ELLENTON, Fla. (AP) — After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.
The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.
“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.
By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.
“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”
The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.
“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” he said.
Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.
“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, acknowledged the move was “bittersweet” for the Felds but said: “I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts.”
In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.
By the time the elephants were removed, public opinion had shifted somewhat. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers, as did Oakland, California. The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.
Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.
“We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants,” she said. “We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role.”
The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.
Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.
Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.
In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.
“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld.
HAVANA (AP) — Two days before Christmas, Luis Gonzalez received a little Chinese modem from Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company.
The 55-year-old theater producer connected the device to his phone and his laptop computer, which instantly lit up with a service unimaginable in the Cuba of just a few years ago — relatively fast home internet.
“It’s really easy to sit and find whatever you need,” Gonzalez said as he sat in his living room updating his Facebook account, listening to Uruguayan radio online and checking an arriving tourist’s landing time for a neighbor who rents rooms in their building in historic Old Havana. “Most Cubans aren’t used to this convenience.”
Home internet came to Cuba last month in a limited pilot program that’s part of the most dramatic change in daily life here since the declaration of detente with the United States on Dec. 17, 2014.
While Cuba remains one of the world’s least internet-connected societies, ordinary citizens’ access to the internet has exploded over the last two years. Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the country. Cubans were previously restricted to decrepit state internet clubs and hotels that charged $6-$8 for an hour of slow internet.
In a country with an average monthly salary of around $25, the price of an hour online has dropped to $1.50, still steep but now well within the range of many Cubans with private income or financial help from relatives abroad.
The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts of the Cuban diaspora. Connections are made mostly through access cards sold by the state monopoly and often resold on street corners for higher prices.
The spread of connectivity has remotely reunited families separated for years, even decades. It’s fueled the spread of Airbnb and other booking services that have funneled millions in business to private bed-and-breakfasts owners. And it’s exposed Cubans to a faster flow of news and cultural developments from the outside world — supplementing the widespread availability of media spread on memory drivers.
Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places: thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for about $100 — double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.
On the official front, Google and Cuba’s state-run telecoms monopoly Etecsa struck a deal last month to store Google content like YouTube video on servers inside Cuba, giving people on the island faster, smoother access.
While the explosion of internet in Cuba has taken place alongside the process of normalization started by Obama in 2014, it’s unclear how much better relations have speeded up Cuba’s move online.
Obama said in announcing detente that he welcomed “Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens,” but neither Obama’s team nor Cuban officials have detailed whether that decision was directly linked to negotiations to restore diplomatic ties and began negotiations.
What is clear is that Cuba began to dramatically increase access about six months later when the government began opening Wi-Fi spots around the country. For many Cubans, the start of home internet in December is potentially even more significant, breaking a longstanding barrier against private internet access in a country whose communist government remains deeply wary about information technology undermining its near-total control of media, political life and most of the economy.
The pace of change in Cuba often depends on the state of relations with its giant neighbor to the north: both tensions with the United States and leaps forward like Obama’s visit to Havana last year have prompted crackdowns by hardliners worried about the government losing control. While President-elect Donald Trump’s administration has promised to take a harder line on Cuba, both opponents of President Raul Castro’s government and those advocating closer relations favor more access to information for ordinary Cubans.
The home internet test program selected some 2,000 residents of Old Havana to receive free connections for two months before a planned expansion and the start of billing for the service. Gonzalez said he would be able to receive 30 hours of his 128 kilobyte-per-second connection for $15, with the price increasing for faster connections, with 30 hours of a 2 megabyte-per-second connection available for $115.
That’s far slower and wildly more expensive than internet in most of the rest of the world. In the Dominican Republic, for example, a full month of relatively slow 2 megabyte-per-second internet, a speed most people would consider reasonable for applications such as streaming video, costs a little more than $20.
Cuba depended on slow, expensive satellite internet until 2013, when it opened a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela that connected the island to the global online infrastructure.
Cuba says that its still-high internet prices are a result of costs imposed by the U.S. trade embargo on the island. Independent observers blame the costs on political decisions to limit access, and on the cash-strapped socialist government’s widespread use of its monopoly power to extract as much money as possible for goods and services considered luxuries. Many young people hope that the spread of access in recent years is the start of Cuba seeing internet more as a necessity and a right, like the free education and health care guaranteed by Cuba’s socialist system.
“In my dreams, I’d like for the internet to be seen like arts and culture, and, as such, to be free for the whole population, just like access to education has been for the last 50 years,” said David Vasquez, the 27-year-old director of the online magazine Cachivache Media. “It’s very hard to know what the future will bring.”
Correspondent Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP ; Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein .
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Around 70,000 smiling, cheering football fans turned out for the biggest party Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has thrown yet at Death Valley to celebrate the school’s first national championship in 35 years.
Last year, more than 30,000 people showed up for Swinney’s pizza party when Clemson was picked for its first College Football Playoff berth after the 2015 season. This gathering topped that, with all but the highest rows filled at the 80,000-seat Memorial Stadium.
Swinney closed the 90-minute ceremony, thanking all who supported and believed in him since his rise from interim coach to national champion. His team won the title with a 35-31 victory over defending national champ Alabama last Monday night when Deshaun Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow on a 2-yard TD pass with one second left.
Swinney recalled telling his players before heading to Tampa, Florida, that Clemson’s only other national title team in 1981 “has been awful lonely up on that stadium for a long time. And this team is the one that’s going to join them.”
Watson told the crowd these three years — the junior is giving up his final season for the NFL draft — have been the best experience of his life.
“It’s a blessing to let the world know what Clemson is all about,” said Watson, who waved as he got a final standing ovation at the stadium.
The celebration began with a parade on College Avenue, where earlier in the week 5,000 fans withstood 30-degree temperatures to watch the Tigers’ victory. This time, Swinney and his family rode in a blue roadster while Clemson stars rode in orange jeeps as people stood three-and-four deep to catch a glimpse.
Players of the past, including many from the 1981 Tigers, were part of the parade and the ceremony at the stadium.
“We put the foundation down, but they put Clemson at the top of the hill,” said former Tigers offense lineman Jeff Bostic, who went on to win three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins.
Tiger players joyously skipped down the hill toward the field, a twist on their traditional pregame entrance, to the shouts of fans.
Clemson received the championship trophy from College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock. Swinney also accepted the AFCA Amway trophy given to the champions.
Fans began lining up to enter the stadium well before dark, dressed in all sorts of championship orange . There were plenty of Watson’s No. 4 jerseys, plus several No. 13 for national title game hero Hunter Renfrow, the one-time walk-on who caught the game-winning pass.
Erwin Heins, a 1971 electrical engineering graduate at Clemson, experienced his second national title as a Tigers’ fan after the breakthrough 1981 championship.
“I almost did a double back flip when we scored at the end,” said Heins, who drove up Friday from Summerville — about 4 hours away — to make sure he’d get into the stadium for the celebration.
“You can tell we’ve gone in the right direction,” Heins said. “We have the chance to stay at the top for a while.”
The thousands in the stands cheered and booed at appropriate moments as the national title game with Alabama was shown on its video boards. The people started clapping as the Tigers lined up for the game-winning play, then erupted into screams of delight as Watson connected with Renfrow for the decisive score.
Joel Wash, 30, followed Clemson since he was young because his father attended the university. Wash drove 2 hours north from Saluda with 2-year-old son Garner to honor the Tigers.
“This was the only place we were going to be today,” Wash said.
Swinney said too many people saw last year’s season when the Tigers were runner-up to Alabama in Arizona and thought a similar outcome would take place this time, too. He said he told his players that they controlled how their story would end.
“What an ending they wrote Monday night,” he said.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Leaders in the unmanned aircraft industry are trying to persuade young people who think drones are cool to consider flying them for a living.
Commercial pilots must obtain a Federal Aviation Administration drone license, and some companies that employ such pilots have started selling classes that help students prepare for the FAA test or just figure out whether they would be interested in such a career.
“I think a lot of people my age are interested in drones because it’s cool technology that is really just starting to be available for everyone,” said 17-year-old North Dakota high school student Ava Niemeier, who plans to attend new training being offered by a commercial drone company in her state. “There are a lot of kids at my school with smaller drones that they fly for fun.”
Businesses use drones to take photos and video, for security and to conduct inspections or surveys, among other things. With the number of commercial drone operations outpacing the pool of certified drone pilots, experts say more training is needed to help young flyers operate the planes legally and safely.
James Barnes founded the New Jersey Drone Academy on an old miniature golf and driving range complex nearly three years ago. His primary motivation, he says, is to give kids from urban areas who can’t afford to go to college a chance to learn a trade and make decent money.
“We are just growing at an outrageous pace, but I hardly see anybody in the country moving in that direction,” Barnes said. “I’m trying to hire two experienced drone technicians at $20 an hour and I can’t find anybody.” Participants in Barnes’ courses have ranged in age from 8 to 104.
Niemeier plans to take a course through SkySkopes, a Grand Forks company that employs unmanned aircraft pilots and is offering an online class for students beginning as early as eighth grade as well as a separate flight certification course. She decided to take the class after her father — a commercial photographer with no aviation experience — was recruited by SkySkopes to test the 20-week flight training course.
Matt Dunlevy, SkySkopes president and CEO, said wants to show students “who catch the drone bug early” that there are companies like his that are hiring people. He expects the drone pilot shortage to get worse. Dunlevy’s SkySkopes Academy also is starting an internship program through the University of North Dakota, one of the top aviation schools in the country.
The SkySkopes course will teach the history of flight and of unmanned aircraft, flight fundamentals, flight science, Federal Aviation Administration regulations, airspace requirements, and uses for drones.
Minot Public Schools, which offers aviation classes to high school students, plans to partner with SkySkopes on drone training, Superintendent Mark Vollmer said. The North Dakota Center For Distance Education, a nonprofit online school, also will work with SkySkopes to offer the program.
“There are a lot of kids out there who are interested in drones and want to understand what’s involved with that and what career opportunities there are,” said North Dakota Center for Distance Education spokesman Mike Miller. “We want to make sure that no matter where they are, and no matter how small their school is, they have the same opportunity as any other kid in a larger school that can support a full-time class.”
Bryan Ackley, also with the distance education program, said that while some of the science might be new to students, he doesn’t expect them to be intimidated by flying a drone.
“Basically if it involves a joy stick they can pick it up pretty quickly,” he said.
SkySkopes Academy: www.skyskopes.com
New Jersey Drone Academy: www.njdroneacademy.com
North Dakota Center for Distance Education: www.ndcde.org
BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stressing as she awaits Donald Trump’s inauguration that the world’s problems need solving in cooperation, rather than by each country individually.
Asked at a news conference Saturday about protectionist tendencies in the U.S., Merkel said she will seek a dialogue with the new president.
“I don’t want to get ahead of that, but I am very much convinced that we as partners benefit more if we act together than if everyone solves problems for themselves, and that is a constant fundamental attitude on my part,” she said.
Underlining the importance of the Group of 20 industrial powers, which Germany chairs this year, she said that the international response to the financial crisis “was not a response based on isolation, but a response based on cooperation, on common rules for regulating financial markets, and I think that is the promising path.”
Merkel has made clear that she’s unhappy about the possible demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a result of Trump’s desire to withdraw the United States. Trump has criticized Merkel’s decision to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany.
Merkel said there are contacts “at adviser level” with Trump’s team, though there was no immediate word on any plans for a meeting beyond the summits of the Group of Seven and G-20 in May and July respectively. Merkel will host the latter summit in the German city of Hamburg.
“We’ll wait for the inauguration and then we will talk about this,” she said at a news conference. Trump will be inaugurated on Friday.
Merkel is seeking a fourth term in an election expected in September. Leaders of her conservative Christian Democratic Union met Friday and Saturday in Perl, in western Saarland state, to kick off the election year — which also features three state elections, the first in Saarland in March.
Merkel has said she expects her most difficult election yet, though she was confident Saturday that a simmering dispute with her allies in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, won’t get in the way of a joint conservative campaign.
The CSU has demanded for the past year an annual cap of 200,000 on the number of refugees Germany accepts, an idea Merkel rejects. Germany saw 890,000 asylum-seekers arrive in 2015 and 280,000 last year.
Merkel said leaders of her party agreed “that we can live with such a disagreement.”
She renewed her pledge of improved security following last month’s deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market. “We are making clear that every person has a right to security, and only those who are secure can live in freedom,” she said.
Germany’s 16 states must have the same security standards, Merkel said, arguing that it’s not sensible for regions to have different rules on matters such as video surveillance.