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UPDATE: A new tag has been added called "animals". Clicking on this tag will take you to all entries that have photos, information, or facts about the circus animals. Thanks for reading!

Since the train would not be arriving in Huntsville until Monday night, we decided to stay in Nashville for an evening.

On Monday afternoon we hit Whiskey Kitchen for lunch. This is our third time visiting...it's pretty clear that it's our favorite Nashville restaurant! We always get the fried calamari because it's amazing. Someday if I can tear myself away from that tender squid and flavorful seasoning, I'll try the other appetizers! For the meal Jameson tried the fish and chips and said it was delicious. I had the fried green tomato BLT with brie, bacon, spinach, and hot dijon mustard on sourdough. It was delicious!!

We also had drinks because why not. It's 5:00 somewhere, right? I had a "moonshine mule" and Jameson had something called the "farewell Broadway" that had apple brandy, vanilla syrup, bitters, and cream.

After our great meal we bid farewell to Nashville and hit the road. The drive to Huntsville was only a few hours long. We were concerned as the train hadn't left on time and was running several hours behind. We decided to hit a mall and do some Christmas shopping. Jameson got most of his done while I just shopped for ideas. To kill more time we went to see a movie (Office Christmas Party). After that we went for a late sushi dinner and decided to get another hotel. The train was supposed to be in Chattanooga by 1:30pm and it was now 8pm. Sometimes it happens. There have been times when the train was right in front of us and we still ended up in a hotel! Circus life.

The next morning we were surprised to find that the train was still not in the yard, so got a late checkout and went to find food. We then killed time at Walmart until Tim (sax) and Jerome (bass) let us know the train was finally spotted. We got to the yard just as power was hooked up. There are fond memories of this yard and this city. We had one of the best elephant walks I've ever been on here last year. I'm very sad that we can't bring that level of excitement to Huntsville any more. But I'm happy to have experienced such a wonderful moment here.

I spent the rest of the day unpacking, repacking for the trip home, Christmas shopping online, and paying bills.

We opened on Wednesday. Rehearsal went extra-long again as we integrate new people and elements into the show. And although she's been here for a month, it's now official, we are joined by our new Ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson! She is the first female Ringmaster Ringling has ever(?) had, but besides that she's a great vocalist and has a wonderful personality. We're looking forward to working with her! CLICK HERE to see an awesome video of Kristen performing.

The show that evening went well, although this arena is quite cold so the space heaters came out again.

Thursday was a split. For the morning show we got a visit from Wages, bandmaster on the Blue Unit! They must be on a break right now. He brought us lots of goodies like egg nog, coffee, cookies, and candy. Thank you Wages! Our show was pretty well populated with screaming kids, which is always really fun! Everything went well until suddenly during the Wheel act the sound board crashed. This meant that all of the electronic instruments, sounds, and backing tracks were instantly no longer audible. The only music came from the acoustic instruments: drums, two trumpets, sax, and trombone. We were definitely startled, but continued to play because that's our job and if we stopped playing there'd be NOTHING. Eek! Time seems to stretch for such moments, but I think we were only acoustic for a few minutes before the house sound was restored (though the levels were all out of whack for the next act or two!). Always an exciting day here at the Greatest Show on Earth!

I had planned to take a nap during the split but I think that incident had my adrenaline pretty high, so I used the energy to do all kinds of chores and work on my animal welfare project. Basically I'm trying to transcribe a 5.5 hour meeting regarding a circus animal ban. I don't talk much on this blog about such things, but ultimately when anti-circus actions have an effect on my day-to-day, you'll probably end up seeing posts about it here.

Anyway, the evening show went well and without incident.

Friday we had a single evening show. I treated myself to sleeping late, then spent the morning working on my transcript again (it's gonna take a while!) and then after lunch hit an antique store near the train. It turned out to be a little too "fancy" for the likes of me...full of expensive furniture and silver, and they were in the middle of a wine tasting! So I came back to the train and decided to take some photos. This yard has a very odd layout; the tracks are in an "x" shape, and in the crook of the x closest to the road there's a burnt-out house. If you're willing to pick your way through the crumbling bricks and poison ivy, it's a nice photo opportunity.

On Saturday we had three shows. Everything was fine, except during the second show Taba (tiger trainer) twisted his ankle in the ring. We (the band) had to watch him carefully to see how he would proceed, he was wincing in pain and limping while trying to work with the tigers. He understandably decided to cut his act short, and Brett (bandmaster) led us through a few unplanned changes to get quickly through the act. For the third show of the day Taba was able to perform normally. He's a-ok!

Also on Saturday, I got to meet a facebook circus friend! Brian is a big circus fan, and he's a clown himself! Today he got a tour of backstage and a visit to the circus train, and he saw the show of course! It was great to meet you today Brian and I hope we'll get to hang out soon!

(photo courtesy Brian F.)

After the shows were finished, I was packing up when I noticed that some of the dressage whips had been left backstage. I've wanted to get pictures of these for some time, but somehow they're just never lying around when I'm thinking about it. I looked carefully at the whips and observed their thickness and length, the materials that they were made of, and what the tips looked like. I took the tips in my hand, as you can see in the photo, to see what they were like. They were soft and very light. After a little research I discovered that these types of tips are called "poppers" because they're what makes the popping noise when you crack a whip. In other words, the purpose of the whip is to make a sound that the animal can hear and respond to.

I don't know much about whips, but I do see these in use every day and it's pretty clear that they don't cause any harm to the animals. I'd like to say this to anyone who reads my blog: if you are concerned about the welfare of animals in the circus, please ask questions. Do not make an assumption about their care based on the first disturbing video you come across on YouTube. I have questions about this stuff all the time. It does no harm to ask. I'd rather have the truth than the popular fiction.

CLICK HERE to read observations on circus whips from someone who knows a lot about these tools.

On Sunday we had our usual two shows. The weather had been warm on Saturday with a high of 70, but by Sunday afternoon it was a frigid 30F. Our first show went well, mostly...the Tiger act was shortened due to Taba's injury, and then the power went out on half of the bandstand near the end of the show, leaving everyone struggling to keep it together. Turns out some of our equipment overloaded and caught fire. How exciting!

The final show came all too quickly. I can't believe this is the last show of 2016. I can't believe we have to say goodbye to most of Clown Alley, and many of our dancers and floor crew as well. And although Ringmaster David Shipman will be staying on as a fill-in for a while next year, he will still be leaving us soon. We will miss all of you. We will see you down the road.

It's hard to explain how weird today is. Usually we'd be excited for a new show. We'd know the theme, we'd have seen some of the new costumes, and we'd be preparing for a month of rehearsal. But this time, it's just a strange transition. We're making all of these little changes that will hopefully add up to something exciting for 2017. We're meeting our new coworkers now instead of in Winter Quarters. We're saying "see you down the road" in bits and pieces. I think for those of us who are staying, there is a lot of uncertainty about where our tour is headed. But circus is about change, and if we can weather it, I'll bet next year will be great :)

Thank you to everyone who came out to see the circus this year. It was an incredible year full of major changes and massive heartbreak. 2016 was NOT easy. But thank you for supporting the circus and having a fun time with us! We hope to see you again in the new year.

Other stuff:

Joe (crew boss) fixing props.

Our General Manager, Rob, wearing a Christmas hat :)

I wore some string lights for rehearsal. Festive!

Ringmaster David Shipman joins the band. "Hello, I would like to music please."


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC)
So glad I discovered your blog. Thanks for the great insights. You're coming around again to New England in the spring, and I'm looking forward to what's familiar and what might be new. Tell me, are the camel riders still in the show? That's a unique act I enjoyed. Looking forward to more of your stories!
Dec. 21st, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
Hi! Thanks, I'm glad you enjoy it!

I like coming to New England :) Always fun stuff to do there! Boston of course, but Manchester and Worchester are also nice. I'll look forward to seeing my favorite snow plow engine in the Manchester yard!

The camel riders are still in the show, although it will be different ladies than we had last year. They are just as professional and skilled :) We also have a new camel, Moose. He doesn't have a rider currently, probably because he didn't get that far in his training. One thing at a time!

For the next three weeks it'll just be my own family doings while the circus is on break. The train is getting refurbed along with our show equipment in FL...maybe we'll get lucky and someone will share photos that I can steal!!

Thanks for reading!
Dec. 21st, 2016 08:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
Thanks for the info, and enjoy your break!
Jan. 16th, 2017 05:02 pm (UTC)
Yay! Food pics!

You know...never saw a whip up close before. It must be really rough for the animal handlers. Do you know if shows like this will/do exist in other countries like Europe? Or are their attitudes similar to in the USA?
Jan. 16th, 2017 09:16 pm (UTC)
Me neither until I worked here. These are often called "whips" but that's not really how they're used, the term is just more convenient than "riding crop" or "dressage whip" or whatever. A real whip meant to inflict pain is made of braided leather, like the one Indiana Jones had.

Europe has a lot of circuses, but their laws are different as far as housing, transport and treatment of the animals. I know that some circuses in Italy and Morocco still use real whips with big cats. There has been a lot of change for the positive, especially when it comes to training methods. But there is always room for improvement (that doesn't include shutting down the circus!)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )