Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kerak Shrine Circus rolls into Biggest Little City

....Habib Omar,a fifth-generation elephant trainer, gives a bath to his elephants Friday at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

March 28, 2009

By Forrest Hartman

Everyone knows circuses are a great place to see acrobats and performing elephants. But, with the Kerak Shrine Circus in town this weekend, we thought it would be fun to look at some things you might not know.

Here goes "»

Trains have jumped the track: The train in "Dumbo" is a lovely film image, but that isn't the way most circuses travel.

In fact, bear show performer Lana Steeples said, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is about the only company to use the rails.

"Everybody else goes by truck," she said. "Last year, I did 34,000 miles."

That makes the circus a trucking-based business, and gas prices can mean the difference between a good year and a bad one.

"It took a toll on us really bad last year," Steeples said. "We were at almost $5 a gallon for diesel, and trucks don't get the greatest fuel mileage. "» That's our big expense. "» I spent $25,000 on fuel last year."

The lions, tigers and bears are private contractors: With the Kerak Shrine Circus, the performers are private business people. That means Steeples and her husband, Ari, not only deliver the bear show each night, they own their own enterprise.

"A lot of people will think that the show itself owns the lions and owns the tigers and the bears and the elephants, but that's not true," she said. "We're hired performers, just like the aerial people are hired. We have signed contracts for one year, and next year, we could be on another show."

That makes the working environment unique because co-workers change frequently.

"You meet new people, that's a good thing," said

17-year-old Hamin Abuhadba who runs the poodle show with his parents. "When you make a special bond with somebody, and you have to let them go, that's a bad part about it."

Circuses puts the "dump" in Dumpsters: Everyone knows circuses use animals. But did you ever wonder what happens to all that poop?

"That goes in a Dumpster," Steeples said. "We fill and overfill sometimes. Sometimes, we'll get the smallest little Dumpsters, and when we leave it looks like they've just been severely abused."

Circus life can be family friendly: Despite the nomadic tendencies of circus performers, they can have families. Abuhadba, for instance, is a seventh-

generation performer who goes to work each day with Mom and Dad.

"I was born actually in the circus," he said. "In the circus, it's like a tradition. If you have kids, you get them into the ring when they're young. "» If you don't like it, 'OK.'

"For example, me. I'm doing home school. I do online school, and I'm also performing. My parents are giving me a taste of both worlds basically. Whatever I like or whatever I feel will be the best, I'll choose, either start a new career or continue on with the tradition of the circus."

Poor analogies make circus folk mad: If you want to make an acrobat angry, try an old media trick and compare Lindsay Lohan's life to a circus.

"Anything that's chaotic or bad, they'll (the media) use the term 'three-ring circus' to associate it, and that bothers a lot of circus people," Steeples said. "Three-ring circus means there are three things going on at the same time. "» But when Britney Spears is shaving her head, I don't know why that is called a three-ring circus."

Additional Facts
What: 62nd Annual Kerak Shrine Circus
When: 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Reno Livestock Events Center, 1350 N. Wells Ave.
Tickets: General admission seats are $14 general and $12 for children 12 and younger; reserved seating is $16 for all ages; box seats are $18 for all ages.