Ringling circus prepares for last Tampa show ever

- The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town performing some of their last shows ever. Wednesday through Sunday, Amalie Arena will be filled with the sights and sounds of the famous circus.

It's a farewell tour. After 146 years, the shows are coming to an end. Feld Entertainment, based in Palmetto, announced the decision this month, citing high costs and declining ticket sales. This comes not long after elephants were phased out of their shows.

Tuesday, while crews set the stage at Amalie Arena, a few of the performers put on a mini-circus of their own to entertain and awe, but mostly, to inspire. They danced, juggled and jump roped in front of a crowd of theater students at the Straz Center's Patel Conservatory.

"Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth," announced Kristen Michelle Wilson, the circus' first female ringmaster.

Night after night, since the 1870s, crowds have heard these iconic words. It's a bittersweet time for these performers. Many have worked their entire lives to be a part of this show.

LINK: Ringling Museum works to preserve circus history

"I feel a lot of pressure because there were 38 ringmasters before me who had a lot more time. I have 4 months to do it right. And, I am so up for the challenge," Wilson said.

After the performance, the kids got a chance to ask questions and get advice from those who've survived audition after audition, chased dreams and experienced the highs and lows of show business.

RELATED: Protesters, fans turn out for Tampa's last Circus

"Never give up. I think that's the best piece of advice," said 10-year-old Seth Black-Diamond afterward.

"They worked so hard for it," 13-year-old Selena Turner said. "They wanted to do it and they accomplished it and i makes me feel like I can accomplish what I want to do, too."

Though it's the end of an era for one circus, the tradition lives on people like Matthew Lish, a second generation clown.

"To be part of this family tradition, this American  tradition, something that is older than major league baseball, something that's older than Coca-Cola, it just means the world to me," Lish said.

Those who've graced the center ring, even for just a few months, can't help but be thankful.

"Be thrilled with the dream because it is worth it," Mitchell told the kids. "Long after the lights go down, we will continue to live it."

Ringling's Circus Xtreme opens Wednesday night at Amalie Arena. There will be 8 shows running through Sunday evening.

The final curtain will fall on May 21 in New York. Here's the full schedule.

MORE RINGLING BROS. CIRCUS COVERAGE:

- Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years
- Inside look: Where Ringling's elephants retire
- What happens between now and Ringling's closure?
- Circus performers show attitude of perseverance
- Eight generations of circus history
- Ringling history: From freak shows to the big top
- Rescue group to Ringling: We'll take your cats
- Old Ringling circus train car to get new life

- From 1984: Circus opens show marking 100 years
- From 1986: Kenneth Feld brings circus to St. Pete
- From 1987: 'King Tusk' highlights the circus
- From 1987: Circus train arrives in St. Pete

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