For performers, the circus is a way of life
Source: Times LeaderThe Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in Wilkes-Barre one last time before the show closes next month.
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Viki Zsilak is from Hungary, and she has performed in the circus all her life.
At age 45, Zsilak travels with her son, Richard, 19, who began performing at age 6.
Even as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus nears the end of its line — final performances will be in May in Providence, R.I. — the Zsilaks and most other circus people will look to continue their careers in other shows.
“My family has always been in the circus,” Zsilak said. “I’m a third-generation circus performer.”
Zsilak said her father taught her everything, and she attended a special circus school in Hungary, where she grew up. Originally a juggler, Zsilak now performs with ponies and goats, and she still does a juggling act with her son. She juggles rings, clubs, fire and bowls.
Zsilak said she was surprised when she heard the news that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey decided to end its circus. Zsilak has been with the show for 18 years.
“Of course, I am saddened,” she said. “It makes you re-think your strategies.”
Zsilak talked about the train that transports the performers from town to town. She said Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey provides a school for the children, in addition to costumes and other needs.
“We will try to sell our act to another show,” Zsilak said. “We are looking at our options.”
A lot of the performers have been together a long time, Zsilak said.
“We really are like a family,” she said.
But with the end nearing, Zsilak said the performers continue to look forward to each and every show, never tiring of giving their all and feeding off of the crowd — especially the children.
“The people who come out want to see us, meet us and take pictures with us, and we love that,” Zsilak said. “And the fans are sad as well. The fans are always close to our hearts.”
Zsilak said the favorite memories she has usually involve children.
“They want to hug us,” she said. “They send us letters telling us how much they loved the show. We will always remember their support.”
Zsilak has been in Wilkes-Barre before and she said the fans here have been great.
“I hope they all come out to see us this time around,” she said. “There’s nothing like live entertainment — it’s the best.”
Stevey, the clown
Stephen Craig is 25 and is from Myrtle Beach, S.C. He joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 16 months ago.
Craig performs as “Stevey,” an aviator clown, complete with goggles and large gold shoes. This is his first circus job, having performed in theater before this.
“I believe that the clowns are what ground the circus,” he said. “Clowns connect all of the fans to the performers.”
Craig said he is always amazed by the people he works with every day and like his colleagues, he is saddened by the decision to end the circus’ run.
“I’m sure we will all find another stage to perform on, but it won’t be the Greatest Show on Earth,” he said. “I really feel attached to my family here.”
As one of the new acts with the circus, Craig said it took a while to get adjusted, but his “neighbors” on the circus train made him feel welcome almost immediately.
“The train has the feel of a really great small town,” he said.
Craig has already started looking for another show to join, and he said he’s sure he will land on his feet. Although he never thought this show would ever end, Craig said he looks forward to his next tour.
“Like all of us in the show, I’m here to receive the applause,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience to be in front of the greatest fans on earth — every one of them. I love it.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.