Mar 6

Crowds pack arena for final Ringling Bros. circus shows in Gwinnett

By: Erika Wells

Published: March 4, 2017

Parents flocked to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Circus XTREME performances so many of their children could experience the show for the first and last time ever in Gwinnett this weekend.

The crowd was full of newcomers who wanted to feel the excitement of the circus acts, animal tricks and clown antics and grab some food and souvenirs at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. This year marked the first time in the show’s over 100-year history that a woman, Kristen Michelle Wilson, served as the ringmaster.

In January, Feld Entertainment, which produces the touring show, announced the circus will permanently close this spring due to decreased demand. Immediately following the announcement, additional shows were added at the arena as people rushed to buy tickets.

Arena organizers collected photos of circus memories from the public that were printed on a banner for the performers to admire backstage before they entered the ring.

Kim Persinger of Snellville wanted her children Zach, 12, and Zoey, 5, to see the circus, which she attended when she was their age, she said. Persinger was disappointed when she heard the news of the circus ending. It was the first time her children ever watched the show.

“It’s terrible that the circus is closing after so many years,” she said. “So many children are going to miss out on the circus. I just think it’s so sad. This is our last chance to enjoy the circus and let our kids enjoy it, too.”

Zoey was most looking forward to watching the lions and tigers, while Zach had he sights set on seeing all the animals.

Tickets sales reportedly dropped once elephants were phased out of the show. Two years ago, the entertainment company, which has owned the show for the past 50 years, said it would made the change.

Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld has said restrictive circus- and elephant-related legislation across the country — not animal rights activists — made it difficult to feature the animals in certain places, according to reports.

Although the show has provided over 100 years of family-friendly entertainment, many felt conflicted about supporting the circus, which has been questioned about animal safety

When Shirley Chacko of Atlanta heard the circus would not longer perform, she wanted her daughter Aria, 7, to see it, but the mother talked to her daughter about animal treatment prior to the show.

“We didn’t want to miss this, but Aria loves animals and she felt bad; she was hoping the animals weren’t really tortured,” Chacko said. “If (trainers) are giving them a treat to do a trick, what are they doing if they don’t do the trick? That’s my question. … So I explained everything to my daughter this morning when I was driving her to school.”

Still, she planned to enjoyed the show to the fullest like the thousands of people who showed up and left with balloons, toys, programs, t-shirts and other pieces of memorabilia.

“I’ve been looking forward to this because most importantly, this is one of the last shows,” Chacko said. “I’m very optimistic that the people with the circus are animal lovers and there are a lot of good people with (the circus).”

The show has been the topic of debates, but as the lights went down one last time in Gwinnett, parents all agreed that the smiles on the faces of their loved ones were unforgettable.