"Circus Sarasota" Keeps the Sarasota Legacy Alive
Posted by Bill True on
By 1907, the Ringling Brothers’ Circus had emerged as the largest and most well-managed circus in the world.
That year, the 5 brothers purchased their principal competitor, the Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling was an immensely successful, innovative circus manager; he bought up the competitors and was the first to transport a circus by train rather than horse-and-wagon. Ringling and his wife, Mable, had been spending their winters in Sarasota since 1909. In the 1920s, Ringling purchased 67,000 acres of real estate in and around Sarasota; he envisioned modern residential developments in the Florida sun. So it was no surprise, in 1927, when Ringling moved the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus from Bridgeport, Connecticut to sunny Sarasota, Florida.
The small city on the Gulf Coast became the center of the circus world, attracting famous performers and other celebrities as residents. Ringling was tirelessly active in local civic affairs, and his performers frequently worked in benefits and fundraisers for local causes. With the 1952 release of Cecil B. DeMille’s Oscar-winning circus film The Greatest Show on Earth, Sarasota became widely-renowned as the world’s top circus city. The circus’ winter quarters moved to nearby Venice in 1959, but that move only enhanced the influence of the circus in the greater Sarasota region. Today, that influence is still evident; visitors from around the world flock to the Ringling Circus Museum (on the grounds of the old Ringling estate) and the Circus Ring of Fame at St. Armand’s Circle.
Sarasota's Own Circus
Since 1997, Sarasota has also claimed its own resident hometown circus, acclaimed around the globe for world-class artistry and entertainment. Two veterans of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Pedro Reis and his wife, Dolly Jacobs, created Circus Sarasota to provide the city’s residents and visitors with a remarkable one-ring circus that both serves the community and also features exceptional achievements in the circus arts. With talent from around the world, Circus Sarasota always pleases and delights fans of all ages. Circus Sarasota ticket sales finance a community outreach program that serves children, the elderly, and those in care facilities.
“Laughter Unlimited” is the Circus Sarasota humor therapy outreach for those in hospitals, nursing facilities, and adult care centers. Professional clowns, other circus entertainers, and trained volunteers are all part of Laughter Unlimited. Circus Sarasota also helps Sarasota and Manatee school students create their own circus performances. The “Build-A-Circus” project pairs circus professionals with classroom teachers to produce circus acts for schools and other groups and venues. Circus Sarasota is a non-profit educational corporation with offices at 2075 Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota. Hours are weekdays 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.