The big top will soon be rising at as th arrives in Elmhurst for two shows, at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9.
The old-fashioned, one-ring circus is quite a bit smaller than the three-ring Ringling Bros., but circus officials say that works to their advantage.
“I grew up in Maywood and used to see the Ringling Bros. at the International Amphitheater in Chicago,” said Kelly Miller Circus General Manager Jim Royal. “We used to have to look down on the aerialists from the balcony.
"Our tent seats 1,100 people, and the last row of seating is only 40 feet from the ring. You can see our performers' expressions and they can really connect with the audience.”
Kelly Miller Circus was founded in 1938 as Miller Bros. Circus by Obert Miller and his sons, Kelly and Dory. In 2007, the circus was purchased by John Ringling North II, whose great uncles were the famous Ringling Bros. The show began performing as Kelly Miller Circus in 1984 and has been a primary fund-raiser for the District 205 Foundation for more than 10 years.
“It’s a nice event because the community can benefit from it,” said Lisa Fanelli, District 205 Foundation executive director. “Even if your kids don’t attend school here, you’re welcome to attend.”
The show features jugglers, clowns, acrobats, aerialists, horses, camels, tigers and elephants. Traditional circus favorites such as popcorn and cotton candy will be available to guests.
“We found when we reverted to a more traditional format in 2007 that we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” Royal said. “We perform under a tent, not in an arena primarily designed for basketball. Our tent is specifically designed for this performance.
“If people come out by 9 a.m. Friday, they’ll get to see Lisa, one of our elephants, help raise the big top. We have a tour guide and they’ll be able to go inside the tent as Lisa raises the last of four poles.”
Captive Audience, Captive Animals
But some people feel circus life is harmful to the animals, and the Kelly Miller Circus has had to answer to its share of critics.
Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say over the years they have had concerns about Kelly Miller Circus, and Carson and Barnes Circus, which leases some of the animals to Kelly Miller Circus.
“We definitely have concerns over how the animals are treated,” said Delcianna Winders, director of captive animal law enforcement for PETA. “If you look behind the veil you can see what we’re talking about.”
Winders claims last month three tigers under the care of Kelly Miller Circus staff escaped from their enclosures, and two of them bit a horse. She also said staff took 30 minutes to get them back into their cages. Winders claims Kelly Miller Circus was cited by the USDA for the incident.
She said Carson and Barnes also was cited by the USDA after an elephant was allegedly beaten with a bull hook, however they were not performing with Kelly Miller Circus at that time.
Royal strongly disputes that there is any animal abuse under his watch.
“We are conscious of the safety of all of our animals and guests,” he said. “We’re regulated by the USDA and we regularly receive surprise inspections throughout the year.”
Royal says Kelly Miller Circus performs more than 200 shows per year and is regulated heavily by city, state, township and federal agencies every week. Royal claims the only incident the USDA has mentioned since 2007 is one in which a clown, who performs with his pet poodle, did not have the poodle registered with the USDA.
“We’re not hidden in an arena,” he said. “We’re in the open and the public has access to our areas. The various groups associate their names and reputations with us and we have to be at our best at all times to be successful.”
Carson and Barnes Circus was cited 12 times by the USDA over an eight-year period, according to PETA. All of the violations were corrected; many more inspections resulted in no violations from the USDA.
'Community Supports It'
“We understand it is a controversial issue to some,” said District 205 Foundation's Fanelli. “We have the Elmhurst Police Department check out the circus to see if there are any violations and have spoken to people about the circus. It seems like the community, as a whole, supports it.”
Tickets to the circus are available in advance for $14 for adults and $8 for children age 2 to 8. Tickets prices will be $2 more if purchased at the door.
Information about ticket purchases is available at the Elmhurst District 205 Web site.