Closure of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus to put 462 out of work

A sixth-generation circus performer, Ivan Vargas has been part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 12 years, nine of them as a show-opening clown.

But his costume weighed heavy and he had a tough time jollying his face with makeup Sunday, his first performance after learning that the circus’ 146-year run is coming to an end.

“I’m sad and devastated, because I was born and raised on Ringling,” said Vargas, 26. “This is my home. I have to leave my home, and all my friends have to leave their home.”

Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, acknowledged Monday that closing down the circus will throw 462 people out of work.

Chief operating officer Juliette Feld said the company will meet individually with workers to try to help them transition to new jobs. There will be assistance with resumes and job interview skills, she said.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Some of the performers were born into the circus life and have never needed to fill out a resume. There also will be help for them to find housing since many live on the two mile-long trains that convey the circus’ two touring companies.

The circus informed its crews of the decision Saturday, blaming high operating costs and a decline in ticket sales that began a decade ago. That was exacerbated by the removal of elephants from the show in May in response to animal rights concerns.

“The percentage drop was much more severe than what we anticipated,” said Kenneth Feld, the company’s CEO. “That’s what ultimately led to this difficult decision.”

Feld declined to talk about how much ticket sales plummeted but said the business had become unsustainable. Circus workers will get a severance package, he said.

It’s not just the two-legged performers that will need a new home come May.

Even without its elephants, Ringling was home to more than 50 animals, it’s touring train cars a menagerie of lions, tigers, horses, camels,…