On Saturday, Kristen Michelle Wilson found out that she was losing her job. The job she just started, a job that she loved, maybe even the job of her dreams, would be gone forever in May.
On Wednesday, all she could talk about was how much she was going to love the next four months.
“We’re all really excited to be part of this history,” Wilson said in a phone interview from Jacksonville. “All we can do as performers is put on a happy face and put on a great show.”
Before Saturday, Wilson was the big news about Circus Xtreme, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show that’s touring the country. The tour’s been going for more than a year, but when Wilson joined recently she became the first female ringmaster is the long history of the Ringling circus.
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Saturday brought the news that took nearly everyone in the country by surprise: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was closing. Even Wilson and the other artists in the circus were caught off-guard.
We’re all really excited to be part of this history. All we can do as performers is put on a happy face and put on a great show.
Kristen Michelle Wilson
“We did not see it coming,” said Nicole Sanders. “They called us is and gave us the news. I looked around the room and people were crying. It was devastating for us. This is a community of passionate artists, more passionate than I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.”
Sanders is the “human cannonball” in Circus Xtreme. Like Wilson, she’s focusing on her act, on delighting the crowds and watching her colleagues.
“I’ll tell you this and I really mean it,” she said. “I just love watching the circus.”
Sanders has background in dance, and especially in aerial work, which is how she got into being a human cannonball. She loves watching the high-wire acts, but she also makes a point every night to watch the trained poodles act. She also still gets a thrill every time she is fired from a cannon, which she has done more than 500 times.
Wilson’s just starting with Circus Xtreme, which premiered in Tampa two years ago, so unlike Sanders, she hasn’t seen the acts over and over. What amazes her most, Wilson said, is the variety of acts that are packed into one show.
“We take audiences all around the world,” she said. “We have circus performers who do amazing things on a trapeze. We have BMX riders, some of whom were in the X Games. We have European-style parkour wall runners. Where else can you see all those kind of performers?”
Ringling Bros. has always worked to combine the traditional elements of the circus with modern technology, Wilson said, and they’ve struck a great balance with Circus Xtreme.
I think that with all that’s going on it’s really important to support all the arts right now. If you love the circus, go to the circus. If you love the symphony, go to the symphony.
She’s so thrilled to be a part of it, she said, that she doesn’t mind that in addition to being the first female ringmaster in Ringling Bros. history, she’ll also be the very last ringmaster in Ringling Bros. history.
(Even though she’s a woman, she said, the term is “ringmaster,” not “ringmistress.” There were long discussions within the company about whether “ringmaster” was gender-neutral.)
One of the factors that Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, cited for shutting down the circus was declining ticket sales. The news of the circus ending has given sales a boost, Circus Xtreme is already sold out for its upcoming run in Orlando.
Sanders said that’s an important lesson for people who prefer other types of performing arts.
“I think that with all that’s going on it’s really important to support all the arts right now,” she said “If you love the circus, go to the circus. If you love the symphony, go to the symphony.”