I have no idea when, where or how it began. If it's not the ridiculous clown sightings, it's the mayhem of political campaigns, their candidates and the media who are leading one and all to deem the melee a circus. I don't know what's worse, the predictable circus jabs during the heated political debates that litter social media message boards or the actual network series centered on the spectacle of these campaigns actually called The Circus. Whatever the case may be, as one who has been privileged to have spent nearly two decades with an actual circus, in fact with The Greatest Show On Earth®, I'm here to tell you that the perceived chaos associated with the circus couldn't be farther from the truth.
What Are Your Qualifications?
In the circus, it takes a lot more than a grandiose personality and the ability to riff on a sound bite or two to be entertaining. You actually need substance. The Greatest Show On Earth® is filled with great personalities. However, for those of us who thrill families from 40-feet in the air or at top speeds encased in a 16-foot sphere along with six to eight motorcycles, it is imperative that you be qualified for the task at hand. Circus is not laissez-faire. You can't phone it in and hope to skirt by on charm or shock value. Great pursuits require great effort, just as great effort requires great respect for what it is you want to pursue. If you're not respectful of the pursuit, you will never put forth the effort. Thus, you will never be qualified. Maybe sheer personality and force of will goes over in the political world, but you'll need a lot more than that for the circus.
We Could All Use A Clown In Our Lives
Clowning has long gotten a bad rap. Bumbling or even corrupt individuals, often politicians, are derogatorily referred to as "clowns." Yet, the legendary Charlie Chaplin had another take on the status of clowns. "I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician," said the iconic funny man. Perhaps truer words have never been spoken.
Few, if any, grasp the fluidity of the human condition as does the clown. Be it before an audience of thousands or by the bedside of the infirm, the clown casts a kind of spell that permits his audience to entrust their imagination to him. Like any occupation, it has its share of pretenders. Not everyone who dons a costume and lathers on the grease paint is authentic. Clowning, as it is with all circus arts, is a carefully honed craft, with the difference being that no circus artist is as accessible to the public as the clown. Therefore, by the very nature of his vocation, the clown must not only be masterful in his ability to entertain but must also possess the capacity to empathize. Their ability to read the room and determine how to bring each unique audience on a journey of laughter is perhaps their most powerful skill.
We should be so lucky if those we elect or to whom we entrust authority cared to understand and engage their constituents as well as the clown does their audience.
You Call It Progress, We Call It Circus
The first time I introduced my son to the fearsome Globe of Steel, I watched as he sat spellbound by the action. As each successive motorcycle entered the Globe, I got a little curious. I leaned over and asked him, "Do you think a girl can do that?" He couldn't have been more than 4 years old, but he was absolutely certain - "No way," he exclaimed. At the conclusion of the act, as each daredevil removed their helmet to acknowledge the wild applause, the look of astonishment on my son's face when the sole female rider was revealed was priceless.
He has since seen and lived among women in a variety of capacities - be they daredevils, schoolteachers, managers or executives. It's one of the many advantages of life with The Greatest Show On Earth®, where he is now featured as one of its youngest cast members in our latest edition Out Of This World™.
Many who have enjoyed a Ringling Bros. show know to expect the unexpected when it comes to the circus, such as the fact that one of our most prolific and talented headliners is barely 4'0" tall. That is something that in many corners of society, despite the success of little people in various industries, is still ridiculed and frowned upon.
The longest running act in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey history is the innovation of Black teenagers from South Bronx, NY - The King Charles Troupe. Their groundbreaking entry into the world of the circus back in 1969 paved the way for numerous firsts, including myself; I am now privileged with the opportunity to present the newest generation of the troupe to audiences everywhere in Out Of This World.
Few, if any, companies of the size and prestige of Ringling Bros., and the many productions presented by its parent company Feld Entertainment, can boast of being produced by women, directed by women, and managed and operated by women. A fact my vivacious 7-year-old daughter is more than happy to tell anyone within ear shot: "My dad is the Ringmaster, but my mom's the boss," referring to her mother's position as Production Manager of The Greatest Show On Earth.
Many may call this being progressive, but we just call it another day at the circus.
You're Only As Good As The Whole
Ignorance makes strange the stranger and fear an enemy of one's neighbor. A society that erects walls, real or imagined, cultivates divisions. The flying trapeze artist who takes to the air at 40-feet isn't concerned with the color of their catcher's skin, immigration status, sexual orientation or religion. The flying trapeze artist only has one concern, which is to be caught.
Circus is a culture of interdependence. The very word derives from the Latin root for circle. There is no hierarchy and there is no star. The star of the show is the experience. "The only spectacle I know that when you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream," said Ernest Hemingway, in reference to the circus. From the Teamsters who move us from city to city, build our sets, rig our equipment, stitch our costumes, groom our animals, and even prepare our meals, etc., to our cast of extraordinary talents, every single component informs the other, and the intertwined efforts are constant from the moment we enter a new city until we leave. What powers our culture is everyone's commitment to this "truly happy dream." As a collective of many nations and diverse abilities, it is more than a commitment but a responsibility to, as Pope Francis once stated in regards to the circus, "create a beauty that nourishes the soul."
Many a society would do well to learn from the circus. The disarray that occasionally plagues us - most specifically our politics - often referred to as a circus is, in fact, no circus at all. In the world of the circus we know that, in fact, we are always stronger together.