Circus performers get ready for final show in Providence

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mother and son juggling duo Victoria Zsilak and Richard Labadi have been living on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train for 18 years. Zsilak is a third-generation juggler, met her husband at the circus, and raised her son to juggle, too.

“We are savoring these last moments,” Zsilak said at a pre-show event for the press on Friday. She and Labadi will perform for the Ringling Bros. for the final time on Sunday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.

Contortionists, clowns, a human canon, a poodle trainer and other performers were in good spirits as they spoke about their upcoming final show. Their tour, Circus XTREME, is one of two tours before the circus shuts down for good. A second tour, Out of this World, will wrap up in Long Island on May 21.

“I personally was devastated when I heard the news,” said Ivan Vargas, a clown. Performers were notified in January that the circus would be closing; it was just four days after Matthew Lish had started on the tour as a clown.

“I was like you know what, I’ve made it,” Lish said. “I’ve wanted this my entire life, I’ve wanted this since I was 3 years old. And I get to be here at this historic moment of the greatest show on earth.”

“I’m gonna take a long nap,” Lish added when asked about his future plans.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been operating for 146 years, and a spokesperson for parent company Feld Entertainment was quick to point out that the show has been running longer than baseball and is older than Coca-Cola.

“It just wasn’t sustainable anymore,” said Stephen Payne. He said ticket sales had been dropping for years, but plummeted after the circus phased out the use of elephants.

The final elephant show was in Providence last year.

“We knew ticket sales would take a hit from that, but it was much greater than we ever anticipated,” Payne added.

Six hundred employees will be affected by the circus shutdown, including 500 performers. Those who spoke with Eyewitness News said they’d continue to entertain people in other forms. Payne said some employees will take other jobs within Feld Entertainment, which produces shows like Disney on Ice and Monster Jam.

The animals owned by the circus are all already set to be placed in various sanctuaries and with private owners, Payne said. Some animals are owned by their performers and will stay with them wherever they go next.

Many of the performers have lived on the circus train for years or decades, and will need to find new homes elsewhere.

“Wherever we move to, it’s going to seem like a mansion compared to my room on the train,” remarked clown Stephen Craig.

Tickets are still available for the final Circus XTREME show on Sunday. The final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be live streamed on May 21 from Long Island.