There are two things that pop into my head when I hear Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The first is “are they are still around?” And the second is “I really hope those animals are OK.” And I am pretty sure I am not alone with either sentiment. For the first time in 150 years, the historic entertainment brand is completely overhauling the show and building a new way forward through the use of innovative live performance technologies. The Feld Entertainment team that owns and produces the show reached out about their new “Re-Imagined” show and invited us to go behind the curtain to see it for ourselves.
Named “Out of this World,” this is the first Ringling Bros. show to have a story line or take place in space. The new setting is made possible mostly by the new performance technologies integrated into the production. 3D projection mapping transforms the look of the stage. Instead of the big bulky set pieces used in past shows, the team now uses seven projectors to make the audience feel like they have been transported to outer space.
There’s also a new spotlight system that has been sewn into performers’ costumes to make the art of lighting each performer a science. It allows a performer to move throughout the stage, do flips and acrobatics and jump from the ice to the air and always be in the spotlight. “Our spotlight tracking system uses infrared lighting to track the performers. Each performer is equipped with a beacon, which is a small black box,” explains lighting technician Lorelei Owens. “Essentially the spotlight tracking system takes control of the pan and tilt of the light telling it where to go, while our lighting console controls the color, the gobo, the effects telling it what to do. And they work together to follow each performer based on the blinking pattern emitted from their beacon.”
According to Owens, the performer tracking system can track up to 72 performers at once and accurately follow each one as they do complex, fast-paced moves, allowing them to change the color and patterns of each individual light to highlight each trick and add visual interest to the show.
Ringling Bros.’ Out of this World is vibrant, colorful and fun in a family friendly way. It feels like Cirque du Soleil meets Disney on Ice, which makes sense, considering Feld produces the traveling Disney Live! Productions, as well. As for the animals, there were no elephants, and minimal performances from a few big cats. Most of the tricks were performed by more familiar animals like horses, dogs and goats, which, according to Wikipedia, are most often rescues.
All said, it was a fun show. The flashy lighting and projected visuals add to excitement of the traditional high-flying circus acts. Will this new direction save the reputation of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth”? Only time will tell.