Under the big top
“The circus bug will bite you, and then you are hooked. My job is to make the show exciting. I could have a bad day ... but I still try to give that 100 percent.” Chris Connors, ringmaster and performance director
Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is old-school traditional with a little “boom.”
The 129-year-old circus overhauled its show in 2005 with that idea in mind, ringmaster Chris Connors said.
“We always try to include one or two things that people don’t normally see in circuses,” he said.
This year’s show includes elephants, tigers, lions, the human cannon, clowns, aerialists, magic and performing dogs.
The circus is unique for the quality of the entertainment and for the tent setup, marketing director Bill Carter said. Because of the round stage, no spectator is more than 14 seats away from the action.
“In a stadium circus, you can be staring down at a postage-stamp-sized show,” Carter said.
The five-stories-high tent seats 2,000 and takes 27 trucks to move.
“We don’t put up the tent until the morning of the first day of the show,” Carter said. “It’s spectacular to watch the world’s largest big top go up.”
The public is invited to go between 7-8 a.m. the morning of the first show to see the tent erected. One hour before each show, clowns perform and greet the audience outside on the midway. The aerialists, animal trainers and other performers also serve as ushers, directing people to their seats.
“The audience always likes to talk to them when they find out they’re performers. That’s been done (in the Cole Bros. Circus) for a long, long time, back before I was even hatched. The newer shows talk about being interactive with the audience. We’ve already been doing that,” Connors said.
The two-hour show has one intermission during which audience members can take elephant or pony rides and photos with various performers.
The most popular acts are those involving animals, Carter said.
The tigers and elephants are not owned by the circus, but are under contract. During the off season, they return to where they are based. The Asian elephants that perform with the circus live at The Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo, Okla.
Five white Bengal tigers appear under the direction of Vicenta Pages, a tiger trainer who comes from a family of circus performers.
Unlike many of the people in the show, Connors is a first generation circus performer.
“My father was a circus historian. In order to make him happy on his birthday, you had to have a circus book wrapped up. In my wiseacre teen years, I would wrap up underwear with the book. He’d open it and say ‘Hey, I don’t want underwear!’ Then, he’d see the book and be happy,” Connors said.
His family belonged to Circus Fans of America, a networking group that brings together superfans of the circus.
Clowns fed bottles to Connors when he was a baby, and the late Cole Bros. ringmaster Jimmy James bounced him on his knee.
“The circus bug will bite you,” Connors said, “and then you are hooked.”
Twelve years a ringmaster, Connors feels lucky to work in the circus.
“My job is to make the show exciting. I could have a bad day — maybe it’s a muddy day or I wake up with a head cold — but I still try to give that 100 percent.”