Clowns, rain and elephant droppings
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
By Randall Hill
Sweat was beading on the brow of Danny McRoberts as he ran through his chores as an animal handler in Myrtle Beach. McRoberts, an Augusta, Georgia native, had been on the road with the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars for the last seven years. As he worked to scoop large piles of elephant droppings, he scurried in and out and between the large beasts as they performed their tricks. As his large shovel became a part of the action, it was almost as if it was an unintentional, choreographed part of the show.
Many of the behind-the-scenes workers are the same as McRoberts. Under the large red and yellow tent of the traveling circuses, the crews generally try to blend in with the background, buzzing everywhere to install and set-up the rigs performers require for the show.
“Just call me Meatball the Clown,” says Meriden, Connecticut native Josh Dummitt from his perch 3 feet above the crowd. Dummitt was standing on homemade stilts fabricated while traveling between shows. The extra height of the devices seemed to give Dummitt, 22, a bit of clown confidence, as he is the show’s youngest and most inexperienced clown. Near Dummitt stood his co-worker and veteran clown Perolito Jahir. At 5’2”, Jahir was in direct contrast to his co-worker in both size and experience. Jahir, from Pereira, Colombia, with his brother Kellan Bermudez, were 20-year veterans with the Cole Brothers Circus.
The wind carried an aroma of Latin spices to a small tent away from the big top. Between the day’s two shows, workers stopped by the circus mess tent for a quick bite and a hot drink. An enclosed tent was fastened to the side of a travel trailer where inside two workers stood over several deep fry tanks and a large grill. In the tent area, portable tables and chairs held hungry workers as they conversed about the day. “The food is great and because of the workers, it mostly has a Spanish twist,” said clown Julius Carallo as he enjoyed his meal. That day’s dinner is fried chicken, white rice and tortillos. “This mess tent is the first to be set-up,” said Carallo, who performs as Clown Chips during the show. “They have to feed 70 people 3-times a day.”
Traveling circuses such as the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars, complete with it’s traveling big top tent, set up their tent city in the smaller markets all along the East Coast of the United States. Their goal is to bring the circus to rural areas and away from the big cities where larger circuses stage shows in arenas. In its 129th edition, performers with Cole Brothers will travel to 100 cities in 20-25 states and stage 250 shows a year. Their claim is that they are the oldest big top circus in the United States.
Well into the second show that evening a heavy rain blanketed the area. Outside the tent, workers scurried to keep the rigs dry and safe for the performers. At first the audience and those inside the tent were unaware of the weather change but got a clue when the elephants performed with a noticeably darker shade on their back from the rain.
As the rain persisted, the entire floor of the big top was covered in water from the storm. Just as the last show of the evening was ending, workers scurried to check the rigs and start sweeping the water away from the show’s rings. These circus workers are always in a mindset to prepare for the next show. Everything is portable but has a place to be stored and found when needed.
Backstage after the show, motorcycle daredevil Eric Anthony, 18, was the hero to the circus workers. Despite a wet rig and an inch of rain inside the tent, Anthony performed his Thunderdrome routine for the audience. The Thunderdrome, a large metal globe he circumvents at high speeds on his motorcycle is dangerous enough without the rain soaked dome. As he got a hug from the ringmaster for his bravery, he stated to the workers and those assembled. “The show must go on.”