The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is back in Maryland with its tigers, elephants, acrobats and clowns.
But this year the traveling band will perform at the Laurel Park racetrack instead of the Marley Station shopping center in Glen Burnie.
And instead of rolling into town over Labor Day weekend as in years past, the acts will perform Tuesday through Thursday, with shows in the late afternoon and early evening.
“We’re happy to have the Cole Bros. Circus here,” says Scott Lishia, director of guest services for the Laurel thoroughbred track. “They approached us, and we think it’s a great opportunity to have outside entertainment. We’re proud of having them as part of our offerings.”
The circus visited Crownsville, Frederick and Hagerstown earlier this spring.
Lishia also says Laurel’s fall racing meet will begin Wednesday, one day after the circus arrives, which will offer visitors a chance to not only see live racing in the afternoon but also visit the big top later in the day.
Because most racing fans tend to leave in late afternoon as live racing comes to a close, Lishia says he does not anticipate too many cars in the parking lots, as the first circus show doesn’t start until 4:30 p.m.
“There is ample parking,” which is also free, Lishia says.
Based in DeLand, Fla., Cole Bros. is presenting 15 acts, about half of which are new this year, including the Cretu troupe of nearly a dozen acrobats from Romania.
“They use hand-to-hand acrobatics and toss the girls across the ring,” says ringmaster and performance director Chris Connors. “They’re also using a teeter board, which we haven’t had in about 10 years.”
Also new under the big one-ring tent are Baby Val, a five-year-old elephant, who will work with “her best friend, a little girl named Halley, who is also five years old.
“They grew up together, and it’s one of the cutest acts in the show,” Connors says.
Lana and Company will present a new illusions act, and Petya and Wendy will perform gymnastics while hanging by their long black hair from bars and rings high above the circus floor.
“I don’t know how they do it, but it really gets people’s attention,” Connors says.
Returning this year are Abuhadba’s “dressed for success” French poodles from Las Vegas, who circle the ring in a pink car, along with motorcycle riders doing stunts inside the Thunderdrome, a steel globe that breaks in half while the riders are in it.
Also returning to open the show are a cadre of tigers, including a white one, trained by Judit and Juergen Nerger of Germany. Captain Kellan, the Human Cannon Ball, closes performances by being fired out of what the circus claims is the world’s largest cannon.
“We start with a roar and end with a bang,” Connors says.
Renee Storey, vice president of administration for Cole Bros., says the circus was pleased with the Marley Station site and that the Glen Burnie community supported the event.
But she says Indianapolis-based Simon Properties, which owns the center, notified Cole Bros. at the end of last season that it would no longer host circuses on its properties around the country because of pressure from the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va.) animal rights group.
The circus was told it could return to the center, but only if it left its animals behind, Storey says.
“We felt because of who we are that we would continue a traditional circus, because people who know us and love us expect us to present it,” she says.
Storey, who sometimes visits friends in Laurel, says she had driven past Laurel Park and approached the management about booking space there.
Following the Laurel performances, the circus will head to Ashburn, Va., then pack up its trucks again and head south to Florida to spend three months of relative down time before hitting the road again next spring.
“On the one hand, we were disappointed about leaving Glen Burnie, but this is also a wonderful opportunity,” says Storey, who says Cole Bros. could come back to Laurel next year.
“I went to the Cole Bros. circus when I was a kid,” Lishia says. “It’s been around for years and has a good reputation.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he says about a possible return to the new site.