As a performance community, we can not help but be moved by the recent circus accident. During the introduction of the human chandelier hair hang act on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus “LEGENDS” show, the carabiner in the rigging failed and 8 performers fell 30 feet to the floor. The rigging came down on them and hit another performer working underneath them.
You can read the official press release from Feld Entertainment here: http://www.feldentertainment.com/PressRoom/DisplayPressRelease/71145/
Injuries were severe, but not life treating. This can be attributed to the top physical condition of the women and the dedication of their trainer. The clowns were called to perform in the seats while the performers were treated and the show was cancelled along with the rest of the shows for the day.
But the show will go on. Because the performers would not have it any other way. The risk is part of the thrill of the act. The dedication it takes to get in that type of physical condition, the camaraderie of the troupe moves them to think to recovery and stepping back into the spotlight.
The dictionary definition of resilience is “The power to return to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” I don’t know of a better word to describe a circus performer!
For those of you who know my children are with Ringling Bros. Circus, the accident happened on the Blue Unit where my son DJ Weiss is a clown. He is close friends with one of the women who fell. She was a clown last year and was recruited for the hair hang act. She trained all year and did her clown duties as well. Is she ready to call it quits? No way. She wants to recover and get back up in the air with her troupe.
I have known performers who have survived falls as bad or worse only to return to their act. Sheer determination and a love of performance carry them on.
To all my circus friends and family, we pray for their speedy recovery and their return to the spotlight.
Send in the Clowns!
So what if you are not on the circus, what do we have to learn here?
It sounds trite and even callous to say “the show must go on” while bodies are lying broken and being attended to by first responders.
But the truth is in the event of an emergency the clown is a powerful tool.
When I was a clown on Ringling Bros. we knew in an event of an emergency we would be called to come on a second’s notice to entertain the crowds in time of need. The clown is a needed distraction in the event of a real emergency. I remember clowning after several aerial falls, and a clown stilt walker falling. A member of my circus family was hurt and we needed to put on a happy face. The crowd is filled with families and this is not the time to let them down.
If this happens to you at an event, be ready to stand tall and be a welcomed distraction. Keep your head. Get someone out of make-up to make the 911 call if you can. Stay on hand to divert or distract the crowds away from the scene. Be calm and fun, not overly wacky. Yes it is okay to say everything is going to be alright. Do NOT give details. It is not your place. Do not draw attention the accident. Guide people away from it. Be a fun distraction. Most folks will not even know what is going on if you do your job right. Be resilient — have the ability to bend without breaking, to bounce back after a crushing blow.
My son DJ said, “Mom I was so numb I didn’t even cry until I took my make-up off.”
Good job, Sweetheart. Good job.
A word from the director
Rye Mullis, the director of “LEGENDS”, wrote an excellent reflection on the recent accident. I won’t try to paraphrase it, because he said it better than I could have. Here is his post from Facebook:
When you think of the word LEGEND, everyone’s got a different opinion. You ask one person, they say “Oh, it’s Fairies, Unicorns, Dragons.” You ask somebody else, it’s” Robin Hood and King Arthur”. You ask somebody else, “It’s a Football Player”. But the one thing that all those concepts of a “Legend” has is that people are telling you that the “Legend” they’re referring to is so magical, so bigger than life, so beyond human comprehension, that it will live forever. It’s something that man can only use as their ideal. That’s what a legend is.
The Greatest Legend of them all is Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. It is the longest running show in America. It’s older than films, it’s older than Broadway, it’s older than Major League Baseball, it’s older than professional wrestling.
It’s older than all these things in America. And it’s something that you have to remind yourself, that in the world…Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is the definition of circus.
In every children’s book, in every TV show, in every movie. If they’re doing something about the circus, it is always directly related to what’s been created on that floor. EVERYTHING.
The people that perform at RBB&B are not normal people. They’re not us. These are people that you’d never expect to see out on the street. No child or parent that comes to our show expects to see Alexander Lacey at Starbucks.
When you bring a child to the show, they don’t believe that these people would ever leave this magical place. People who ride the motorcycle high wire, ride that flying motorcycle… all day long, because nobody else can do it. Alexander Lacey spends his days living with tigers. To a child, that’s how big these people are. The performers don’t live in our comprehension of human reality.
LEGENDS is about the legend of Ringling Brothers and the performers who live here, giving them their own legendary status and letting them all live together in one magical world known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
That floor that has been our Coliseum for 144 years. People have come in, people have come out, but at the end of the day. The live forever. THEY ARE LEGENDARY.
The women of Ringling are some of the strongest humans I know, from the Producers Nicole Feld and Alana Feld, to the women that run the backstage and costume departments, to these magical women who put their lives on the line every day doing what they love. They do not call it “death-defying” for nothing. These girls have proved that. As they recover from their accident, I ask all of you to please keep them in your hearts. Let their bravery inspire you. These girls will come back, bigger, stronger and braver than before. They are Superheroes. They are Built to Amaze. They are LEGENDS.
I am honored, humbled and eternally grateful to be the director of LEGENDS.
– Rye Mullis
Director, RBBB “Legends”
What an out-pouring of love and support for those amazing performers! So many folks are changing their Facebook profile photo to the “Praying for Legends” photo. There has been a crowd-funding page set up to accept donations on the troupe’s behalf. Even a separate Facebook page has been created for people to express their support and encouragement.
Over 400 comments were posted on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Facebook page that day in support of the performers and the circus. Lots of folks are praising the efficient manner in which it was handled, making special mention of the clowns.
Here are a few quotes:
The staff was so efficient in their quick action to shield the audience and they sent some clowns around to distract the children. It must have been very hard for them to stay so focused. Every staff member including the DD center was so professional.
I commend all staff on their fast response and professionalism during the accident. They handled it in the best possible way, sent clowns out to talk to the kids and explain that these things can happen, and answer any questions they could. The care and concern of the coworkers (which are more like family than we could ever understand) was overwhelming.
I would like to personally thank your staff and the first responders for handling this tragedy the way you did. The lights being dimmed, and the clowns in the stands truly helped distract the kids from what was going on.
Be inspired! Read these other blog posts to help boost your confidence and get you thinking:
- How to cope with grief and keep clowning
- When “funny” isn’t enough – Dealing with depression and suicide
- How to say “no” when you are overwhelmed
- Dealing with transitions in your life
- You never know who will be touched by your presence
- Here are the steps you should take during an on-site accident
- “You Never Know” You never know who is watching that might need a smile. You never know what dreams you may inspire.
- “Don’t Over-Think It” How to create a clown character without too much stress.
- “You Are A Gift” Feeling down? Remember, each time you put on that red nose, you’re going to make someone’s day!
- “Clown Goals” We need to set goals in order to grow. How do we do that?
- “National Clown Shortage” Where have all the clowns gone?
- “Clown: Plain Clothes Division” What do you do when your client asks for no clown makeup?