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Under the Big Top

Known as America’s One Ring Wonder, the Kelly Miller Circus entertains audiences of all ages with its spectacular performances.
Under the Big Top

Under the Big Top

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Kelly Miller Circus

Show Details

Show 1719: Under the Big Top
Air Date: May 7, 2017



Rob McClendon: Well, when John Ringling North II heard that The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus would close this May, he says he was distressed, but didn’t have time to dwell on the news because he had his own circus to produce, the Oklahoma-based Kelly Miller Circus. And I caught up with him as they were getting this year’s tour underway.

NATS: Good evening, Marietta, Oklahoma!

Rob McClendon: It’s been called America’s one-ring wonder. Founded in 1938, the Oklahoma based Kelly Miller circus has entertained millions of Americans. So when it went up for sale in 2006 --

John Ringling North II: I thought about it for 20 minutes, and I decided to buy it.

Rob: Born into the most famous of circus families, John Ringling North II’s great uncles were the famous Ringling brothers, his grandmother their only sister.

John Ringling North II: I had always missed the circus, and I said, “Hey, I am 66, it might be my last chance.” So I bought it.

Rob: Most nights you can find him near ringside enjoying some of the very same acts he grew up with.

John Ringling North II: They all have cell phones. They play games. But when you see a real elephant or somebody swinging up there with no net or anything in person, it’s a whole different ball game.

Rob: That in so many ways is a throwback to simpler times. Family fun, but with no shortage of excitement. And North isn’t the only one here with circus in his blood. Becky Ostroff started off studying modern dance in New York.

Becky Ostroff: And a friend asked me to dance in a circus in New Hampshire. I went kind of as a lark, and I saw these women doing my passion. So I said, “Modern dance, see ya, I’m running away and joining the circus.” And that was 1986.

Rob: And Ostroff isn’t alone. Many of these performers are second-, third-, one even a ninth-generation circus performer.

Becky Ostroff: There is about just under 70 of us. And we are one collective family. We are a family. One person has a joy in their lives, we all do. One person has a sadness, we all do. We’re a family, extended family, and we’re kind of like the pulse of the circus.

Rob: Day in and day out, this year the Kelly Miller circus will perform 420 different shows across 13 states. So a lot of traveling?

John Ringling North II: Oh, yeah, every day. But that’s, if you’re used to it, that is not a problem at all.

Rob: But still quite something to watch. As soon as the last fanfare is over, the tent starts to come down.

John Ringling North II: It takes about three hours to put it up and about an hour to take it down, unless there is a party after the show and in 45 minutes they have it down and go to the party.

Rob: Then on to the next town.

John Ringling North II: In, our 24-hour man will have it all marked out, where the tent goes, where you park, that’s all done in advance.

Rob: A pretty, grueling schedule, but one John Ringling North says is worth it every time he says goodbye to a crowd.

John Ringling North II: Standing outside that door where the people come out with smiles on their faces and saying how much they enjoyed live entertainment even though they’ve got, you know, 90 television channels and maybe more, their cell phones where they can play games, but they still like to see a live performance.

Rob McClendon: Now, when I asked John Ringling North what it was like being the last Ringling to be in the circus, he says he still holds out hope that between his two sons and daughter the family’s big top legacy just may live on.