Throngs of kids and parents swarmed the Sprint Center last night for the opening of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. But they had to pass by a different circus outside in order to make it into the Big Top.
A huge elephant, whose body was made of gray plastic tablecloth and whose legs were made of little humans, lumbered outside of the entrance with a sign on its back bemoaning the supposed cruelty done to his species by the circus. One woman brandished a piercingly sharp bullhook and announced that the instrument was used to train the elephants. "Do not, buy, the tickets!" shouted a young elefriend at the top of her lungs, her tiny voice punctuated by shallow breaths.
"Would you like to see what they do to the baby animals? another demonstrator yelled. "They chain them up for 23 hours a day!"
Parents shielded their children and pulled them away from the protesters, but one woman holding a child in her arms and leading another by the hand slowed her pace. "Oh no, I've been in there, and that's not what they do," she said loudly.
"Oh yes, honey, they do!" the protester yelled after her as the family disappeared into the masses.
Susanne McDaniel, who works for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, didn't look happy about the reactions to the protest. "We're getting little smiles, like 'Yeah, right.' I'm hearing a lot of 'I don't cares,'" she said.
Their slice of sidewalk wasn't exactly prime real estate. The activists had to share it with blond salesgirls from Wendy's, who were giving out coupons for a new meaty breakfast special. Sculptures of a sunny-side-up egg flanked by two wavy slices of bacon were bolted into the sidewalk, an ironic backdrop for the protest against animal cruelty:
Andre du Broc stood alone with a sign, close to one of the slices of bacon. He was dressed normally, without elephant garb or clown makeup, but the protest hit closest to home for him. A graduate of the Class of '92 at Ringling Clown College and a former Ringling Circus clown, du Broc toured with the circus for a little over a month. After that, he quit. "Because of the animal cruelty and the homophobia, I left. I couldn't take it," he said.
In Clown College, du Broc recalled his teachers telling students how well the animals were treated in the circus. But when he was graduated into the Big Top, he saw elephants being beaten, bored with bullhooks, and prodded in their genitals. "They would scream," he said.
"When I brought it up to my Boss Clown, he just looked at me and walked away. I had crossed a line," du Broc claimed. After that incident, he said, du Broc began to be harassed by his co-clowns for being gay. "I began to worry. You're put in some precarious, dangerous situations in the circus, and I worried I'd be hurt," he said. So he quit.
Now, du Broc guest blogs for PETA and The Advocate about his experiences with Ringling.
"Everyone behind those doors knows exactly what's going on," du Broc said. "This is theater. You see only what they want you to see. You don't watch this show from the back."