PORTRAIT of a MODERN CIRCUS

Commemorating the Landmark 75th Anniversary of the Shrine Circus

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 855   By: Robert E Martin

28th December, 2017     0

British author Oscar Wilde once wrote that to know the principles of the highest art is to know the principles of all the arts. With few exceptions are such sentiments cemented more strongly than to the magical artistry of the circus.

Traditionally, no form of entertainment has equaled the ability and power of the circus to capture the imagination with spectacle, challenge the senses with incongruous acts of daring and humor, while merging the scope of showmanship to perilously high levels of performance and deeply personal segments of joy.

From January 18 – 21st Koegel’s will present the 75th Annual Elf Khurafeh Shrine Circus at The Dow Event Center in Saginaw – an annual event that has become legendary in its own time not only for attention it brings to this increasingly rare art form known as the circus, but for the impressive amounts of money it draws for donation to a health care system of 22 hospitals dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing pediatric specialty care and outstanding teaching programs for medical professionals.

Children up to age 18 with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate disorders are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, regardless of the patients’ ability to pay – truly an admirable goal in this unsettling age.

Shrine Circus Executive Director Ron Stanley has been involved with overseeing annual circus operations for 25 years and articulates the amazing birth and evolution of the Shrine Circus. “Our chapter signed the contract for presenting our first circus back in 1943, but the first Shrine Circus was held in Detroit in 1906 and travels to roughly 120 cities per year in the United States.  The circus was originally a one-ring affair, but by 1925 it had grown to three rings. Despite now traveling to many cities, the Detroit affair is still the largest. In 1996, it ran for 17 days with 40 performances making it not only the oldest Shrine Circus, but also the most attended.”

By the 1920s Shrine Circuses were being conducted throughout the country, and each year additional Shrine Centers introduced circuses to their communities. The first Shrine Circus each year is held in Flint, Michigan each January, with the second run landing in Saginaw.

With the world-famous Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey circus folding up last year, The Shrine Circus is one of the few remaining circus spectaculars with a historical legacy that continues to evolve and inspire children of all ages with its magical artistry. According to Stanley, one of the pivotal reasons for its longevity is “the commitment from our workers and supporters. We have ten people on our Circus Committee and 200 to 300 dedicated volunteers that work every day on pulling the details together. When the circus ends on January, we begin planning for 2019 in February.”

Stanley says the biggest changes he has witnessed with the circus involve demographics and attendance. “Nowadays young parents have to work two jobs to make ends meet and cannot afford to bring a bunch of kids to the circus, so we try to keep our pricing reasonable. The first night only we have a special $10.00 admission; but our costs go up each year. We pay the ringers and the circus a lot of money and easily spend $100,000 going into the event to pay both the arenas and the producer, Cardinal International.”

Some of the highlights featured at this year’s 75th Anniversary celebration include the Carden Elephants, which are Asian elephants, highly intelligent that learn quickly. The hardest part about training an 8,000-lb. elephant is the muscle building program and regimen they must go through, much like an athlete or weight lifter. For example, an elephant can learn in one week intelligence-wise, how to stand on his hind legs; but to do it safely can take one to two months.  All the elephants are born in the wild and have been trained since approximately the age of 3. Their average age is about 40 years old and they can live up to 80 years in captivity, but only about 40-50 years in the wild.

According to Stanley, circus animal care is their #1 priority. “We believe in animal human relationships built on respect, trust, affection, and uncompromising care. Our training methods are based on reinforcement in the form of food rewards and words of praise and we oppose strongly any form of cruelty or mistreatment of animals. The animals are fed, watered, groomed and cleaned daily. Our staff consists of animal experts who devote their lives to living and working and caring for animals. There are no days off for animal care.”

Other top-notch features at this year’s Shrine Circus include The Real Steel Riders, who enter a steel globe and assault the senses with their flash and speed as they barrel around the glove full bore in rhythmic motion; the Royal Bengal Tigers presented by Ryan Easley, the drama and excitement of the Wheels of Destiny aerial acrobatics; the unique animal/clown act of Rolly & Beau, and the precision and steady composure of Duo Leyva – a truly unique bow & arrow act.

Additionally, this year the Elf Khurafeh Shrine is about one month away from opening a Children’s’ Medical unit at Covenant Hospital in Saginaw. “Previously we’ve had to take kids to Chicago for check-ups on certain conditions, and after January 19th we’ll be able to take that child to Covenant and have a doctor in Chicago teleconference.”

Tickets for the 2018 Shrine Circus can be purchased at The Dow Event Center and are only $10.00 for the first January 18th performance; all other performances on Jan. 19-21st are $20 for adults, $16 for ages 12 and under, and $30 for reserved seating. Ages 2 and under are free if held by a parent. Plus, general admission tickets are only $15.00 with a printable coupon that you can get by going to shrinecircustickets.com

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