The 143rd edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will present its new show “Built to Amaze,” Oct. 29 through Nov. 2 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. And, along with the new show, the new cast features a group of original, diverse performers, including Carlos Mesa, unicyclist with New York City’s King Charles Troupe, and the show’s first black Equestrian Ringmaster, Andre McClain.
In 1958, Jerry King started the King Charles Troupe as a South Bronx unicycling club for the community.
Ten years later, the troupe auditioned on the sidewalk outside of Madison Square Garden for the producers of Ringling Bros.
A short time after that, in 1969, the group became the first all-black circus act in the history of Ringling Bros.
King’s son Charles led the troupe, which reigned in popularity for nearly 20 years as part of the show.
Today, an all-new generation of producers and performers has come together to be a part of Ringling Bros.’ upcoming show.
And, Mesa, a native of Tumaco, Colombia, and member of the troupe since 2006, said he’s loving every minute of it.
“Every day is more fun,” he stated. “That’s what I love. The thing that I love is; I never get tired of doing it.”
Mesa, 32, said he’s been unicycling for almost 20 years, and came on board with Ringling Bros. in 2006, after working with another troupe at Universal Circus.
“They knew me before, because they saw another act I was doing at Universal Circus,” he stated. “So, they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the team, and I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’”
Mesa said he’s been having fun performing with Ringling Bros. ever since.
In addition, he said he’s realized how important it is to represent the Latin American and black communities through a diverse group of performers, and as a diverse member of the team.
“I think it’s good for people to see all different races and nationalities performing,” Mesa stated.
And, most importantly, Mesa said he hopes everyone who is watching has a good time because, after all; it is the circus.
“I just try to make sure whoever is watching loves what I do and enjoys what I do,” he stated. “The most important thing is, they enjoy the whole show.”
Mesa said he performs stunts that usually leave the audience amazed, such as jumping rope, or bouncing a basketball through a hoop while riding his unicycle.
And, while Mesa said it may look easy, he said he makes sure he stays focused while on stage, in order to give the audience the best show possible.
“There’s not only one thing you have to do,” he stated. “You’ve got to make sure you’re sharp when you’re up there. You have to make sure you smile.”
Equestrian Ringmaster Andre McClain said it’s important to look the part, too.
An accomplished animal trainer and rodeo star, with cowboy heritage that dates back to his grandfather, McClain dons a gentleman’s riding habit while directing the performances, exotic animals, and equestrian presentations.
Raised on a ranch in Kansas City, Mo., McClain said he began riding bucking ponies and steers at the age of three.
“I’ve been around horses all my life,” McClain stated. “Three years old was my first time on a horse.”
In addition, he said his father was a rodeo competitor, and founded the first all-black rodeo, the Bill Picket Rodeo, in 1984.
McClain made his competitive debut in the rodeo at just seven years old.
He said it’s his family’s history that has inspired him to continue their legacy as cowboys, as well as continue to educate his audience about what being an equestrian ringmaster really is.
“I’m a third-generation cowboy,” he stated. “You know, it’s funny, because cowboys have been around for years, and black cowboys have been around for years, but it’s a culture people don’t know about. And, Bill Picket is legendary, so it started to educate people in general.”
McClain said he taught himself how to train horses at the age of 14, and then started performing a one-man cowboy show, which included singing country music, at age 16 in Kansas City.
In 2002, Ringling Bros. offered him a job in its animal department, then as a host for its pre-show later that year.
Yet, although his role seems like a new one, McClain said the original host of the show’s background wasn’t dissimilar from his.
“I’m the first singing, equestrian ringmaster,” he stated. “I’m a cowboy, so, of course, I’m equestrian. I work with the animals. The original ringmaster wasn’t a singer, he was an equestrian.”
In the 13 years McClain has been with Ringling Bros., he said his personal life has grown along with his time in the show.
He said he’s gotten married to one of the dancers from the show, and he’s watched his two teenage kids from a previous relationship grow up as well.
“My wife came over from Brazil,” he stated. “She spoke no English; I taught her English. We’ve been together six years, and just celebrated two years of marriage, Oct. 2. And, I have two kids that are 14 and 15 now.”
Ultimately, McClain said he plans to continue being a ringmaster with Ringling Bros. for as long as possible, and, one day, he may even take over his father’s rodeo, which is still in business.
But, for now, he said he’s proud to be the show’s first black, singing, equestrian ringmaster, and he hopes it inspires others in the minority community to follow their dreams as well.
“It’s an honor, and it’s a privilege to be the show’s first singing, equestrian ringmaster,” he stated. “It lets everyone know that, you, too, can make your dreams come true. So, that’s what I like to put out there.”
In the end, McClain said, for the most part, he just hopes the audience enjoys the show.
“I just hope that every time the audience walks into that arena, no matter what they’re going through in their everyday lives, that it changes them when they leave,” he stated. “It’s the greatest show on earth.”
For information on the show’s performance schedule, go to Ringling.com or www.facebook.com/RinglingBros.