At the beginning of the year, Feld announced the final performances of its 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The last performances of “Out of This World” is happening Friday at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., while the “Extreme” show took its final bow at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. last Sunday.
The Dunkin’ Donuts Center has hosted the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus almost every year since the arena opened in 1972, including an infamous 2014 accident. Due to a faulty carabiner, eight women who had been suspended by their hair during the Human Chandelier act fell from the rigging and were immediately sent to the hospital. The troop returned two years later to Providence for their final tour with the elephant performers.
Last week, Dunkin’ Donuts Center hosted eight performances between Thursday (May 4) through Sunday (May 7), closing the curtain on one of America’s oldest traditions. Amplify spoke with Dunkin’ Donuts Center GM Lawrence Lepore about the arena’s deep history with the circus and what it was like to say goodbye.
What were ticket sales like for the final shows?
Seven of the eight performances sold out. That’s just totally unbelievable. I’ve been working for the arena for 19 years and we’ve never had anything close to this.
Did a lot of people come from out of town?
The farthest I know of is a family that came up from Texas to see it. There were several individuals who went to our show, but are also going in two weeks to the next one. The other thing that surprised me was how many former employees, former clowns, different acts from the circus that were there to see the last performance.
What was the mood on the last night for performers?
It was a pretty emotional night. It really was. I didn’t think it would be as much as it was, but you’re dealing with people whose whole lives have been the circus and it is coming to an end. A local reporter went to the first night it opened at the arena and then came back for the final performance. He pretty much summed it up when he said he thought that the performers themselves the last night were better than they were the first night. They were really motivated to have a great performance the last night. I think they all took it up a notch, but at the end of the night when it finally ended there were tears. It was a sad night. No doubt about it.
How about the mood of the audience?
The audience was very appreciative of what they just witnessed. They witnessed history. There was a pretty long standing ovation. There was an enormous amount of interaction between the performers and the audience, lots of picture taking and selfies that lasted for a good hour after the performance. The performers stayed out there and met with people and their children who wanted to document the last show. Overall, I think the patrons left really happy.
Did you do anything to commemorate the evening?
We made plaques just to tell them thank you and we appreciate them. I know there were other cities with much greater capacities where they could have made a lot more money. We just wanted to say thank you for ending it here in Providence. They didn’t play Chicago. They didn’t play anywhere in Texas. The fact is, if you look at the business they did, they would have done great business in any market. They chose to end the show in a building that is a little smaller than some other venues available to them. Financially they probably made less money, but I also appreciate that they thought of us and ended it here.
How did Dunkin’ Donuts Center get the final performances?
This building has been open for 45 years and it has hosted the circus all that time. They’ve been coming to the city for almost 90 years. We’ve had a great relationship with the Feld family. In 2010 we had the U.S. Mayors Conference where we had Ringlings come up and do a special performance for the mayors. We had the very last performance of elephants at the center. The Felds have been a great tenant for us. We’re one of the very few venues that does two Disney on Ice (produced by Feld Productions) performances a year. We do a lot of business with them. Providence is a great family market and we’ve had a long relationship with them.
Did Feld have any hesitation coming back to the Center after the accident in 2014?
Not one bit. We had the unfortunate accident, but that brought us even closer together in 2014. The last elephant performance was actually that unit. It was that unit coming back after they had skipped a year and the first night we hosted a dinner for all the performers and the staff. We welcomed them back to the city. I think that was very much appreciated by the troop and by the owners of the circus.
Was it hard for the arena to say good-bye?
It’s a little different for us than for most buildings because we have seen them so many times. The general managers for both shows we know personally because they have been in our building so many times. They are like family to us. They are here all the time and that’s not going to change. Those entertainers, they’ll be back with something else. I know they will. It may be a good-bye to the circus, but as far as the people that ran it and the people that we dealt with, they’ll be back with something else. That’s in their blood.
What has been your personal relationship to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus?
My first circus experience was going with my parents then me taking my kids to the circus. Luckily, now I got the chance to have my grandchildren come with me to the circus. I experienced it, from not only an operator that takes pride in putting on that type of event, but also as a tradition. I think everybody at some time in their life has experienced going with their family and enjoying live entertainment, but unfortunately that is changing. It’s kind of sad to lose the Greatest Show On Earth.
The final Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be live streamed on Facebook from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 21. You can watch the trailer for the last performance below.