As Ernest Hemingway said, "The circus is the only ageless delight that you can buy for money...it is the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, gives you the quality of a truly happy dream."
Circus: Wandering City is a multimedia piece combining the archived visuals and recordings of The Ringling circus history and aims to be enlivened by original music—courtesy of the musical group ETHEL. In development since 2015, Circus: Wandering City will pay homage to an iconography-rich and dream-inspiring world, made real by defiant circus performers. And with the final performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year, the time to recount circus history is now more appropriate than ever.
A central goal of Circus: Wandering City is to illuminate the endurance and outright feats of human ability. "Persistent" is how Deborah Walk, Ringling's assistant director of legacy and circus, describes circus performers' lives. On the topic of typical routine, she said it leaned heavily on "practicing, warming up, waiting to perform, performing—six mins or so—practicing, resting, practicing, warming up." The performance, she added, is a display of humans "doing incredible acts of daring in real time."
ETHEL, a string quartet (four musicians: two violin, a viola, and a cellist), composed the original music and will be performing for the event on stage. Having accepted Ringling’s invitation to perform in 2015, ETHEL was brought in by Dwight Currie (Ringling’s curator of performance) to view the archived material held by the museum. Witnessing the imagery, and hearing the voices of circus performers recorded, Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Corin Lee (violin) were inspired.
Circus: Wandering City will encompass an immense timeline spanning from the 19th century to more recent days. The performance is directed by Grand McDonald—who’s collaborated on dozens of concerts, theater productions, and live events.