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'The Greatest Show on Earth' is being 'reimagined' — without the animals

·2 min read

Until it shuttered in 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey entertained families with death-defying acrobatics, trapeze stunts, and exotic animals. But Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment and owner of the Ringling franchise, is changing its age-old production before the return of "The Greatest Show on Earth" in fall 2023.

“It's really going to be something that we're reimagining,” Feld told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an interview on Tuesday as part of Yahoo Finance's "Influencers" series. “We're focusing on families, and we're focusing on connections between the performers, and the audience.”

Feld Entertainment is also behind Monster Jam, Monster Energy Supercross Championship, Disney on Ice, and more. While the company hosts more than 3,500 shows at home and abroad, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey closed in May 2017 — citing high costs and declining ticket sales.

Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov interacts with the elephants after they appeared in their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov interacts with the elephants after they appeared in their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Protests from animal rights activists also preceded the decision to shut down. In its previous iteration, the Ringling Bros. circus used elephants, tigers, lions, camels, donkeys, and pigs; The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused it of mistreating these creatures, calling it "the cruelest show on earth."

The circus, in response to abuse allegations, retired its last 11 touring elephants in 2016, which the company said led to a decline in ticket sales. Five years after its closure, Ringling has altered its 146-year-old business model away from animal theatrics to focus on a new generation of children, parents, and grandparents.

“Ringling has always been about the people,” Feld says. Ringling plans on incorporating what it calls a “360-degree experience,” allowing performers to become "co-collaborators" with the audience — this means that each performance will share different stories and interactive scenes. The company also aspires to create a lifestyle brand via theme park rides and tours.

Feld is in luck as demand for in-person events has grown since the height of the pandemic. In May, ticketing giant Live Nation Entertainment reported that its revenue surged as demand returned for concerts. Transactions in Q1 2022 were up 33% — or 17 million new tickets — from Q1 2019, the year before the pandemic.

Feld is optimistic about the Ringling Franchise’s future, too.

“It'll be a show or production, that will be mind-blowing,” Feld explains. “It will have all the tenets that we've always had, which are the humor, the whimsy, the wow factor, the thrill factor, and it'll be something that is relatable to everybody."

Yaseen Shah is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @yaseennshah22

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