PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One year after a shocking accident injured several acrobats in front of thousands of spectators, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is back in Rhode Island.
This year’s performance, entitled “Circus XTREME,” is running at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Providence from April 30 to May 3.
Thursday’s opening performance will be first since a carabiner clip snapped during the so-called “hair hang” act on May 4, 2014, dropping eight acrobats about twenty feet to the arena floor as spectators looked on in horror.
The circus paid a $7,000 fine to OSHA over the improperly loaded carabiner and now says new safety measures are in place, including new equipment, new checklists, and new training. The hair-hang act is no longer part of the show.
The general manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Larry Lepore, conceded Thursday that nerves are to be expected for opening night.
“I think for the first couple of hours tonight they’ll be that anticipation, when you see those high wire acts.”
But Lepore believes those nerves will eventually give way to enjoyment.
“My staff is confident that we’re back to the old days of the performances, and people leaving with smiles and not fear.”
Ringmaster David Shipman said he thinks the circus has a special bond with Providence in the wake of the tragedy.
“I think so. I think that people are intrinsically linked now to the circus in a different way than before,” he said.
Local circus-goers feel the same way — they also say this year they know all safety protocols will be followed.
“If everybody takes the right precautions, it’ll be better. It was an unfortunate thing that should never have happened,” Paul Belonos of Providence said.
Another man believes no one should be worrying about a repeat of last year.
“My guess is this is going to be the safest circus that anyone has ever seen because before the accident is when people get complacent that these things happen. Right now they are not going to be complacent for next five years at least,” said Rick Swann.
This round of circus performances might be one of the last opportunities to see elephants in Providence — the circus tells Eyewitness News they are phasing the animals out and hope to have them all in retirement by 2018.