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The Ringling Bros. circus is returning after 6 years, with a Tampa stop in 2024

A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown does a somersault during a performance in Orlando in January 2017. Four years after the “Greatest Show On Earth" shut down, officials are planning to bring back the The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. But animals will no longer be featured in their shows. A spokesperson for Florida-based Feld Entertainment says an announcement is expected sometime next year. The three-ring circus shut down in May 2017 after a 146-year run.
Chris O'Meara
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown does a somersault during a performance in Orlando in January 2017.

The circus, shut down in 2017, returns with a different look (without animals) late September, with and Tampa is back in its usual early January spot on the schedule.

It’s been awhile since arena audiences have heard a heralding ringmaster introducing “superhuman feats,” “spectacles for all ages” and “performers pushing the limits of human possibilities.

The wait is over. After a six-year hiatus, the circus will be back in town — without animals.

A reimagined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus returns this fall to North American arenas. A tour begins in late September, and Amalie Arena in Tampa is back in its usual early January spot on the schedule.

Remember, the circus’ Ellenton-based owners, Feld Entertainment, shuttered the “Greatest Show on Earth” in 2017 after a run of 146 years. Company executives blamed financial problems after animal activists pressured the circus to finally phase out its iconic elephants.

During its absence, Feld chose to rethink the circus on everything from how to integrate clowns, branding and merchandising. The goal was to give the audience something it hasn’t seen before. Technology will play a big role — with virtual reality, live camera feeds and moveable staircases.

When Feld announced the “animal-free revamp” in 2021, the news was cheered by the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals and other animal advocates that claimed the animals were abused. The elephants were dropped in 2016, and tickets sales dwindled.

“We knew we were going to come back. We didn’t know exactly how,” says Kenneth Feld, the company’s chair and chief executive officer. “It took us a long time to really delve in and take a look at Ringling in different ways. It became a reimagination, a rethinking of how we were going to do it.”

The time had come for change. A new approach was needed for a business that gained fame with glitzy choreographed horse productions, daring lion trainers and elephants that dance and paint.

Juliette Feld Grossman, chief operating officer of Feld Entertainment, says that when her team met to discuss what the circus could be, the concept of fun and a sense of play was critical to regaining the emotional attachment for the audience.

Worldwide auditions — including Ethiopia, France, Mongolia and Argentina — were held in search of people with rare talents and skills who can captivate modern audiences. The result was a cast of 75 from 18 countries that include performers on a triangular high wire, crisscrossing trapeze artists, a spinning double wheel powered by acrobats and BMX bikes, and skateboarders doing flips and tricks.

“When you’re on a high wire and you’re doing a backward somersault on the wire or you’re doing something really extraordinary, I don’t care where you are. You appreciate that. You understand the danger of it, the thrill of it,” Kenneth Feld said.

The tour kicks off in Bossier City, Louisiana, on Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Then 2024 starts the Florida swing, beginning in Tampa on Jan. 5-7, then onto Orlando, Jacksonville and Sunrise. For tickets, go to ringling.com.

Information from the Associated Press and NPR was used in this report.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.