Out with elephants and in with apps: Ringling Brothers’ is reinventing the circus

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Close your eyes and envision going to a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. You probably see enormous elephants strutting around while entertainers in flashy, multicolored outfits perform acrobatics, ride bikes, and act like clowns, all at the same time. But if you were to open your eyes to Ringling Brothers’ new show Out of This World, you probably wouldn’t recognize anything you’ve come to associate with this circus’s 146-year history as the greatest show on earth.

Digital Trends recently attended the preview show for Out of This World at Selland Arena in Fresno, CA., and the most pervasive difference between it and other Ringling Brothers shows is its first-ever character-driven storyline, which follows Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and Starseeker Paulo dos Santos’ intergalactic journey to rescue the greatest circus performers in the universe from evil Queen Tatiana.

“It used to be so many acts and performances happening at once, now there’s a lot more focus,” said Alana Feld, 35-year old producer of Out of This World speaking with Digital Trends. “The show is also a lot faster paced, because kids today don’t have the attention span maybe I did as a child or before that.”

Two ways Ringling sped up the show and kept kids’ eyes glued to the theatrics were by adding an icy rink, with video projection mapping underneath it — a first in Ringling’s history. With video projection mapping, the storyline of intergalactic travel is easier to follow when the performers arrive on the sand planet and the icy floor is altered to look like mounds of sand. “Now that we have this pristine, white ice floor that we never had before –we always had a black, rubber floor– we’re able to use 3D video projection mapping,” Feld said.

Ringling Brothers also unveiled a new mobile app — available exclusive for iOS devices currently — which allows users to take a Circus Selfie, then apply photo filters to dress themselves up in circus-style garb, right up to the Ringmaster. The app also brings you closer to the performers with the Meet The Performer tab. All of the performers on Out of This World are wearing costumes outfitted with speakers that emit an inaudible signal to a phone’s microphone. When picked up by a phone using the app, interactive information on the performer is provided.

If you attend the Starseeker’s Early Access pre-show, about an hour before the main event, video boards on a mocked up spaceship’s screen may show your circus selfie or your high score from one of the numerous games on the app.

Ringling Brothers had to reinvent the circus to keep it alive, partly due to a wave of laws passed in recent years centered on animal treatment. In 2013, Los Angeles passed a law prohibiting the use of bullhooks — sharp sticks used to train elephants — due to the “great harm and great pain” they inflict, according to Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz announcing the new law. As a result of other cities passing similar laws, Ringling Brothers decided to retire its legendary Asian elephants and make way for a new technology era for the circus. “With the decision to retire our Asian elephants, we thought this was a really great opportunity to do something different for the brand.”

Out of This World had its world premiere at Staples Center July 14 and plans to hit Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and other states before the tour ends its 2016 campaign at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 18. Tickets can be purchased here.

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