This past weekend, the Piccadilly Circus made a stop through Central Florida, bringing along with it its many acts of acrobatics, glitz, glamour, and a parade of animals. The UCF Venue filled with people and children of all ages excited to see the circus, especially the animals.
Zack Garden, who is the director of the Piccadilly Circus and a third-generation circus owner, described Central Florida as a really great stop on their tour so far with a lot of high energy.
“It’s a fast-paced modern circus. There is no ring master; it goes from one act to the other,” Garden said. “I think it is much more exciting this way.”
The Piccadilly Circus is currently celebrating 25 years of existence, and included a range of performances such as the Elephant Extravaganza, in which an elephant stands on one foot. Another event included was Motorcycle Madness, which has motorcycle daredevils somersaulting and spinning in a big Globe of Doom.
There were other animals that performed, such as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a peformance that featured a pack of sheep dogs, and My Little Pony On Parade an outstanding display of the colors of the rainbow. Other performances included the White Tiger Spectacular, a comedy with circus clowns, and a 1923 Ford Model T with a mind of its own.
Some aerial acts ere included as well, one of which included a group of aerialists that hung from ropes. They did daring tricks and graceful poses, while being spun in circles in the air. Another act included a few clowns that performed a bunch of musical numbers to popular songs, including “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira. The instruments ranged from trumpets to a homemade xylophone made out of brightly colored bottles.
Although many individuals enjoyed the event, it also took place amid a protest. Members of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida were present the whole weekend outside of the Venue protesting and informing attendees of the dangers that the circus lifestyle has on the various animals. Among the few protestors were the coordinators for the Central Florida area for ARFF Bryan and Carla Wilson, both Winter Springs natives. They have been working with ARFF since 2001 and protest not just circuses but any kind of event that evades animal rights and allows the animals to grow up in unnatural and dangerous environments.
“We’re opposed to all animals being in circuses,” Bryan said. “The animals don’t come here voluntarily, and their participation in the circus is not natural behaviors that [the animals] are willing to do. They don’t reward the animals. They are trained at the end of bull hooks. They spend their lives in cages and in chains, and these are completely unnatural conditions for these animals to live in.”
Before each of the shows on Friday and Saturday, Bryan and Carla stood outside the Venue with signs, a jumbo screen that ran a video about elephant abuse in circuses and the tools that the trainers use to train the elephants on display. They handed out pamphlets to many of the attendees who passed.
Bryan explained that many people protest circuses like Piccadilly where the contractors taking care of the animals have a long history of improper veterinary care and treatment.
Garden had a different response about how the Piccadilly Circus takes care of its animals than the members of ARFF.
“I have a very great animal crew. They’re all trained, professional animal handlers, and I have a perfect record. The animals come first here at Piccadilly. Nobody drinks or eats before the animals — that’s my rule,” Garden said. “If they knew me and how I treated my animals, they would change their opinions.”
Garden claimed that many of the pictures and data that groups like ARFF use against the circuses were taken in the 1970s when there were fewer rules and regulations. He went on to explain that the industry has become stricter and has initiated more rules and regulations to make sure the animals are treated with the utmost care.
Shane Johnson, 37, a Dallas native who does the T-Model comedy car act for Piccadilly, worked with tigers for 18 years prior to doing the act he currently performs.
“I do not think that the circus is proper without the animals in it, and I have seen them being taken care of for so long, and they are taken care of very well,” Johnson said. “Everybody has their views; not everybody likes certain wars or the way the president runs the country, and they are welcome to have their views, and we have our own.”
Jyoti Dale, a 30-year-old UCF graduate student in the master’s program for health care informatics, attended the protest on Saturday. She became involved with ARFF through a previous protest and has been working with it since.
“Circuses are purely for an entertainment value. They are not for conservation, and the way they train their animals is inhumane; so, I came out here to protest their use of animals in their circus,” Dale said. “There are plenty of circuses, such as Cirque du Soleil, that don’t use animals in their performances. We encourage people to go to those instead.”
The controversy over having animals in circuses still continues, and it is a divided argument that stands, yet that did not stop people like Myrtle and her children from coming out and just enjoying some good, old family fun at the circus.
“I think they [ARFF] have a right to protest; they have freedom of speech,” Myrtle said. “We are just interested in wanting to go see the circus to see the fun that it is going to be.”