Lions and tigers and bears, goodbye!
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is bringing back "The Greatest Show on Earth" next year after a six-year hiatus, but the showrunners confirmed on TODAY Wednesday that animals will not be returning.
It's a dramatic change for a circus that started in 1871 and became known for its acts featuring lions, tigers and elephants. The move is one the showrunners believe reflects audiences' changing tastes.
"We will not be touring animals," Juliette Feld Grossman, a producer of the revived circus, told NBC News senior national correspondent Kerry Sanders on TODAY.
The circus shut down in 2017 under pressure from animal rights groups and shifts in audience tastes. The producers had removed the elephants from the show a year earlier and sent them to live on a sanctuary in Florida.
The new version of the circus comes after two years of planning during the pandemic and is expected to get back on the road in 16 months.
Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, has found that today's audiences don't want to see animals or corny clown acts performing.
"That’s the past, and the great thing is that we’ve had a blank piece of paper to reimagine," producer Kenneth Feld said on TODAY.
The family-owned company has shown it knows how to reach audiences in running other popular productions that include Disney on Ice, Sesame Street Live and the live monster truck show Monster Jam.
The revived circus will focus more on death-defying, awe-inspiring human feats. Producers have conducted worldwide auditions from Mongolia to Argentina in search of the top circus performers.
More than 1,000 performers have auditioned, with about 75 expected to make the cut, according to Grossman.
"What we’re seeing is huge demand for people," Grossman said. "To be in person and to see things that are real."
The show also plans to engage with audiences more on social media, including at times during the show.
This is the second pandemic that has inspired changes in the circus, as the show also shut down during the 1918 influenza pandemic that caused the deaths of at least 50 million people worldwide.
"That was when Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey combined in 1919 because they didn’t want to take a risk with all these other shows coming," Feld said.
Now they are rolling out a production different than the one older generations may remember seeing as kids.
“I’ve been part of Ringling my whole life, and now we’re excited to to make that real for everybody else,” Grossman said.
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