Preview of the new Ringling Bros. Circus, without animals

Six years after the fabled Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to a close, Feld Entertainment has revived and reimagined Ringling for a new generation, and Attractions Magazine was granted a behind-the-scenes look at dress rehearsals for the all-new “Greatest Show On Earth” debuting later this month. Read on to find out what’s new, and what’s missing, such as the animal acts.

The new Ringing Bros. circus.

When the final tour of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended in 2017, circus fans hoped the nearly 150-year-old tradition would return before long, but nobody counted on COVID’s devastating blow to the live entertainment industry.

Feld Entertainment, longtime owners and producers of Ringling and other touring arena shows like Disney On Ice and Monster Jam, survived the pandemic and have resumed a full slate of productions. Now, the returning circus show rejoins the roster, as The Greatest Show on Earth is set to premier on Sept. 29, 2023 in Bossier City, Louisiana, before setting off on a cross-country tour throughout 2024.

The new Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus doesn’t arrive in our home base of Orlando, Fla., until Jan. 12-15, 2024, but we recently took the two-plus hour trek to Feld Entertainment’s headquarters in Palmetto, Fla. where we were hosted for an exciting peek into how this classic form of family entertainment was brought back to life for today’s audiences.

Our visit included interviews with the creative team and performers from around the globe, as well as a tour of the massive Feld facility — which is the third largest building in the state of Florida, behind NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building and Amazon’s distribution hub. Finally, we got to be part of the first outside audience to experience a complete dress rehearsal of the entire show.

Our visit to Feld Headquarters began with a warm welcome in the lobby, which also serves as a mini-museum of the Feld family legacy, which started with a pharmacy’s bin of vinyl records, and grew into a live entertainment legend that represented everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Beatles. Displays here are devoted to some of the many brands Feld has partnered with, including Jurassic World, Marvel, and Disney.

Feld Entertainment costume warehouse.

Once inside the cinderblock hallways of Feld’s buildings, it would be easy to get lost in the supersized warren of workshops and warehouses were it not for the colorful maps and copious signage. During our guided walk around the facility, we got to see towering storage racks holding costumes dating back to the 1960s; the garages where Grave Digger and other infamous monster cars are built; as well a few familiar Pixar faces.

Pixar's Dash from Disney on Ice.

Next, Juliette Feld Grossman showed off the “white model” used to design the Greatest Show on Earth’s innovative new set, which features videos screens surrounding the center ring, as well a circular jumbotrons hanging above either end of the arena. Certain circus staples have been reengineered — like the triangular high-wire, and four-way trapeze — and there are new additions like a drum kit that lifts into the air.

Model of the new circus set.
A model of the circus stage. It doesn’t have three rings, but it does have three different performance areas and some surprises.
Man trying to balance on a wire with the help of circus performers.
Attractions Magazine Reporter Jon Self gives the “high” wire a try, with some help from Ringing circus performers.

Then, following a preview of the show’s opening number, we were given one-on-one time with some of the show’s stars, including Jan Damm, a Rola Bola acrobat who does a comedic routine with a robot dog. Our correspondent Jon Self even “took one for the team” and braved the not-so-high-wire, with a little assistance from Maria Lopez and the Lopez Family Troupe.

We were also treated to an up-close demonstration of Argendance, a percussive combination of cultural dancing and string twirling, from Aldi + Diego of Buenos Aires, who were discovered by casting director Giulio Scatola during a global talent search.

Last but not least, veteran costumer Dawna Oak spoke about the challenge of customizing every design to each individual performer — not only for style, but more importantly for safety and flexibility of movement — when everyone on stage has at least two full costumes. For example, did you ever notice that aerialists are always dressed in light colors, so they show up against the darkened dome over the arena?

Circus toys
The plush animals are now mostly fantasy animals than tigers and elephants.

And Chuck Knapp introduced the new line of light-up swords, bubble-spewing wands, and other must-have souvenirs that will soon be irritating a new generation of parents. All the merchandise sold at Feld shows are designed in-house for their exclusive use, and the new Ringling line utilizes a bold primary palate and retro-style designs for classic toys like the launching cannon and stunt cycle. Ringling is also going to be offering an expanded line of plush fantasy characters, like dragons and unicorns.

Robot dog in the Ringling circus show.
The only “animal” you’ll see in the new Ringing Bros Circus is this robot dog.

Finally, following a complimentary meal, it was time for us to see the full dress rehearsal for the brand-new Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. Since this was a preview, we won’t review what we saw, but we can provide a spoiler-free preview of this rebooted Greatest Show on Earth. To start, we have to address the elephant that isn’t in the room. Ringling’s former pachyderm performers have retired to Florida’s White Oak Conservation wildlife sanctuary, and the only non-human in the new circus is the aforementioned robot dog.

Animals aren’t the only circus staple absent from this version of Ringling either. There is no ringmaster, so you’ll want to look at the big screens to read where the acts came from. There is no live band, but there is a female vocalist and drummer who serve as cheerleaders for the audience. And although there is a small troupe of clowns, they don’t wear any face paint or big red noses.

However, you can rest assured that Ringling still offers plenty of astounding acrobatic acts, both familiar and fresh, ranging from trapeze and teeter-totter to BMX bikes and a human “rocket.” Perhaps the biggest “wow” moment comes near the end of the nearly two-hour show, when Wesley Williams tests his balance atop the world’s tallest unicycle.

Here’s an eight-minute preview of the new circus show, recorded during our visit:

Learn more about when the Greatest Show On Earth will reach a town near you at