Cole Bros. Circus in Brunswick, Georgia

 Watch the 2013 edition of the Cole Bros. Circus on its stopover in Brunswick, Georgia shot with the Sony WX50 Cybershot camera. If you’d like to create your own free video slideshow with your own photos click here.

circus clown preshowAs we pulled into the fairgrounds in Brunswick, Georgia there was no mistaking the red and yellow striped tent in the distance. The circus was in town and we had front row seats.

I have a special connection to the Cole Bros. Circus. Back in 1996 when I was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design I created a documentary about the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus entitled Under the Big Top as my senior project in the Video program there. I interviewed the ringmaster, tiger trainer, equestrian trainer, clowns, and the human cannonball. The documentary created a portrait of the circus that went beyond the glamour of the spotlight and showed the very human qualities of these performers that make the circus such a time-honored tradition. My fondest memories from this experience was the time I spent hanging out with the young clowns, most recent graduates of clown school, who even out-of-makeup were some of the funniest people I’d met in my life. This experience, inspired after reading fellow Savannah-native Bruce Feiler’s book Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus, gave me a permanent love for the circus.

circus clown stiltsThus I was very excited to pass this love for the circus down to my now four year old daughter so when I saw they were coming to town I had to get front row seats to the excitement.

The show started even before entering the Big Top. Out front the clowns were milling around providing photo opportunities and a chance to buy a show program. After taking advantage of a few photo opportunities we headed for the entrance where we picked up the tickets we reserved online and went inside and found our seats.

circus clowns anthemThe show began, as they always do, with the Ringmaster leading the audience in the national anthem aided by a couple of clowns. Then it was on with the show. The first act is always the tiger act because, as I learned while filming my documentary, the large iron cage is quite time consuming to erect. Thus the cage is erected before people even enter the Big Top and is ready to go once the show starts. Once the act is over the audience’s attention is redirected to the front of the tent for another act as the workers disassemble the tiger cage and prepare the area for the third act. The magic of the circus is this constant redirection of the audience’s attention so that from their perspective the show never stops or even slows down. (And in the event of unforseen problems, the Ringmaster will simply “send in the clowns” to entertain and distract the audience until the problem is resolved.)

circus tigers

My daughter loves tigers (is there a stronger word than “love”?) so she was ecstatic to watch the tigers pounce and hop and stand all at the direction of the trainer. Most of the tigers in this act were white tigers which added to the majesty and magical nature of the act. The big cats snarled and growled and swatted at the whip displaying the still wild nature of these majestic animals. The ease with which they leapt through the air combined with their feather soft landing was truly awe-inspiring. But as amazing and adorable as these big cats were, the power they displayed in every movement along with their immense size made me especially glad for the big iron cage between them and my family. Of course, my daughter was oblivious to such dangers and simply wanted to pet them!


circus performerAfter the tiger act the audience was directed to the front of the circus ring where a young man dressed in purple tights was being slowly lifted into the air on some type of large metal contraption. He soon began performing amazing feats of human strength and balance. He would slowly perform handstands and then switch to holding himself up on just one hand all the while suspended thirty feet above the ground. The strength and grace he displayed was simply phenomenal.

circus baby elephantOnce lowered back to the ground the spotlights shifted to the back of the circus ring where minutes earlier the tiger cage had been. This area was now all cleared out and a little girl came running out into the center of the ring followed by two adult elephants and a baby elephant. My daughter could barely contain her excitement at the sight of the baby elephant. I’m sure the fact that this act was led by a little girl barely older than her made this act even more exciting for my daughter.

circus clowns firetruckBefore the act was over, clowns invaded the ring which was a nice seque into the next act at the front of the Big Top. Now the clowns had the ring all to themselves as they performed a skit that I remember seeing as a child. This skit involves saving a “woman” from a burning house. Needless to say the clown fireman make things far more complicated than they need to be. I won’t spoil the surprise so if you want to know more than catch the circus when it stops in your town.

circus aerialist jugglingThis act was followed by female aerialists including one lady who was suspended by her hair while juggling and performing other such activities. Both graceful and death-defying, these aerialists added a sense of sophistication to the circus. This act was immediately followed by acrobatic dogs performing all manner of amazing feats and circus tricks. My daughter could hardly contain herself especially when the little chihuahua came onstage.

This was the end of act one and the Ringmaster announced it was time for the intermission. Pony rides and photo opps with the gymnastic dogs and a white tiger were available (for a fee, of course. My wife and I remarked at how well organized the circus was at getting you to pull out your wallet a few more times after buying the initial tickets. From popcorn and cotton candy to light swords and pony rides, make sure you have a few extra dollars to your budget because your child will certainly feel left out otherwise.)

circus human cannonballAfter intermission the circus started back up with a performance with a troupe of elephants followed by another troupe of female aerialists. A death-defying motorcycle stunt show was next where a father-and-sons trio rode at high speed inside a metal sphere all the while trying to avoid crashing into one another. My wife and I wondered how you train for such an act without killing yourself? Finally, the show came to an end with the big finale: the human cannonball. As I learned from the human cannonball I interviewed for my documentary, all types of things can go wrong with this stunt. In fact, a previous human cannonball for this circus is now permanently paralyzed after he overshot the net. Yet luckily for this show the human cannonball made his target and landed successfully in the net at one end of the Big Top after being shot from the cannon at the opposite end.

Overall it was a fun-filled night at the circus for kids and adults alike. If you want to find out when they’ll be performing near you just check out the Cole Bros. Circus website for tour dates.

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