How the circus in South Florida changed through the years

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its 146-year run this year. Sunday marks the final performances in Miami. The shows played in West Palm Beach, Sunrise, Miami Beach, then at the old Miami Arena, and finally at AmericanAirlines Arena. Here are highlights of the circus in South Florida through the years, from the Miami Herald’s archives.

The final show

Jan. 5, 2015: For well more than a century, the name Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has thrived on tradition, its tried-and-true approach consistently providing thrill-seekers with breathtaking feats of acrobatic grace and dazzling stunts with majestic animals.

But in 2017, the venerable franchise that is older than both baseball and Coca-Cola has boldly veered from tradition with its latest circus extravaganza, “Out of This World.” And judging from the drastic changes it has made, it’s an appropriate title.

Add ice-skating? Check. No more elephants? No problem. Throw in an actual story line? You got it.

PICTURES: Circus performers visit kids in hospital

Circus lovers might say that “Out of This World, ” billed as an “intergalactic adventure of good vs. evil, ” is indeed from another planet. “This is not your father’s circus, ” goes the old cliché.

But the smartest companies know that change is good, and that one must evolve to survive. With this show, Ringling Bros. – and its parent, Feld Entertainment – is embracing a future of enhanced technology and more compassionate animal regulations.

“We wanted to do something different, ” said Alana Feld, executive vice president and producer for Feld Entertainment, which is also responsible for the “Disney On Ice” and “Monster Jam” shows, among many others. “We didn’t want to just say we were doing something different – we wanted audiences to come into the arena and know right away that this was different.”

Mission accomplished. From the start, crowds should notice the changes.

“The beginning of the show is pretty amazing, because rather than just starting off with a big announcement and a big song, we actually start to transition the arena to space, ” said Feld, who as daughter of company CEO Kenneth Feld joined the family business in 2003. “The lights go out, and you start to see a space-scape, with lighting and video, and you start to hear the sounds of space. And before you know it, you look up and see an astronaut orbiting Earth.”

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The last of the circus elephants

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus will retire the elephants this year.

Al Diaz

Elephant farewell

Jan. 14, 2016: Before the circus elephants lumber into the sunset, audiences have a few more days to see them under the big top (or at least the arena roof).

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has brought the “Greatest Show on Earth” to AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami for its annual January run. For the elephants, it’s their final time in the spotlight.

Once billed as “the biggest brute you’ll ever see, ” elephants have been part of the Ringling circus for 143 years.

On Wednesday, the circus rehearsed its acts for the media. Four elephants nibbled on hay as their trainer stood watch. After May 1, all the Ringling circus elephants will be retired to a Florida conservation center.

For years, animal-rights groups have focused on their treatment and training, especially the use of bullhooks, and have called for an end to their appearances.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, said Wednesday that the move comes as cities pass laws restricting circus animals on tour.

“We’re an entertainment company, not in the business of fighting legislation, ” he said. “It was becoming impractical for us to tour with the elephants in some markets, like Los Angeles. We couldn’t leave the elephants at the city’s limits.”

The circus will evolve, like it always has, Payne said.

“We don’t see it as a loss to the show. The Ringling Bros. evolves over time – that’s how it’s survived, ” he said. “The producers are looking at which areas will change. We’ll miss the elephants, but…