Curious about learning how a circus comes together, it was a dream to learn from the people who know, in advance of their visit this month. First, acts from around the world are pulled together and the show is designed. Trussing is configured, props are constructed, the sound score is written. Then, the hard part — putting it all into a “Show to Go.”
“We have five semi trucks for all the equipment,” said Jason Gibson, production manager for the Gold Unit of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. “We need to fit everything in these five semis.”
Arriving at their venues the night before load in, early the next morning the work begins. First lighting gear and some of the trussing is removed.
“It’s like a giant erector set with our trussing,” Jason said. “We just need all the crucial components, including the large Ringling sign, which goes up before the truss. Our goal is to set up and tear down as fast and efficiently as possible.”
Next, comes their moving lights, sound equipment and then all the props. Around eight hours later the show is up and ready to go.
“Our crew never ceases to amaze me in how hard they work,” he said. “It’s definitely a passion to do what we do because it’s absolutely not a 9 to 5 job. That’s for sure.”
Growing up in California, Jason and his brother would head off to the Ringling Bros. Circus with his grandmother.
“My favorite act was always the motorcycles in the globes. I thought it was the coolest thing. But I never, in my wildest dreams, ever thought I’d join the circus,” he said, laughing.
Since joining the circus 13 years ago after a stint in the army and as a soundman in a recording studio, Jason became a soundman and then, for the last seven years, a production manager. Meeting members from that same motorcycle act family a few years ago was a thrill to him. Today, Jason watches diligently as Andrey Medeiros sets up his own rigging for the current motorcycle high wire act.
“It’s like a sky-diver packing his own parachute,” said Jason.
However, Jason stands near-by, ensuring all is set up safely for the show and the audience.
“I have been lucky to have worked as production manager on the Red and Blue units and now with the Gold Unit for three years. Living on the circus train was amazing, but once I came over to the Gold Unit I totally fell in love with the whole concept of the one ring,” he said with enthusiasm. “I love the intimacy of the one ring unit because the audience is so close to the ring and the action.”
Hovering back stage during the show, Jason has a clipboard in one hand and stopwatch in the other as he critiques each and every show, always ready to maintain the vision of the producers and the director of the show.
“If there is something that needs to get fixed, we’ll have a little rehearsal and get it fixed,” he said. “We’re always tweaking the show to make it better. Always. Every time I come to work I have this huge smile on my face because I know each and every day we’re enriching people’s lives.”
Traveling constantly is part of what he loves as well as the unit’s tight-knit family atmosphere which makes their journey in five semis for equipment, three semis for animals and over 40 RVs for the entertainers.
Jason does his part getting the show ready and then he has to let go. Ready to pick up the next piece of the show is David Davinci, the Illuscinator and quasi ringmaster.
“This is a different show and because it’s such a unique show we’ve actually somewhat eliminated the role of the ringmaster,” David said. “The show just rolls like a high speed variety show with tons of circus elements.”
David has been an entertainer since his early years growing up in Spokane, Wash.
“At 7, my older brother by three years received a magic kit. He put it away and I pulled it out, thinking it would be fun,” he said. “I was only 4. I started trying to do tricks and worked at making them look good. It started as a fascination but quickly turned into almost an obsession to perfect it, perform it and hone it. That same work ethic has continued throughout my life. Today my wife and I strive to create brand new illusions for the show, spending every day, every week making them better and better.”
Already a full time magician by the time he was in high school and a major hit in China, David’s teachers became his home-schooled teachers — allowing him to take his assignments on the road while he toured China.
A seasoned performer by his 20s doing venues on cruise ships, theme parks, and corporations, David was interested when the owner’s of Ringling were looking for a magician/illusionist. Liking his work, they began building their new show - Illuscination.
“I had no idea when they first contacted me I would have such a big role in the show,” he said. “It’s an extremely humbling experience to see it all unfold and see what their plan was from the beginning.”
About 112 shows into the approximately 350 show/40 city tour, he and wife, Jamieleigh, are having a stupendous time.
“Appearing on stage for Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey, in front of all the different audiences is breathtaking. In one weekend alone, we performed in front of 26,500 people, which would have previously taken me a year to do,” he said, chortling.
“I think the thing I like the most about it is being able to transform somebody’s day. Not too long ago the show had the opportunity to perform for about 100 families who all lost a loved one in Iraq. It was all about suspending their emotions for about three hours and giving them the ability to smile — maybe for the first time in a while. I love to be able to find people who have stories and perform my heart out for them.”
However, David never takes single credit.
“You take a look at everything that goes on to make this show happen. There’s about 80 people involved and it’s not one person — EVER! It’s an entire group effort,” he said.
From his wife and their nine exotic birds — “she lets me cut her in half and make her disappear!” — to the lion tamer, Brian McMillan who shows off his exceptional relations with his big cats to the act with a trained house cat — a sight to see for sure! There’s Susie, Bunny and Minnie — the Asian elephants, a new horse act, dare devil high flying and high wire acts and, of course, what would a circus be without Clowns!
“We also have the All Access Pre-show — Free — to all ticket owners. It’s another great opportunity for us to meet those people, listen to their stories and perform for them once the curtains open and we appear. It’s as if we have friends out there. We find those people we met and we do the show for them,” he said, his heart in his voice.
Loving the circus life, David feels as Jason does, that they are part of a special family, always there for each other. With mechanics and seamstresses, cooks and welders, if anything goes wrong they help each other solve the problem to ensure they accomplish their main goal - to put smiles on people’s faces.
When the curtain comes down and the show is over, Jason and his team jump into action, setting up for the next show or striking the show in about three to four hours. Off they go, to the next town, the next audience, their new friends.
“The great thing about this show is we all get to evolve,” said David. “We all get to strive for greatness, we all get to change.”
“Since working here I have friends all around the world,” Jason said. “It’s very, very special. I love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else. But . . .we’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.”
The circus will be in Hidalgo at the State Farm Arena from May 19 to May 23. For more information go to www.Ringling.com and click on Illuscination or call the Arena at 843-6688.