Originally created 01/30/98

Greatest show has oohs, aahs and a hippo too



For obert Tully, the new ringmaster of the & Bailey's red unit circus, every day is proving to be different and exciting.

From the rush of having to wing it under the bright lights when the unpredictable nature of the circus kicks in, to late-night vodka-slugging sessions with some of the circus' Russian performers, this 37-year-old's job is an adventure.

"I'm having a blast," he said in a telephone interview from the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum, the circus' stop before heading to Augusta for performances Tuesday and Wednesday at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.

Augusta will be Mr. Tully's sixth town since replacing 11-year ringmaster Erick Michael Gillette, who left to pursue a theatrical career and his own cabaret act.

This rendition of the self-described "Greatest Show on Earth" features classic circus fare -- jugglers, clowns, trapeze artists and wild-animal acts.

But it also has some more modern twists, including a high-speed, in-line skate team, a basketball team that plays on unicycles and Zusha, billed by the circus as "the only performing hippopotamus in the world."

"This is 3,800 pounds of hippo," said Mr. Tully.

In addition, the circus has gone "interactive." Ticketholders can show up an hour before the show, step inside the famed three rings, swing on a trapeze, walk a low wire or try on a clown costume.

"And you don't have to take a virtual-reality trip to experience other cultures," said circus producer Kenneth Feld. "We have a trapeze artists from Mexico, amazing acrobats from Hungary, rollerskating wizards from Ireland."

With a background in theater and a stint as a ringmaster for a Las Vegas-style review aboard a Norwegian cruise line, Mr. Tully is a newcomer to the Big Top, unlike many of the people involved with the 127-year-old circus. "Everybody else has been doing it for generations," he said.

For instance, for lead animal trainer Mark Oliver Gebel, the circus is a family tradition. He is the son of legendary animal trainer Gunther Gebel Williams and has performed in the circus since he was 10 years old.

Dreams of being in the circus as a child enticed most the performers.

Growing up in Cincinnati, however, Mr. Tully didn't dream of one day being a ringmaster. "I never envisioned it," he said.

Showtime


What:
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus


When:
4 and 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Where:
Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center

How much:
$15.50 and $17.50

Phone:
828-7700