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It's back: Ringling Bros. Circus to return without animals in 2023

The circus will instead focus on creating a "360-degree experience" to connect audiences with performers using new technologies.

PALMETTO, Fla. — "The Greatest Show on Earth" is officially making a comeback in 2023 — this time without one of its most controversial elements.  

Feld Entertainment, the Palmetto-based company that owns and operates the show, announced the long-awaited return of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on Wednesday. 

The new show will debut in the fall of 2023. But, the lions, tigers and balancing elephants that you may typically associate with the circus won't be featured under the revamped big top.

Instead, audiences can look forward to watching world-class acrobatics through a "360-degree experience" that employs new technologies to "break down the barriers between the performers and attendees," the entertainment company wrote in a release.

“We’re going to be bringing the audience into the show in a 360-degree environment that is going to surround them with sound and include audience-generated content for the very first time," Juliette Feld Grossman, Chief Operating Officer of Feld Entertainment and Producer of "The Greatest Show On Earth," said in a video announcing the comeback.

The company is currently on a local talent search, holding live auditions in countries including Ethiopia, France, Mongolia, Argentina and the United States. 

Credit: Feld Entertainment
Black Diamond, an acro trio take center stage at the Ringling Live Auditions World Tour in Paris as Casting Director, Giulio Scatola watches.

“We are innovating all aspects of the live show and modernizing the franchise to create an engaging property that is built for today’s families and will last another 150 years," Kenneth Feld, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Feld Entertainment, wrote in a release.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed its curtains in 2017 after entertaining audiences across the world for 146 years. The decision came amid struggles with declining attendance, shrinking attention spans and shifting social pressure brought to bear by activists who argued the animals were poorly treated. 

A year prior to closing, the circus removed elephants from its performances, and according to Feld Entertainment, ticket sales dropped drastically. The company had battled animal rights activists for years in costly court skirmishes, even winning a $15.75 million judgment against them in 2015. But the circus ultimately lost the larger fight with public opinion. 

The retired circus elephants lived at a conservation in Polk County for several years before transferring to a refuge in Yulee.

When Feld first teased an animal-free return in September 2021, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed support for the revamped show. After Wednesday's announcement, PETA decided to gift Ringling the web domain circuses.com, which the animal rights group previously used to talk about animal abuse in circuses.

"Ringling is returning with a bang, transforming the saddest show on Earth into a dazzling display of human ingenuity after 146 years of animal abuse. PETA is cheering on the animal-free revamp and will gladly hand over Circuses.com to celebrate the spotlight’s turn toward talented human professionals who choose to perform," PETA wrote in a statement.

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