This speech entitled “Under the Big Top” is about the circus from the eyes of a child, adolescent, and adult. It will be performed by Tania Lola Rain during Lake Oswego (Club 605) Toastmasters’ International Speech Contest on March 7, 2011 at 6:30 PM.
Under the Big Top by Tania Lola Rain
The Circus. The greatest show on earth. Everyone should see the circus at least once. I’m lucky. I’ve seen it 3 times.
Did you know the circus began nearly six centuries ago in ancient Rome with chariots races and equestrian performers? Jugglers, acrobats and mighty warriors drew crowds as large as 250,000 people.
Four hundred years later, the British introduced the modern circus to London and Englishman John Bill Ricketts brought it to America in the late1700s. He established a building in Philadelphia appropriately named “The Circus.” Elaborate events were attended by famous American’s such as President George Washington.
As the circus evolved, the big red and white canvas tent was introduced and clowns became popular right before the Civil War. When PT Barnum came along, the modern traveling circus was born. PT caravanned with animals and a sideshow of human oddities, like freaks with tattoos and women with beards. The invention of the train made it easier to transport lions, tigers, bears, and elephants from town to town.
The first time I saw the circus was October 12, 1980, with my grandpa — Grandpa Hank. It was our birthday: he was 68 and I was 8. Grandpa was my best friend and I was his little angel. We did everything together. We played cricket and black jack, squeezed lemonade and grapefruit juice, and gardened flowers and vegetables. Grandpa liked me best. He called me “itty bitty.” Not because I was small, but I think he had trouble pronouncing my name due to his thick Hungarian accent.
He liked to take me shopping and out to eat. He adorned me in cute little dresses, white and pink with frills. I wore black Mary Janes and little white ruffle socks. Grandma put my hair in big ringlet curls like Shirley Temple.
On this day in October, we traveled to the Ringling Brother’s Barnum and Bailey circus in Phoenix from our hometown Tempe, Arizona. Even though it was a warm autumn day with temperatures in the 70s, I wore a little white cardigan sweater. Grandpa worried, he didn’t want me to catch cold.
At the time, the only thing I knew about the circus was what I had seen on TV and in cartoons – like Walt Disney’s Dumbo where a tiny elephant with giant ears could fly. There was a show in the 1970s called Circus of the Stars. Entertainers such as Richard Simmons, Betty White, and Zsa Zsa Gabor wore elaborate sequined costumes and performed daring feats.
I had no idea what to expect at this circus. Was I going to see Evil Knevil jump cars with his motorcycle or the Million Dollar Man throw knives at balloons surrounding a pretty woman?
There we were, Grandpa and I, walking into the big top. And the excitement inside my stomach was radiating up through my heart. I began jumping for joy the moment I saw the elephants and clowns. I wondered if these circus elephants could fly like Dumbo?
I was mesmerized. Do you know what I saw? Do you really want to know?
Fourteen clowns climbed into a teeny tiny car and drove away. A man wearing a strange suit with a whip crawled into a cage with two fierce tigers. A family of acrobats flew through the air as graceful as birds. Each performance was introduced by the Ringmaster and executed flawlessly.
Here’s a question for you: Why do people use the phrase “It’s a circus in here” when referring to chaos? The Ringmaster leads the circus just like our Toastmasters leads tonight’s event. He keeps order. The performances are well organized and routines are practiced to perfection. There is no disorder to the circus – just pure excitement from the onlookers.
My 2nd trip to the circus was years later with my dad. We saw the Cirque du Soleil troupe from Canada perform Saltimbanco. Cirque du Soleil is very different from the American version. It is truly a cultural experience. Saltimbanco wasn’t just a circus performance, it was a work of art. The story had meaning and impacted the audience through the use of music, costume design, choreography, and illusion.
I was awestruck by acrobats, contortionists, and men and women balancing on spinning poles. This performance piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know where these artists came from? According to the official program, they were from faraway places Argentina, China and the Ukraine. The twin contortionists were from Poland. This performance made me want to go to faraway places and learn about culture and history. It gave me a hunger for knowledge and the courage for exploration.
My 3rd trip to the circus was with my daughter. She had just turned 8, the same age as my first trip. I was excited to share this experience with her and see her reaction. When we walked into the big top you should have seen the look on that little girls face. Her brilliant blue eyes were as big a balloons.
Cirque du Soleil performed Dralion. The story told about the dragon from the East, and the lion from the West. Its characters celebrated life and challenged our imaginations. Both my daughter and I were fascinated by this mythical adventure. To this day, she still talks about it.
The performance opened up her imagination to endless possibilities. It taught her that life is not just what we see right in front of us. Our imaginations can take us anywhere in time.
When I look back to my first trip to the circus it was about bonding with my grandpa and learning something new. From a child’s perspective, the circus is exciting and memorable. My second trip with my dad opened my eyes to art and culture and life’s possibilities. The last trip with my daughter was about sharing an experience and giving her something she could not get from TV, movies or the internet.
I know when the circus comes to town again, I can travel back to that day 30 years ago when I was wearing my little Mary Janes, holding my grandpa’s hand, and donning the biggest smile across my face in complete amazement. Thank you Grandpa for that memory.
Next time the circus comes to town, take a child and create a memory that will last a life time. People have been enjoying the circus for more than six centuries and it’s sure to be around another six. That’s probably why it’s been called the greatest show on earth.
- Circus of the Sun (gamevip.com)
- Unique insight into Russian circus magic (rt.com)
- Cirque du soleil will play Russia’s Kremlin Palace (ctv.ca)
- Cirque du Soleil captures Kremlin (rt.com)
- The circus is coming (projectlit.wordpress.com)