Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

`Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey The Greatest Show On Earth` (Photo by Feld Entertainment)
"Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey The Greatest Show On Earth" (Photo by Feld Entertainment)

Reinvented Ringling Bros. circus visits Buffalo

Fri, Mar 15th 2024 08:50 am

By Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Acrobatic feats, pyrotechnics, slapstick comedy, tricks on BMX bikes, and a wide variety of highwire acts are among the spectacles awaiting visitors to the reinvented version of “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey The Greatest Show On Earth” This year marks the first the circus is back after a hiatus of seven years.

In 2017, it was announced that, after 146 years, the circus was closing for good, citing high operating costs and expensive legal battles with animal rights groups. This year, the circus has returned, with new acts that feature acrobatics, comedy and aerial performances. There will be no animal acts. The reinvented version of the circus is described in advertisements as “high flying family fun.”

The reinvented circus is coming to KeyBank Center in Buffalo from March 22-24, with six separate shows. Showtimes are 7 p.m. March 22; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. March 23; and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 24.

According to Jan Damm, who plays the role of Nick Nack – one of three named characters who serve as guides for audiences in an interactive performance – “Audiences will laugh at traditional slapstick that you might see in any Ringling show.” Nick Nack is described as the “funny bone of the show,” while Aria and Stix offer soul and rhythm.

“The humor in the show is designed to bring a smile to your face,” Damm said. “It adds an element of surprise and joy. It’s a big, bright and loud circus spectacle.”

Damm describes Nick Nack as “kind of a quirky character. He looks like the maître d’ of the show. He’s the host, someone who invites the audience into the show. He thinks of himself as an authority figure, but, actually, he’s usually tripping over himself, rather than helping out. He loves being at the circus. Nick Nack is a goofy character, but really a joyful and fun one.

“It’s great. I’m really proud of us for reinventing what was ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ in 2024. Human achievement, incredible athletes that are really the best on Earth at what they do. There are spectacles you might have seen before, like the flying trapeze, but now, we have a crisscross flying trapeze.”

The crisscross flying trapeze, according to Lindsey Hoverter, senior public relations account manager for Feld Entertainment, which produces and presents the circus, features performers who “soar front-to-back, side-to-side and diagonally with flyers and catchers in an action-packed, near-miss style act, where seconds and inches determine the outcome of each high-flying skill. This incredible feat of timing will lead to an in-act transformation, as two platforms disappear, allowing for more daring tricks and higher rotations, including a double-layout rotation from bar to bar, seen for the first time in ‘The Greatest Show On Earth.’ ”

“There are acts that you’ve never seen before,” Damm added, “like guys on BMX bikes doing double back flips over boxes and ramps and bouncing off trampolines. From the set, the music, the costumes, the lighting, and the video technology, all of this has been rebuilt from the ground up to try and bring a modern touch and build excitement for people to come back to ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ ”

The funny side of the show involves an act called “rola bola,” Damm said. “It’s a balancing act, standing on a board on a tube about 50 feet above the stage. It’s an act that I’ve performed all over the world. I was so proud that Ringling asked me to do it. It’s a little bit zany, but it also involves acrobatics, balance and juggling. Again, we’re just looking to surprise people and bring a little bit of joy and wonder to the show. I hope that my act brings a little bit of that to the performance.”

No humorous act would be complete without a (robot) dog.

“The dog and I have a dance off. She gets up to a lot of mischief. She often gets away from me. She gets the better of me,” Damm said, noting humor is a “universal language.”

“I feel privileged that I can share that kind of universal language of joy and slapstick with audiences,” he said. “I would also mention that Equivokee is a trio of three clowns from Ukraine, who I collaborate with to create some of the clowning and slapstick numbers of the show. We do a preshow, where we are the first people out on the stage. We introduce to the world a bit of the quirky world that we inhabit. Working with them is one of the great joys of the show. Even though we don’t speak the same language, we share this language of laughter, and we can even communicate with each other at times with sound effects, to tell each other the rhythm of what we want to do or a pratfall or the effect that we want to have on the audience. We also hope to create a lot of fun material because of our shared love of clowning.”

“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey The Greatest Show On Earth” (Graphic by Feld Entertainment)


The show is intended to be interactive.

“We weren’t able to bring audience members literally onto the stage, but we want to make them feel like they’re part of the performance,” Damm said. “There are many parts of the show that invite the audience in. There’s call and response. There are sing-alongs. There are clap-alongs. And we ask the audience to help the characters, to propel the characters and their energy through the show. Children and ‘Children of All Ages’ are so enthusiastic about the show. We hope that, when they go away, they felt like they had been part of the performance.

“During the musical numbers, we’ll see audience members dancing in the seats. Before the cameras, they’ll go up on the Jumbotron, like you’re at a baseball game or something. It’s to let them know that the audience is what makes these performances unique. We’ve had audiences of up to 12,000 people. That is an incredible feeling. There is an electricity to it. But, ultimately, it’s not the size of the crowd. It’s the relationship between the crowd and the performer, in sharing that joy and energy with them. We hope for the place of mutual joy and a shared experience.”

Damm said that, by being part of the circus, he is living his dream. This is Damm’s first year with Ringling Brothers.

“I’ve always loved performing,” he said. “I’ve always loved the circus in all its forms. I learned to juggle when I was 10 years old. I started performing at birthday parties when I was 12. Ringling has always been a dream of mine. It’s the biggest show in the United States, and it brings together incredible talent from all over the world in a one-of-a-kind effect.”

A graduate of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and of the Circus Center in San Francisco, Damm furthered his career by “getting any gig I could. I worked at theme parks; I worked on cruise ships. I worked in theatrical shows. I did a bunch of street performances. One of the adventurous parts of being in the circus industry is that you end up by working in so many different places. Opera houses. Villages in Indonesia. I’ve really done it all, and I try to bring that to this project, which is Ringling.”

When Damm is not touring, he said that he loves going home to Vermont and “doing circus with my kids, helping them to do normal stuff, like Pokémon.” His two children are 5 and 7 years old.

“I love running and working out. I try to keep myself in good physical shape so I can do a pretty intense physical show without hurting myself,” he said. “I hope to be able to do acrobatics and pratfalls for many years to come. I’ll run five or six miles in the cities that we visit. I love slapstick comedy.”

His favorite movie comedians include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Steve Martin and Jackie Chan.

Jan Damm, aka Nick Nack. (Photo by Feld Entertainment)


Damm said family support has propelled him toward living his dream: “My family has always been amazingly supportive. On my dad’s side, they were Methodist ministers. I got my gift for gab from that side of my family. My mother was a pediatrician. She encouraged my development, both creatively and personally. She came to every single show that I did in middle school and in high school and beyond. I think that she recognized before I did that, I was a lifer, that I was going to be on a stage of some form or another for my entire life. She supported me with my juggling and by buying different kinds of magic tricks and props. I give her a lot of credit for helping me onto the path of joy and creativity that I’m on now.

“I think my parents had been artists themselves when they were in college. They didn’t end up being performers, but they would take us to shows. There was a local repertory Shakespeare company where, every summer, we would see four or five shows. I grew up with Shakespeare and the arts. All of that fed into the path that I chose to follow. I feel very lucky to have had a family who supported me.”

In the future, Damm said that he sees himself as a director or a teacher.

“A lot of clowns look at the creative side of things and end up by going into direction or helping other folks develop characters. I’d love to do that,” he said. “I’ve also worked in circus acrobatics. You’re a performer. You’re not always on the road. You need a place to go, to train with creative people. I’ve developed my love for teaching over the years, working with youth, as well. I’d like to try directing. I’d like to make my own show in the years ahead. Right now, I’m just focusing on being the best performer I can be for Ringling Brothers and the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’ ”

Damm said he is looking forward to coming to perform in Buffalo.

“I’ve always loved Niagara Falls,” he said. “I’m from the northeast, so I don’t mind a little chilly weather. I’m very much looking forward to coming to Buffalo. It’s so welcoming. The good people of Buffalo love the circus.”

He said that, after the circus’ seven-year hiatus, he would love to see a large crowd at KeyBank Center: “Come back to the circus. It’s fun for all ages. It’s an incredible experience. We hope that you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster at https://www.ticketmaster.com/ringling-bros-and-barnum-bailey-presents-buffalo-new-york-03-22-2024/event/00005F4AC75C247C.

Hometown News

View All News