The Big Top's Coming to Town

Monday, March 14, 2005

On May 10, the Storm Lake airport will host the biggest of the big tops as the Carson & Barnes Circus returns to town.

When Tim Torkildson graduated from Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, back in the 80's, he had no idea he would one day turn his announcer training into a new career with the circus.

Torkildson decided to attend Brown Institute after several years on the road as a professional circus clown, with stints at Disneyland and even a one-year contract as Ronald McDonald for the state of Kansas. In his own words, "I wanted to explore some new career avenues and thought that radio announcing would provide a stable and exciting alternative to the big top. Also, I was tired of being a mime; I wanted to talk!"

After years of local radio news in North Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas, Torkildson contributed several articles to Circus Report Magazine, reminiscing about his early days with the circus. The memories were so pleasant that he decided to clown again. He sent out a few resumes, and imagine his surprise and delight when the mighty Carson and Barnes Circus came calling with an offer . . . not to be one of their clowns, but to don the sparkling uniform of a ringmaster!

"I was simply bowled over," says Torkildson. "And I promise I won't sound as if I'm giving out with the corn and pork belly futures!"

When the circus comes to Storm Lake for two shows on May 10, the Minnesotan considers it a happy homecoming of sorts. In one of his first performances as a ringmaster, it will be in an area he remembers from his days working with smaller circuses many years ago.

He remains a poet and a literary writer with his own website, and has an active interest in cultural diversity, dating to an extended stint in Thailand teaching English.

"My mission," says Torkildson, "is not just to announce a litany of circus acts to the public, but to help them see the show as a metaphor for hope and courage in these darkening times. The circus remains a uniquely American inspirational entertainment institution that far surpasses any other performance venue.

"The Carson and Barnes Circus is much more than a distracting entertainment; it is an uplifting experience for audience and performers alike, transforming a summer day and a dusty lot into nourishing memories for young and old alike."

The full program contains 16 separate 5-ring displays, featuring over 40 acts from the United States, Canada, Ukraine, Belarus, Peru, Mexico, Italy, the Netherlands and other parts of the globe.

Carson & Barnes is now the only one big-tented circus which manages to maintain the traditional demanding schedule of one-day stands, traveling with five rings and hundreds of performers and animals.

Carson & Barnes brings its "Biggest Big Top on Earth" - longer than a football field - to some 230 towns and cities each season, moving to a new site nearly every day, seven days a week. Over 80 vehicles are used to transport the show. While other circuses have reduced their size, Carson & Barnes has expanded and is the only organization still capable of moving a huge show of some 70 trucks and trailers every 24 hours.

The show drew hundreds of visitors during its last appearance in Storm Lake a few years ago, and is moving to the airport this year to allow for more space.

The Miller family has owned Carson & Barnes for 69 years. The late DR Miller, founder, and known as "Mr. Circus," was recently inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota, FL. His legacy of American family entertainment is being carried on by his daughter, Barbara Miller Byrd and her husband, Geary Byrd, who are involved in the day-to-day logistics of running the performance and moving this complex, multi-faceted community. Daughters' Traci and Kristin and their husbands are now involved in the show, making this a four-generation family business.

Carson & Barnes is circus history and cooperation recreated before your eyes. Elephants still help erect the big top on Circus morning. More than 100 exotic and domestic animals are unloaded, fed and watered as soon as huge transport trucks pull onto the grounds.

The general public is invited during circus morning to the only free big circus zoo in America. Early birds can watch as the first units of the caravan begin arriving about an hour after dawn. The 400 stakes, 134 poles and several miles of cable and ropes will be laid out and prepared as the crew of men and trained elephants push, pull and lift the 300 foot Big Top of the shining polyvinyl auditorium 40 feet into the air.

Acts consist of aerial acrobatic teams, jugglers and clowns along with performing elephants, lions and tigers, camels, dogs and horses. The

Grand Salute to the United States of America is expected to be a big favorite.

The program for the Storm Lake shows includes:

* The Incredible Flying Fernandez Family featuring a "triple" trick that will delight and amaze. The wire act from South America walks across the wire on a seven-man-high formation. Spinning faster and faster at both ends of the tent from earth to sky is the giant Wheels of Destiny act. Watch as couples perform feats of balance and agility blindfolded. Keep your eyes skyward for a stunning aerial ballet.

* From the Pampas of Argentine, a talented sextet demonstrates dazzling split-second dexterity.

* What is a circus without clowns, clowns and more clowns!

* It is impossible know where to look when ring after ring of majestic Millers Prancing Ponies appear.

* No show would be complete without elephants and Carson & Barnes 5-Ring Circus has the best and largest elephant act performing under a big top! Little Obert will be taking his first tour of America this season. Obert is a one-year-old Asian elephant. He will tour and appear with his Mother Isa.

* Watch in awe as lions, tigers and ligers mix in the same cage.

* Carson & Barnes presents the only Liberty Horse Act in the United States composed entirely of Friesian Stallions. This rare breed of horses, marked by broad bodies, long flowing manes and tails, was common in the Netherlands prior to World War II.

* New this season, the Fusco family from Argentina will bring their "Malambo" act to the United States. This Big Top center ring "Gaucho Extravaganza", will feature the cracking and sparkling whips used on the plains of the Pampas in Argentina.

Early circus morning see the elephants pull the big poles up in the tent and visit the large traveling zoo featuring exotic and domestic animals, as they are unloaded, watered and fed. Many of these species are rare and endangered, such as hippo, giraffe, zebu, zonkie, zebra, camels and both Asian and African Elephants.

Tickets: Advance general admission tickets are now available at the Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce, or see online www.carsonbarnes Tickets in advance are $10 for adults and $5 for children, a savings of $2-$4 over gate prices.

On Circus Day advance general admission tickets can be upgraded to preferred seating for an additional charge.