Philadelphia School of Circus Arts | Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and the future of circus

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and the future of circus

January 15, 2017

Dear circus community,

I woke this morning to the shocking news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is shutting down. This, following so closely on the heels of the Big Apple Circus’s closure, is huge, and terribly sad for the directors, artists, and support staff who have invested their lives into the show. Saddest of all is the ending of the biggest chapter of American circus performance – this three-ring extravaganza has defined the art form, and impacted generation after generation of pop culture – since the 1880’s.

News outlets are contacting us for statements. Here what the Executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization is saying about the vibrant, growing success of circus education in the U.S.
Circus is Alive and Well 2017

But there is something else I want to add about circus as a performance art.

Yesterday, as Ringling was making its announcement, many of us were attending Cirque Eloize‘s newest show at the Kimmel Center. This is only one of dozens of contemporary circus companies that are beginning to find their audiences in the U.S.

The ending of an era of traditional circus performance in America, while deeply sorrowful for many of us who have loved and cherished it all of our lives, may be making space for contemporary circus to finally thrive. It is time for Ringling’s audiences to discover the joys of 7 Doigts de la Main, Machine de Cirque, Flip Fabrique, Barely Methodical Troupe, Cirkus Cirkor, and No Fit State Circus. Everyone should make their way to New York for Circus Now’s CN-ICE event, March 3-5, to see a bunch of new companies all at once.

Circus is more alive in this country than it has ever been. But it is alive in a way that involves intimate, human performances. Circus arts have always been transcendental to watch. But in today’s culture, we want more than glitz and glamour and gigantic scale. We want connection, communication, and relevance – essential pieces of true art-making.

History is at a turning point. We’re all a part of it. The Circadium students, who will be arriving this fall, will be diving in full-force to make their marks, and to help us define circus’s next era in America.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus will be in Philadelphia in February. Go see it. Pay full price for a ticket, fill the seats, and help this company to make a grand exit. It will be your last chance to see a truly iconic circus, and a glimpse of our history, before we move on.

May all your days be circus days.

Shana Kennedy, Executive Director of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts