Short of running away to join the circus, seeing the Midian Shrine Circus just might offer the best chance to join in the fun.
Kids can take elephant and pony rides during intermission and after the show. Local Shriners get in on the act, dressing up as clowns.
And two lucky drawing winners will get to bask in the spotlight, riding into the three-ring circus itself atop circus elephants.
“This is a very user-friendly show,” said ringmaster Peter Sturgis.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Midian Shrine Circus runs Friday through Sunday at Hartman Arena in Park City, with seven performances scheduled.
Sturgis works for Hamid Circus, a New Jersey-based outfit that has staged the Shrine Circus here for about the past 10 years. He lives in Baraboo, Wis., home of Circus World Museum, when he’s not traveling with the Hamid Circus.
Sturgis said the Hamid Circus is a “real traditional” circus in the types of acts it’s bringing to Wichita. That starts with Meachea, an animal trainer from Colombia who gets a half-dozen tigers – five orange and one white – to jump through flaming hoops and perform other tricks. “Anybody that goes in a cage full of tigers, they’ve got my hat off to them, that’s for sure,” Sturgis said.
Look upward and you’ll see Ashley Star. “She does some really incredible things on what’s called a lira” – or aerial hoop – “hanging by her leg, hanging by her ankle,” Sturgis said. He added that she’s “very gorgeous,” as are her sidekicks, the Flames.
Johnny Rocket is part daredevil, doing stunts on a motorcycle and bicycle, and part comedian. Sturgis said Johnny’s act with a dog is “really, really funny. I’m not going to tell you about it. It’s a surprise.”
Altogether there are about 40 performers and acts, including acrobats, more motorcycle jumpers, a quick-change artist and, of course, dancing elephants.
Sturgis, keen to the concern that some people have about the treatment of circus animals, said the ones featured in the Hamid Circus are well treated. He called Meachea’s act “kind of lovely-dovey. The white tiger, he hand-feeds it, then they jump up and rub heads together.” The elephant trainer “just talks to (the animals) and they do what he tells them to do. He never touches them.”
Asked how he got his job, Sturgis said, “I look the part. I’m 6 foot 1 with dark hair and that traditional mustache. I’ve been doing this 35 years.”
The show lasts about two and half hours with intermission.
Hamid Circus specializes in staging circuses for Shriners. Its owner, Jim Hamid Jr., is one himself. His son juggles in the show.
The circus here raises money for operation of the Midian Shrine in downtown Wichita. Local Shriner Bart Ogden said the money doesn’t go directly to one of the Shriners’ best known programs, the Hospital Van Unit, which transports area children to Shriners Hospitals in other cities for treatment of spinal cord injuries, burns, cleft lips and other medical issues.
But, he added, “If we didn’t have our operations center, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
One recent case in which Shriners helped was that of a high school football player who suffered a spinal cord injury on the first play of the season. He was flown to Cincinnati by an air ambulance hired by the Shriners.
“The good thing is, he’s walking again,” Ogden said.
Doors open an hour before each performance of the circus. Ogden encouraged people to get there early because many people use vouchers that must be exchanged for tickets at the arena. That’s also when tickets are sold for elephant and pony rides offered during intermission and after the shows.
Even after a decade, Ogden said he’s never seen Hamid Circus do the same show twice.
Sturgis, the ringmaster, certainly has, but he said he’s still enthralled by the spectacle.
“I love it all. I guess I’m a circus fan at heart. I enjoy the circus every time.”
If you go
Midian Shrine Circus
When: 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hartman Arena, 8151 N. Hartman Arena Drive, Park City
Tickets: $5-$25, available at the Midian Shrine Office, 130 N. Topeka; area Dillons stores, Hartman Arena box office and www.ticketmaster.com