Circus bringing act to Arthur, Mahomet and Westville
While the biggest players in the circus world perform in stadiums or at Las Vegas, the Kelly Miller Circus is still tents, mud and small towns.
The circus will be in Arthur on Saturday, in Mahomet on Sunday, and Monday in Westville.
"We wonder why we do this when bulldozers are pulling us out of the mud," says Ringmaster John Moss while checking lights for a recent show in Mascoutah.
The vans, trucks and SUVs in a three-dozen-vehicle entourage cross America's highways for more than two-thirds of the year.
The Kelly Miller Circus requires open grounds of 350 feet by 350 feet. The big top has a seating capacity of 1,100 and is made of waterproof vinyl.
The tent is 40 feet high, supported by more than a quarter mile of aluminum tubing, and several miles of rope, cable and chain.
Moss, 48, says a lifetime in the circus has been rewarding, even when traveling by van and truck can be challenging.
"I get a front-row seat every day. Even though the schedule is grueling, it's very rewarding to see the tents go up," he says.
It's not like Moss has to be away from his family.
His wife Reyna is also in the circus, sometimes riding Lisa and Traci, the performing elephants. His two teenage sons are already in the business.
"I'm sure my daughter will ride the elephant someday," dad says.
Moss likes the timeless quality of the circus brightening up a sleepy town.
"The tent is the star," Moss says.
"A lot of traditionalists think it's not really a circus if it's not under the big top. The smell of vinyl and grass makes our show different."
Jim Royal, the general manager of the Kelly Miller Circus, said the company has kept its traditional ways since 1938. It has a connection to the Ringling Brothers through its owner, John Ringling North II, who bought it in 2007.
Even its headquarters are a circus tradition. Hugo, Okla., has 5,310 people, many of them attached to one circus or another — the Carson & Barnes Circus also calls Hugo home.
The town has a cemetery called Showmen's Rest, guarded by a granite elephant, that memorializes many circus and rodeo greats with grave markers that reflect the circus acts of the departed.
"We're like family," says Jim Royal, the general manager of Kelly Miller Circus.
He quotes Cecil B. DeMille, the director of "The Greatest Show On Earth":
"You can shake the sawdust out of your shoes, but you can't shake it out of your heart."
Royal, 66, worked as a ringmaster, too, in his early days. "I was always interested in the circus from 14 on," he says. "I was a ringmaster and did an illusion/escape act."
Royal took at stab at college at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus (when it was called Circle) but left to be a "talker," what non-circus people call a "barker."
Besides the elephants, the stars of the show include seven tigers, zebras, camels and, among the humans, trapeze artist Rebecca Ostroff, who started out as a dancer and can perform the "iron jaw," suspended only by her teeth.
There are clowns and other traditions in the Kelly Miller Circus that go back to the middle ages.
"This is a circus that has lot of traditions," Moss says.
Among them, as elsewhere in the circus world, is a tendency for universal themes and international stars.
"That's more true than ever," Moss says."We have from Peru a chair-stacking act, as well as two contortionists from Mongolia, a juggler from France, and my wife Reyna from Mexico."
He said circus fans should know there may not always be traveling circuses.
"Other tent circuses travel but there are fewer and fewer — every decade we lose one," Moss said.
More information on the circus is at kellymillercircus.com.
If you go
Kelly Miller Circus has shows at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday at the old football field.
Tickets are available at kellymillercircus.com/events/arthur-il-2/
They are also available at the First National Bank of Arthur, the State Bank of Arthur, the Arthur Community Bank and Oye's Hardware.
The event is sponsored by the Arthur Area Association of Commerce.
The Kelly Miller Circus performances will be at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday at the Mahomet-Seymour High School grounds.
Tickets are at kellymillercircus.com/events/mahomet-il/ or the Mahomet IGA, First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust, Fisher National Bank, Busey Bank and First Financial Bank.
The event is sponsored by the Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Kelly Miller Circus will perform at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Monday at Zamberletti Park.
Tickets are online at kellymillercircus.com/events/westville-il-2/ or by going to Latoz Hardware, Two Brother's Family Restaurant, Westville Gas and Water Office and the Westville Village Clerk.
The event is sponsored by the Westville Lions Club.