enduring,” said Ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott. For thrillseekers accustomed to being entertained by something created in a lab and projected on a screen, the circus offers an electric experience without high-tech electronics.
“Everything we do in the circus is real, there are no special effects. There’s nothing fake,’’ said Scott, the 25-year-old ringmaster who is marking his first anniversary with the circus this month.” Those guys really are balancing on tiny wires,” Scott said. “And somebody else is really being launched across an arena while flames light up his back.” More about that later.
“I think that’s why the circus is such great entertainment . . . everything is tangible,” Scott said.
This year’s “Fully Charged” three-ring circus has the traditional circus features that crowds expect including Bengal tigers who follow their trainer’s every command, skillful horse troupes and a pack of pachyderms who show off their finer dance steps.
And the humans aren’t forgotten amid this animal menagerie. Hailing from around the globe, they include the high-wire troupe Danguir, who dance and leapfrog over each other as if they were fully grounded, but they don’t use safety cables. Meanwhile, acrobats and jugglers make a mere mortal’s coordination and balance efforts look like a toddler’s march.
The clowns, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy and the pulsating live music help audiences get powered up. Ringling invites ticket-holders to arrive an hour early for a “pre-show” in the arena where anybody can give circus life a try by walking on a low-wire or trying their hand at juggling while clowning around taking photographs and collecting autographs. Ringmaster Scott said the interaction with the audience is another reason the circus remains an exciting outing for families.
Yet, he admits that the circus can sound a bit old-fashioned. “I hadn’t given it any thought until a friend encouraged me to audition. Now I feel so honored to be part of a show that’s persevered through world wars and continues to reinvent itself with new shows,’’ Scott said. He’s proud to be singing the national anthem and using his theater training at every performance. His family is pleased he’s been able to follow his passion in the arts, despite taking a bit of teasing about a son “running off to join the circus.”
For other performers, the path to the circus was more straightforward —literally and figuratively. Brian Miser, billed as the “Human Fuse” in the show, grew up jumping off the roof of his house and bouncing on a trampoline in Peru, Ind., the winter home for many circus troupes in the 1900s. For years he performed as a “human cannonball.” But the traveling time between cities offered Miser the opportunity to create an even more audacious stunt.
“I designed a crossbow that launches me across the arena — while I’m on fire. I get an adrenaline rush when I do stuff like this,” said the 48-year-old Miser. “It just gives me a great feeling to face my fears. I’m not the type to take baby steps.”
Not only does Miser fly through the air at an expressway speed of 65 mph, he also designed the launch mechanism himself, spending countless hours calibrating the parts, welding them and sending “dummies” through the air on test flights.
Miser, who suits up in gear designed for race car drivers and firefighters, said he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I don’t want to have to work for a living.”
Karen Huelsman is a local free-lance writer.