When Circus Sarasota’s winter season kicks off Feb. 7, fans young and old will throng into the festive red and white Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park to enjoy thrills, laughs and circus artistry. But how did that tent get there? How big is it? Who made it? We asked circus tent master Luis Garcia those questions and more. Circus Sarasota runs through March 1; for tickets call 355-9805 or visit circusarts.org.

Who Made the Tent?

The tents—actually two, the main theater tent and the foyer entrance one—were custom designed and made in Italy, the world leader in European one-ring tent design. “It’s fireproof and very strong,” says Garcia. “They cut it like a fine suit, with no bags or wrinkles.”

A Really Big Show

The main theater tent occupies 14,957 square feet and is 47 feet tall at its highest point. The foyer entrance tent adds 8,712 more square feet overall. Together, the tents fit into an area of 365 feet by 230 feet. Estimated cost? Garcia says about $1 million or so.

The tent seating was designed by Circus Arts Conservatory CEO Pedro Reis and tent master Garcia.

Image: Cliff Roles

Plus, There Are Bleachers

The tent seating was designed by Circus Arts Conservatory CEO Pedro Reis and tent master Garcia and normally offers 1,645 seats—none farther from the show ring than 50 feet. The 273 ringside seats are especially up close and personal.

It’s a Rare Breed

Garcia says probably only four or five other tents like this one, with its highly conspicuous cupola design, exist.

The Skinny on Rigging

Rigging the tents takes a full day, with 10 or 12 workers involved alongside Garcia, himself a fourth-generation circus pro. An additional two or three lighting and sound technicians are used—along with a forklift, compressor, jack hammers, an air hose and approximately 250 tent stakes.

The tent at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C.

Image: Courtesy Photo 

Mr. Clean

When it’s up for extended periods, the tent exterior can start to turn black from traffic exhaust. Garcia dons a harness and climbs up with hose and soap in hand to rinse it off. “When you get up there, you don’t miss a spot,” he says. He also uses hand towels (as well as the sun) to dry it completely before packing it in trailers for storage—ready to go on the road at a moment’s notice.

Can You Rent the Tent?

Sure. Among events that have borrowed it: the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival near Nashville, the San Francisco Music Festival and the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. The Big Top was also set up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2017 when the Circus Arts Conservatory took part in the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. 

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