We had a real treat last Wednesday -- Feld Family Entertainment invited us to the opening night of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show: FUNundrum at Oakland's ORACLE Arena. This weekend the circus is moving down south to the HP Pavilion from August 18 to 22
(and if you're not in the SF Bay Area, check out the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey webpage for their tour schedule!). With a show this spectacular and entertaining, if you've got young kids, there's no better time like the present to see the circus!
This year being the 100th anniversary of P.T. Barnum's birth, FUNundrum pays tribute to the circuses of old, with giant digital screens showing vintage circus posters that might have been displayed during Barnum's time. I really like this use of technology in an otherwise traditional circus show; For the under-the-sea-themed aerial act, the screens helped set the stage by projecting images of fish and seaweed. For the 3-ringed sideshow-themed act, the screens turned into vintage signs announcing the stage names of the people performing. Speaking of 3 rings, I'm happy that they seem to have done away with this 3-ring nonsense (except for the sideshow act and the dog-and-pony act), so people can concentrate on one thing and not miss any of the exciting things going on.
My favorite act has got to be the beautiful, graceful aerial act, with women dressed as mermaids swirling and twirling gracefully up in the air on hoops and ribbons. The Pea fell in love with the little baby elephant that showed up in the finale. The boys (Alfie included) liked the motorcycle act, where 7 bikes roar round and round inside a tiny steel sphere! The circus we watched last year didn't have this act, so we were all really happy to see it this time around. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the kids weren't too old and "sophisticated" to laugh heartily at the clowns' superhero routines. And everyone enjoyed the trapeeze act, even though they failed in their attempt to do a quadruple somersault. I thought FUNundrum was great entertainment and well worthy of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey legacy!
By the way, every time I write about the circus someone leaves a comment or sends an email about how this circus is perpetuating cruelty to animals. People, I am not blind. Yes, there are animals in this show -- there's an elephant act, a tiger act, and a 3 ring horse/pony/horse+dog+llama act. And yes, I continue to take my family to the circus, because in my opinion, they don't look mistreated at all. Feld Entertainment makes a big deal about their involvement in elephant conservation efforts, and before every show they allow circus-goers to view the animals outside the big tent in their Animal Encounter. Yes, the animals are in cages, but my understanding is that when they're not on tour, the animals have more space to roam!
Maybe Feld Entertainment is putting on its own dog and pony show to mislead suckers like me, but I honestly don't see why they would mistreat their animals when the rest of the world is looking at them so closely. I'm sure they're well aware of the controversy -- the hordes of demonstrators outside the arena certainly make themselves heard. And they seem to be de-emphasizing the animal acts in favor of the juggling, tumbling, acrobatic and aerial acts.
If there's anything I would criticize about their treatment of the animals, it would be that the tricks they do seem forced and unnatural, and I don't know how they're trained. At marine shows, for example, the trainers make an effort to educate the audience about how the whales and dolphins and sea lions learn to do these tricks -- how all their jumping and twisting is actually natural behavior, and they've learned to make the association between a trainer's specific hand movement (the signal), the behavior (the trick) and the reward (food). I don't know whether tigers prancing on their hind legs is natural behavior or not, or whether they're whipped or rewarded into doing it -- so really, the problem may lie in this circus being able to communicate and educate the public.
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Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to the show. Event information is provided by the featured company/product and is clearly indicated as such. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.