Although there were people of European heritage living in Sarasota since the mid 1800's, it seems like the circus really put this town on the map. If you're not driving down a street named Lemon, Lime, Pineapple or Fruitville, you're on the Ringling Causeway. In the late 1800'sthe Ringlings began wintering here and eventually brought their circus here during the off season. John Ringling was reputed to be the fifth wealthiest man in the United States when he and Charles bought an estimated 67,000 acres of what is now Sarasota. Performers had a chance to rest, recreate and develop new acts for the long summer tour in the rest of the country. In those days before television and movies, the circus brought excitement and the exotic to town. It was the only chance many people had to see a lion, camel or elephant.
Ken has vivid memories of his Grandpa taking him to a circus that fits our stereotype of what a circus should be - three rings with so much going on he didn't know where to look. That three ring big top tent was last used in 1956. Audiences dwindled and many circuses went out of business. TV and movies brought excitement into people's lives every day and the entertainment that a circus could provide became passé.
But here and there, especially in this town, lovers of the circus struggled to keep things going and modernized the acts for today's audience. There is a large circle in downtown Sarasota with plaques honoring the greats in the circus world; it reminded us of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Every January a ceremony takes place there, inducting new honorees.
Tonight we went to a performance of Circus Sarasota, a performance that deviated from the circus of Ken's childhood memories in many ways. There was only ring. There were no lions, elephants, or camels. Rather it was a series of acts that reminded us more of Cirque d'Soleil. Many of the performers came from other countries. There was juggling, tight rope walking, clowns, and acrobats flying through the air and balancing on one another's shoulders. One act we had never seen before. A couple danced a variety of different dance routines, pausing every so often to hide behind a black screen. A few beats of music later, they would dance back out wearing a different costume. We've never seen such quick costume changes. A young family of five sat behind us. After getting my derriere kicked a few times, I began to feel annoyed, but once the show started and we could hear a steady chorus of "wow" and "hurray," it brought smiles to our faces.
Although the performers must have earned a salary of their performance, the mission of the circus here is to raise money for community service and outreach. Circus personnel go to schools, assisted living communities and local hospitals to entertain and lift spirits. Perhaps because people somewhat older than us have such vivid memories of the circus, their work has been especially helpful to Alzheimer's patients.