For the first time ever, the Valley will debut a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus tour, with “Out of This World” premiering Thursday, July 7 through Sunday, July 10 in Fresno’s Selland Arena. It’s the very first stop before continuing on its national tour.
The show’s director, Rye Mullis, has local ties as well.
“My dad is from Fresno and most of my family is from that area — Clovis, Merced, Mariposa, all over. A lot of them will be at the show,” he said after wrapping up rehearsals in Tampa, Florida.
Mullis grew up in Newport Beach, but he’s excited to start the show in the Valley with family in the audience.
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Ringling has gotten a total reboot with this production — and the elephants’ recent retirement is just a small part of it.
“This is my seventh circus, fourth as director, but this is the biggest one,” Mullis said. “We are completely reinventing Ringling Bros. Half the floor is rubber, half the floor is ice; that hasn’t been done before.”
Apart from the animal acts, most of the 100 or so performers spend some time on the ice during the show.
“A lot of people have had to learn how to ice skate,” Mullis said.
This circus isn’t your typical themed compilation of acrobats and clowns performing in three rings. There’s a plot line.
“The show follows a storyline, which has been liberating because we get to try out completely different mediums. We’re not locked into tradition,” Mullis said.
The legendary Circus Star Seeker Paulo finds his ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, as a child and takes him to space to create a space circus. But the Intergalactic Circus Queen Tatiana hides all of the circus acts on different planets.
Paulo and Iverson must battle evil forces to find the best circus acts in the galaxy and send them, “to become the greatest show on Earth,” Mullis said.
It’s a family show, and not just for the audience.
“There are lot of kids this year, which is really exciting for families. Two of our stars are kids,” Mullis said.
Iverson has brought his 11-year-old son, Matthew, on board to play a younger version of himself, and head clown Davis Vassallo has brought his daughter, Adriana, to do the same.
The Heilongjiang Provincial Acrobatic Troupe is made of up of Chinese acrobats who range in age from 9 to 20, Mullis said.
“A lot of them are children, but they’re doing full-on pyramids and hoop diving. It’s amazing,” he said.
Mullis’ favorite part of the show is the storyline.
“I come from a theater background and I cut my teeth with the circus. To meld those two into one has been awesome,” he said. “I mean, my leading lady does the show in a huge ball gown and then she’s holding onto the underbelly of a horse going 60 miles an hour.”
Mullis said he has enjoyed getting to reinvent the wheel, but assures us that most circus-goers will still find their favorite acts in the show.
“People have their own set of expectations about the circus, and there’s still lions, tigers, the Globe of Steel,” he said, “it’s just in a new context. Each audience member will find a character in the show that they can attach to and follow throughout the story.”
There is plenty of aerial work and acrobatics, “but now the performers are on ice skates,” Mullis said. “It’s more impressive.”
Some may miss the elephants, but Mullis said retiring them has been liberating.
“We’re getting to show what a circus can be other than what it should be,” he said. “We don’t want you to forget the elephants, but we want to make sure we’re constantly evolving. Those who loved the elephants will be pleasantly surprised with the show. There are still lions, a dog act and plenty more animals. There’s a lot still there that’s very much American circus.”
What: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents “Out of This World”
Where: Selland Arena, 700 M St., Fresno
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 7, and Friday, July 8 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 9, and Sunday, July 10. Arrive early for the Animal Open House and hour-long preshow during which the audience can interact with circus performers.
How much: Tickets start at $10 for children and $18 for adults. Opening night special discount tickets are $13. To purchase, visit www.ticketmaster.com, charge by phone at (800) 745-3000 or visit the Selland Arena Box Office.