Clowns, camels and elephants, oh my!
The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars returns for another year of great family fun, starting next week for multiple dates throughout the Southwest Florida region.
The circus will be in the Cape for three consecutive days, starting Monday, Nov. 17, on Pine Island Road next to Mel’s Diner, before moving onto to Fort Myers and Bonita Springs.
The oldest “tented show” in the United States, Cole Bros. Circus has been thrilling audiences for 124 years.
Based in Deland, Fla., the circus travels up and down the eastern seaboard throughout the spring, summer and fall.
“We’re the traditional circus, not like the Cirque de Soliel, which is more of a Broadway type show,” said Dan Baltulonis, marketing director. “We travel to 100 cities for 250 shows.”
The big top tent seats 2,000 people, making for what Baltulonis called an “intimate setting,” in which the audience gets to marvel at such acts as the flying trapeze, acrobats, the human canon ball and something called the motothunderdrome.
According to Baltulonis, it takes roughly 100 people to make the circus happen, moving en masse between show dates.
Performers, operations staff, animal handlers, ticket takers, wardrobes, and concessions people are but a sampling of staff that rolls to-gether nationwide.
Ringmaster Chris Connors has been with Cole Bros. for a decade, working in various capacities since joining.
Connors comes from a long line of circus lovers, as his parents used to cart him and his brother around upstate New York and the outlying areas, chasing circuses that came near their area.
“My father was an avid circus fan,” Connors said on the phone from Titusville, where the circus was breaking camp. “And I’ve always been a lover of the circus since I was a kid.”
Connors left a high paying job in what he described as the “corporate field,” to follow his dream of working in the circus. He would work small circus jobs on the weekends, but wasn’t happy with one foot in the corporate world, and the other in the circus. He decided he was going to follow his dream, or give it up.
“I wasn’t really happy. I was going to do one thing or another,” he said.
His ties to the Cole Bros. Circus are nearly as deep and storied as his general connection to the circus.
The man he replaced as ringmaster — Jimmy James — used to feed baby Connors a bottle when he parents dragged him to Cole Bros. show in upstate New York. At the time, James was merely a clown in the show.
The job of the ringmaster is equal parts master of ceremonies and talk show host, wowing the crowd while introducing and closing various acts.
“The ringmaster holds it all together, he’s the glue, the David Letterman of the Circus,” Connors said. “He’s not the star of the show but he touches all pieces of the show. Everything that happens is actually the star of the show.”
Facing the rise of new technologies on nearly a daily basis, the circus is a decidedly old-fashioned form of entertainment that, at times, finds itself in direct competition for kids’ attention.
Dan Bultulonis said Cole Bros. has kept its ticket prices the same over the last few years to maybe help quell the tide of departing families.
And Connors said they’ve tried their best to cater the show to a modern audience, regardless of the age of the viewer.
“We are in the computer age so we update things for the young audience,” he said. “We compete with the Internet and the television ... but to come and see live entertainment, that’s what I enjoy, giving that to people.”
For the all the excitement the circus life provides, working only 10 months out of the year can have its setbacks.
Connors is on the road from March till November, but when the paychecks “vanish” he has to find other work.
Still, the pull of circus life is enough to keep Connors enthralled, harkening back to his childhood, when his parents hit the road to follow the circus around the countryside.
“There’s days when its just like a regular job, days when I don’t want to go to work. Then you go into the big top and see the kids and realize that was me, I am happy, I make a good living, I’m not poor.”
Tickets start at $17 for adults, $12 for kids ages 2 - 12, with reserved seating available for an additional $13, and VIP seating for an additional $5. Cape dates are Nov. 17 - 19, Bonita Springs dates are Nov 20 - 23, Fort Myers Nov 24 - 27.
For more information call 386-405-3183.
Fact BoxTo Go
What: Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars
Where: 1311 N.E. Pine Island Road, next to Mel’s Diner
When: Monday, Nov. 17 - Wednesday, Nov. 19
Tickets: $12 - $17