Going to the circus doesn’t necessarily make you think of balancing feathers on your nose or learning elementary contortion. But that’s exactly what the good folks at Ringling Bros/Barnum and Bailey have in mind for anyone who buys a ticket to “Barnum Bash,” their one-ring show that’s coming to the Tacoma Dome this weekend.
This is not only the first time the company has played the Dome, it’s a chance to join the circus yourself – at least for one hour during the free pre-show party down in the ring, where audience members can meet performers (animal and human) and learn some tricks.
“We actually started (the pre-show party) in 1995 but not a lot of people know about it,” said Dean Kelley, the clown who hosts both the show and the pre-show as DJ Dean, dressed in geeky plaids and a top-mop of eye-splitting orange hair. “It’s a lot of fun.”
One of the fun things is nose-balancing. Kelley makes his entrance balancing a bicycle and a broom on his nose, but audience members will be relieved to know that they’ll just start with a feather (not as easy as it sounds) before moving on to other stunts. Performers will demonstrate acrobatics and Hula Hooping before teaching everyone else how to do it, and RBBB’s newest eye-candy the Ringlettes – three Brazilian ladies who can samba, cha-cha and salsa while twirling snakes around their glittery torsos – will show some dance moves.
For those who have always secretly yearned to wear sparkly tights (or geeky plaids and orange hair) there’ll be a wardrobe full of dress-ups, with a photo op next to a bone fide Orange County Chopper motorcycle (and Kelley, whose hair matches the paintwork). Backstage, there are all the animals to visit: dogs, horses and camels. For the grand finish, one of the show’s elephants will be led onstage right among audience members to do a foot-print painting, which will be given away in a drawing later on.
Of course, this is all a warm-up to the main show, which has most of the traditional RBBB circus elements, plus a few new ones and a few missing, thanks to the small size of the one-ring show.
Among the acts are comedy duo Anton and Viktor, the flouncy Ringlettes, animal acts including three elephants, Shetland ponies and a miniature horse, strong man Dmytrio Khaladzhy who supports a truck driven onstage by colleagues, an acrobalance husband-and-wife duo in which the wife does the supporting in high heels, Russian bar and aerial displays, a man who walks upside down on the ceiling, acrobats flying around the don’t-look-now Double Wheel of Steel, and Kelley’s favorite act – the Globe of Steel, where three motorbikes ride around the inside of a 16-foot sphere while an acrobat spins from the top. The performers come from the Urias Family, which invented the act in 1912 and brought it to Ringling Brothers in 1978.
Missing from this smaller show are the lions and tigers, and also the everything-at-once style of the three-ring shows.
“It’s intimate,” Kelley said. “It’s not slower, but it’s a lot more focused, just one act at a time. You won’t miss a trick.”
For Kelley, though, just clowning around is the best part.
“I’ve wanted to be a Ringling Bros clown since I was four,” said Kelley. “Where else can you get paid to be silly and travel the country? It’s a childhood dream come true.”