The Shrine Circus that is. This past weekend (starting Thursday), was the Shrine Circus here in the Big O, and I volunteered to help out with DeMolay. earning myself a first-hand look at the behind the scenes of the Shrine Circus
History of the Shine Circus
It’s terribly hard to find a lot of information on the general history of the Shrine Circus for one major reason- there is no “Shrine Circus. Each Shrine Circus is hosted and staffed by the local Shrine, and takes on its name. So, the Tangier Shrine Circus here, is not the same as the Arab Shrine Circus in Kansas. The local Shrine Temple (or Temples), contracts a circus company to preform (most) all of the acts and additional acts are preformed by the local Shrine, who also provide the clowns. Not every Shrine has a circus, but those that do will contract a circus individually. Due to this, you will be able to find more history on your local Shrine Circus on your Shrine’s website than you will on the overall Shrine Circus’ website.
There is some general known history, however. The very first Shrine Circus was in Detroit, Michigan, in 1906. It started quite small, but quickly began to grow in pace with the Shriners International at the time. By 1920, there were circuses across the country, with more being added every year. Traditionally, the circus begins in Flint, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, in January, and goes through until the week of Thanksgiving.
It is no secret that the Shrine Circus is a major fundraiser for the Shrine, and many believe for the Shriner’s Hospital. This is not necessarily the case however. There are two types of Shrine fundraisers- charitable and fraternal. With charitable fundraisers, 100% of all proceeds- that is, after all expenses for the fundraiser are paid, go to charity. For fraternal fundraisers, the proceeds go back into the Shrine that put on the fundraiser, and said Shrine will allocate the money as they see fit. This is not to say that local Shrines do not contribute to charities like the Shiner’s Hospitals, it is just that the money raised at these types of fundraisers also go to other things. I cannot speak for every Shrine Circus but the local Shrine Circus is a fraternal fundraiser. If someone is interested in making a contribution to a Shriner’s International related charity, like the hospital, I recommend that they do it directly, rather than rely on going to the circus (but seriously, go to the circus!)
My first circus experience
We arrived about an hour and a half before the first show on Thursday night. I knew nothing of the Shrine Circus except my previous experience as a circus goer in another state, and that we were to help the DeMolays with “the inflatable clowns”. After some issues getting into the room and finding the suits, I found myself helping a young man into a giant inflatable clown, then leading him into the lobby to greet the children coming into the circus, making sure they didn’t run anyone over, or get run over.
Once the circus was underway, and the suits were removed, we were all able to watch the circus from the floor. All of the acts were fairly standard circus fare- motorcycles, clown acts, a dog and pony show. During intermission we took the boys back onto the floor to wave hello to the crowd. Rinse, repeat, 7 times.
A co-worker of mine came to the 1pm show on Sunday. She had asked me how long we had been there, I told her since about 1130, and would be there until at least 830 or so that evening, and we had been doing shows since Thursday. She asked me if we were getting paid for it. My reply was simple,”Of course not, its just what we do.” That is what seemed to really be the vibe between all of the circus workers, and there were a lot- people selling programs, doing security, being clowns, selling concessions, selling tokens for rides, staffing the Oasis- all related to the Shrine, in one way or another. Everyone giving up their weekend, their time, to bring a smile to someone else’s face.
To be terribly honest, just being at the circus for long hours is exhausting. There’s hundreds of people everywhere, lots of kids screaming, bright lights and loud noises, and lots of hard work. The clowns have it the hardest, in my opinion, as they must be “on” most of the time. There is downtime of course, at my circus in between shows (I was so glad I had brought my DS), most could be found at the Oasis- a hidden area downstairs that acts as a (real) food cart, a bar, and a place to sit down for a moment. Everyone there is truly there for the same two reasons, however- to bring laughter to the children, and to raise money and awareness for the Shrine. There is a sense of togetherness there, knowing that everyone is working hard for the same goal. This, I think, is really the heart of the Shrine Circus this is the feeling that the older generation wants to instill in the younger, and one of the reasons why I think it is so important for the youth, like DeMolay and Rainbow to be involved.
The Shrine Circus is a ton of fun, an excellent excuse to be goofy, and an incredibly worthwhile event to be involved in. If you are interested in helping out at your local circus (they always need help!), or would just like to know when and where your Shrine Circus is, contact your local Shrine.