Sunday, September 4, 2011

When The Circus Came To Parkway Plaza

Last night as I was driving home, I passed by Parkway Plaza and noticed a red and white circus tent set up in the parking lot. Since we've never taken my son to a circus before, I asked him if he would want to go and without pause, he answered, "Yes!"

When we got home, I figured it would be easy enough to check the Internet for ticket information, but much to my surprise, I couldn't find any mention of it on the event listings of several major local web sites and not even on the hosting Westfield site.
The Big Top nestled in the mall parking lot
I guess using the tent itself as advertisement was good enough since it worked for my family. After all, here we are a day after first spotting the tent, and we now have fun memories to share of an evening spent at the circus.
Our view of the tent as we waited at a signal to enter the mall parking lot.
Now, while I have gone to see the Ringling Bros. before and I have heard of Circus Vargas, I had never heard of the Atayde Bros. until tonight. It is understandable that I haven't heard of Atayde since it is based in Mexico. Still, after doing a little research, I am a little surprised that I have never come across the name since the company has been in the circus business since 1888.
The circus truck dons a clown with a sombrero.
If you take a look at the Circo Atayde web site, you'll see that the company does offer a big scale circus fit to fill a large venue. The traveling show that has come to El Cajon, however, falls on the humble side. This is not intended to be a negative comment, though. If anything, the small scale is something that my husband and I found endearing.
Our tickets and free child coupon
For one thing, the small size of the operation meant that there was not a bad seat in the house. When we bought our tickets, there were three options for seating. I chose the least expensive option, the bleacher section, and I am so glad that I did not bother to pay for more expensive seats. The tent was so small that we were easily within ten feet of the center ring. Even if someone had to sit in the last row--which was not the case since the attendance was pretty low with only maybe about 150 people in the audience--they would have a great view since there were only twelve rows total.
I've seen these set-ups for pony rides before, but not for llama rides.
Before I go on, I will quickly get my main criticism for the show out of the way. I know that animal rights advocates often protest circuses, and while watching the show, I can kind of understand why. The llama rides out front weren't even the problem. It was the animal-taming segment of the show that made me cringe and wince. 

A "tamer" brought out an adult and young camel to parade around the ring. He wanted them to do various tricks such as step up on the side of the ring and also kneel down before him. Perhaps it was just for show effect, but the cracking of his whip on the ground was unsettling. My son whispered to me, "That is a bad man." I asked him why and he said, "They [the camels] don't like him."

My son and I weren't the only ones who seemed to feel this way since the audience barely applauded at the act's end, when the tamer made the camels walk submissively out of the ring on their "elbows." The poor camels looked so uncomfortable doing this, but the cracking whip made them scurry along the best they could. Fortunately, other than a short llama-taming stint that followed the camels, there were no other live animals that had to perform in the show. 
The live performers were a joy to watch.
The circus really could have done well--actually, better--without the use of the animals, because the human performers were the best part by far. We enjoyed the opening magic act and the clown segment that came after that was very cleverly done, featuring a live performer who portrayed a rag doll clown with amazing physicality.

Some of the feats that were displayed were downright impressive. One of our favorite segments was the metal ball shown in the picture below. I've seen a single motorcyclist ride in one of these types of balls in the past, but in this show, they added a second motorcyclist into the mix. And, as a grand finale, they added a third! I worry about my son wanting to ride a motorcycle at all in the future--I can't imagine how I could ever handle him doing stunts like this.
Three motorcyclists ended up riding in this ball together at the same time!
Although it is a little hard to make out, the picture above also shows an object suspended above the ball. This object is a large metal airplane that was used in the final act. While I had wondered if the plane would feature someone riding in it, this was not the case. Instead, it sat on one end of a two-blade propeller-like set-up. The prop plane "flew" around the circle, while opposite it, a man and woman dangled and performed strength-based acrobatics. Try to imagine yourself hanging from high up and rotating in fast-moving circles, all while doing tricks like using only your feet to hold yourself upside down from a bar...and there is no safety net. What impressive talent!

Another potential criticism of the circus is the way that they tried to monetize everything. For instance, from the moment we entered the tent, they were heavily pushing "Star Wars" light sabers over the loud speaker. 

I was honestly surprised that my son maturely accepted the fact that we wouldn't buy him any of the toys that were being pushed since the announcer made continuous and impressively convincing pitches, playing upon every tactic possible, "Let's see everyone who has a light saber wave it around!" How left out does a kid feel upon hearing this over and over and seeing a growing number of kids waving swords of flashing light all around them?

In between one set of acts, we were told that today was our "lucky day," because there were balloons "for every kid in the room"...well, for every kid with $3 we soon found out. During intermission, there was face painting and photo opportunities with animals for another fee, and while the constant monetizing almost turned us off, we couldn't get upset in the end, because the workers were all so hardworking.
Our souvenir from the circus! (Notice a couple of light sabers behind us.)

As the circus truly was a small operation, we started to notice that the guy who had taken our ticket at the door was also one of the motorcyclists. We spotted the featured hula hooper working the snack cart during intermission and the rag doll clown walking the aisles selling toys in between acts. The juggler talent had to rush off stage only to juggle other duties--they all did. Seeing them work so hard was admirable and thus, we didn't feel bad when we did end up buying a souvenir of the night: a family photo of us in our seats.
On the back of our souvenir photo.
The back of our souvenir photo featured a signature quote that the Master of Ceremonies also announced at the end of the show. As he sent us off, he wished us that all our days be "circus days." But honestly, if this would mean we'd have to work as hard as the Atayde Brothers performers, I don't know if I could survive.

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  1. Very cool Article. My Wife, Son and I were at the 7:30 pm show yesterday too. I also noticed how everyone had at least a double duty within the show. I liked how it was very different than a US Circus Show. Yes, I knew that there would be Animal Lovers that may disagree on how the Animals were treated, but I still didn't see any form of abuse at all. A crack of the whip never touched the animal. Nonetheless my Son had a great time and even going out there to dance, well try to dance for a 4 year old. I like how the 2 little boys that stole the show were actually part of the show. We saw them playing "inside" the Circus Area before we were let into the Circus area. The whole show was Awesome and well worth it, especially after seeing how hard they were working.

  2. Very cool! I really enjoyed reading this!! Love the photo at the end.