The End of an Era
No one really saw the closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus coming. When the surprising announcement came in January of 2017—that Ringling would cease operations of both the Red and Blue unit traveling shows in May of that year—performers and crew members were thrown for a loop.
Close down this incredible circus? This American icon, after 146 years? An end to the Ringling Bros. show, the Greatest Show on Earth?
It was a bitter pill to swallow for so many people: performers, workers and former employees right alongside circus audiences in the United States and around the world.
Still, the world is changing and life must always move forward. Jobs come and go. Memories of the Ringling Bros. circus are happy ones. Life in the “city without a zip code” was incomparable to just about anything else.
A few months following the closings, I chatted with several principal performers about “Life After Ringling.” I am now receiving updates on jobs and life; information where noted.
Yes, life moves on.
Alexander Lacey (Big Cat Trainer) & Katie Azzario-Lacey (Acrobat/Animal Trainer)
“The big cats are my life and I cannot imagine anything else—ever,” British animal trainer Alexander Lacey told me once again. “Ringling was a dream; I will always cherish the opportunity I had with this show.”
Alexander Lacey and his feline menagerie arrived in the United States in November of 2011. He joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for three tours with the Blue Unit (Dragons, Legends and Out Of This World).
Lacey and his big cats, crew, and lovely wife (Katie Azzario-Lacey) are now in Europe, performing in Germany. “We are settled in and the cats are perfect,” says Katie. "Our circus life is quite normal for us."
After returning to Europe, Alexander Lacey spent weeks performing with his lions and tigers in Lille, France and Heilbronn, Germany.
One year-plus after the closing of Ringling:
The Laceys are with Circus Charles Knie in Germany (now through November). In addition to assisting with the big cats, Katie Azzario-Lacey is the featured vocalist for the show. They will perform with the Offenburg Christmas Circus (in Germany) December 19, 2018 through January 6, 2019.
Alexander Lacey is happy to be back in Europe, but, he says, he does miss the United States. "I appreciate everyone’s good wishes and the great times I had with my Ringling family."
Ammed Tuniziani and the Flying Tuniziani
The Flying Tuniziani joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for the Legends show, starting in 2014. Star trapeze flyer Ammed Garcia Tuniziani is a third-generation circus performer; the youngest of the five Flying Tuniziani brothers. Ammed’s wife (Estefani Evans) also performs with the troupe.
With Ringling Bros., Ammed Tuniziani did what only one other flyer had ever done (at that time); turn quadruple somersaults into the arms of his catcher (Adriano De Quadra)—both in practice and performance. (Tuniziani’s mentor, Miguel Vazquez, completed the quad many times throughout his long career. Other flyers are now throwing quads, as well).
It was the year 2000 when nine-year-old Venezuela-born Ammed Garcia Tuniziani began performing with his brothers (at Circos Hermanos Vazquez in Mexico City). Before their years with Ringling (2014–2017), Ammed and the Flying Tuniziani worked with a number of shows around the world and in the United States, including: Cirque du Soleil, Circus Vargas, James Christie Cole, Royal Hanneford and Circus Circus Casino (in Las Vegas).
Shortly after the Ringling circus announced its closing, Ammed Tuniziani told me he was working out the details for appearing with the Big Apple Circus (USA).
One year-plus after the closing of Ringling:
Ammed and the Flying Tuniziani are doing what they do best.
“I loved being with Ringling for the Legends (2014–2016) and Out Of This World (2016–2017) tours,” Ammed Tuniziani told me. “We all did, and I will never forget that moment when I first hit the quad in performance; I flew back to the platform … everyone was cheering and excited.
"Now we are so happy to be with Big Apple,” he continued. "We have doubled the number of performers in our act, and are having a great time. Our 2018–2019 season is underway.
“Trapeze is my gift from God," Tuniziani says. "Miguel Vazquez was my biggest inspiration and when I first saw him fly, I knew that I wanted to fly with the circus; it’s what I always wanted to be. Working with my brothers and wife, and having our children watch what we do is my greatest joy.”
Big Apple Circus was founded in 1977 but ran into financial troubles which forced it into bankruptcy in 2016. Under new ownership, the circus performed its autumn and holiday seasons in New York’s Lincoln Center; it has since toured areas of the East Coast. After a summer hiatus, the show will go on in the fall of 2018 and into 2019. Visit the Big Apple Circus website for touring information.
Benny Ibarra: Wheel of Steel
With a circus background that includes clowning, trampoline, and the flying trapeze, Benny Ibarra loves to dance on the Pendulum of Steel; a 35-foot long metal structure that weighs about 16,000 pounds.
After stints with the Royal London Circus in China and performances in Taiwan, Mexico, Asia, Africa and Europe, Benny Ibarra brought his aerial talents to the Greatest Show On Earth. From 2014 until the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed in May of 2017, Ibarra showcased his dangerous and “Xtreme” athleticism to audiences two or three times a day – without a safety net below. The wheel stands 30 feet in the air; Ibarra’s performance included skipping, tumbling, spinning and jumping rope.
What has happened after the show closed?
“When the Ringling show closed, I thought I would be in Spain with El Gran Circo Mundial—I signed that contract just after the announcement was made. But the owner of Gran Circo Mundial went back on his word and did not honor the terms of our contract, which caused me some problems."