Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus brings farewell tour to arena

Ivan Vargas didn’t run away with the circus — he grew up in it.
The sixth-generation circus performer said that out of his 26 years of life, he spent less than three years outside Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
But at the end of May, Vargas’ streak ends when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey disassembles the Big Top permanently. Locals will have a chance to say goodbye when Ringling’s world-renowned Circus XTREME tumbles into Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza from April 6 to 9 for its final round of performances.
Part of the circus’ Clown Alley, Vargas never thought Ringling Bros. would close entirely but rather that it would adapt and evolve into a different type of circus. But even he noticed the decline in attendance in recent years, far from the days when the circus would to turn away people from sold-out shows.
“It’s been my home,” Vargas said. “I want people to come experience this, even if it’s for a few hours. Coming to the circus is magical. It’s been around for 146 years, and I’m so happy to be a part of that; I want to share that with everyone. There are only a couple months left, and I want everyone to see this great institution before there’s no more. It’s like inviting people into my home one last time.”
Growing up in the circus didn’t seem strange for Vargas, but he knew it was something special.
“I’d go to school and walk past 12 elephants, and then get out of school and go practice,” Vargas said. “We’d play (to see) who can do the highest back flip or jump off the highest apparatus. My monkey bars were the trapeze.”
Vargas carries on family tradition as the sixth generation of circus performers on his father’s side and fifth generation on his mother’s. His family formerly performed with the Flying Vargas trapeze troupe, which toured with Ringling Bros. When the troupe disbanded, Vargas’ parents stayed with the massive show — his father working with the animals and his mother helping with costumes.
“Obviously I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps because it’s such a fun lifestyle,” Vargas said. “It’s so different than what I would consider somebody else’s norm. … My passion was always to perform, ever since I was 3, 4 years old, dancing to Michael Jackson music videos for my family. I always wanted to entertain. I love to entertain.”
Families attending the last performances of “The Greatest Show on Earth” can expect to see acrobats fly high in the air, sit at the edge of their seats to view the exotic animals and laugh along with Vargas and the rest of Clown Alley.
Although the circus maintains the same structure for each performance, being a clown allows flexibility depending on audience interaction. Vargas explained that the clowns are both audience members and performers because of the way they react to the other circus performers.
“It is the last chance to see Ringling Bros., and it’s still a great show,” he said. “Even though it has changed from when parents or grandparents came to the show, we still have a ringmaster, animals and acrobats. There isn’t anything like Ringling. It’s such a unique experience that you don’t want to miss out on it.”
Between living on the circus train and traveling across the country to meeting new people each time performers join the show, the change in lifestyle coming later this spring likely will be a hard adjustment for Vargas at first. But no matter what, the performer said, he wants to continue to entertain people in some way after Ringling closes.
“I’ll definitely miss being a part of Clown Alley — even if somewhere else I’m a clown,” he said. “Waking up early in the morning and then going to the arena or the venue to put on your makeup — there’s 12 friends there. We’re all from different backgrounds, have different life lessons, but we’re all there because we all love being clowns. I’ll miss hanging out with those silly people. We’ll make each other laugh, and we’ll get into character as we’re putting on our costumes. We start our circus day way before the first audience member enters the arena.”
— charlotte l. jacobson


If you go
What: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
present Circus XTREME
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Twp.
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.; Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 5 p.m.
Details: Tickets start at $15 and are available at the arena box office, ticketmaster.com and
800-745-3000. For more information, visit
ringling.com or mohegansunarenapa.com.

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