By Jeff Rebitski, Staff Writer
The Shrine Circus folded it’s tents this morning to move onto the next town, sharing what may be a disappearing brand of entertainment, but that did not dampen the level of fun that the kids and adults of the region had as they watched three rings of circus magic on Wednesday afternoon at the Fremont County Fairgrounds in Riverton.
“The Greatest Ringmaster in the World,” Ari Steeples, gave me some time just before the circus performance at 2:00 P.M. and stated “I grew up in the circus and have been with the Shrine Circus since 1995. We have 17 acts that are sure to thrill and amaze.” That was not the case during the two years of the pandemic, “we almost shut down completely, most shows decided to stop and establish themselves in one place.” With so many increases in costs, it definitely affects the show, but the circus is at the end of an 18 week tour and will be going on summer break. “People still love the Shrine Circus, they have been doing this show for 63 years in Riverton.
The Shrine Circus helps the Shriners organization support 22 children’s hospitals across the nation. “The kids never have to pay for treatment for burns, orthopedic issues and brain trauma,” stated Fremont Shriner President, Kim Lee. “The kids never pay for the tickets for the matinee performance. All the tickets are bought and donated by local businesses and private donors.”
The circus Troupe is from south america and every one of the 30 staff members are spread thin as they sell cotton candy or toys after performing in the three rings set up in the arena. “The favorite acts are the high wire acts and the boy shot from the cannon.” said Steeples. He was correct, the highwire, set up just over the heads of the audience, was a thriller as the team of 4 walked, rode a bike and walked on stilts across, twenty feet in the air. The crowds cheered and interacted with the performers as they risked their lives with a casual attitude, pretending at times to be unsteady, only to do some amazing feat immediately after.
“The people don’t seem to miss the animals,” said Steeples, “we used to travel with bears. But when the activists made it difficult to put on a show, we changed our performance and now we only have dogs.” Tomato the Clown entertained the crowd and elevated the atmosphere between acts with his nonverbal brand of entertainment. A mime of supreme tallent, he carried the show as the troupe set up for the next stunts behind him.
With the aircycle on a wire, and the acrobats swinging in the air the show provided something for everyone and did not disappoint. The kids rushed the rails as the BMX bike stunt rider took to the ring, only to experience an equipment malfunction. He returned later in the show to satisfy the crowd with jumps and flips, landing on an inflatable ramp. There were girls in sparkling costumes and men who defied gravity, but the most electrifying performance was the final act. A young man touted as the youngest man to be shot from a cannon took the stage and lined up his equipment, lowering himself into the 20 foot barrel and adjusting it to 42 degrees, the countdown began.
Ari Steeples led the countdown and with an enormous “boom”, the cannon accelerated the young man to 67 miles an hour in less than a second. Then, just as fast, the young man’s travel ends some sixty feet later in an air-filled bag that makes a loud “Poof” sound as the air rushes out to decelerate the human projectile.
“We are proud of the circus,” said President Lee, “we have been doing this for so long, I don’t remember when we weren’t enjoying the circus.”