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Circus bringing daredevils, felines and other performers to New Whiteland

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Get on, get on, the circus is coming to town.

When the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus opens its marquee in New Whiteland on August 14, they will have high-flying flyers and trained big cats ready to wow attendees. Bareback riders and daredevils will elicit cheers from the crowd.

Circus clown Leo Acton infuses the entire event with a sense of humor and whimsy.

We try to focus on traditional old school circus. Were about as old-fashioned as you could get without riding in wagons, said Simone Key, a circus co-owner as well as an outfielder, unicycle performer, ringmaster and other roles. It is reminiscent of a time long forgotten.

The Culpepper and Merriweather Circus has added New Whiteland to its annual tour, one of more than 200 cities in 17 states this year. Specializing in affordable performances for all ages, the show places audiences just feet away from the action.

Hosted by the City of New Whiteland, local officials hope the event will help local families and children of all ages create a day full of memories.

The council just wanted to provide family entertainment in the community. We think it’s going to be great, said Maribeth Alspach, longtime New Whiteland clerk-treasurer who recently retired.

Culpepper and Merriweather Great Combined Circus was born in 1985, when Robert Johnson, Jim Hebert and Curtis Cainan started a small show. They took turns advertising, performing, and selling concessions at each performance for the first year.

Instead of selling tickets, the group relied on donations received by passing a hat at the end of each show.

From these small beginnings, the circus has grown to include a wide variety of acts and performers. Audiences can watch the circus lion and tiger presented by co-owner Trey Key, the 10th Generation Loyal Bareback Horse Riders, the Perez Daredevil duo on the Tightrope and the Wheel of Fate, and Brandon Ayala on the Rola Bola.

One of the comments we get from people is that they love how you are right in the action. There is no seat more than 40 feet from the show. You’re right there, Key said. It’s this romantic notion of seeing the circus under the big top.

The circus was originally scheduled to appear in New Whiteland in 2020 because city officials wanted to provide an affordable option for families wanting to spend the day together, Alspach said. Pandemic concerns forced the date to be moved to 2022.

On the morning of August 14, circus trucks will arrive at East Park in New Whiteland to set up the marquee and all other aspects of the circus. One of Culpepper and Merriweathers’ favorite traditions is to open the grounds to the public when the tent is raised, giving people first-hand insight into the work involved in setting up the circus.

People can tour the facility, learn about circus life on the road, and see for themselves how the various animals included in the show are treated.

It’s a cool way for them to see it all before they go out and buy a ticket, Key said. It is also important that people see the animals and see that they are healthy and in good condition. We want them to see that it was all publicity, that’s how it is.

All circus animals are bred in captivity and the majority are rescues. They are licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, and their animals are seen by a veterinarian every 30 days.

All animals are trained using positive reinforcement and have a choice of behaviors they feel like doing, Key said. Some days that means they do whatever is asked of them, and other days they feel like making their sneakers look a little ridiculous.

With all that the circus has to offer, Key hopes that people who come to the show on August 14 will have the opportunity to enjoy old-fashioned fun within their own communities.

We go almost exclusively to smaller towns, most of the towns we go to have less than 5,000 inhabitants. It’s great to see people enjoying it; they are sincerely grateful that we came to their city. They didn’t have to travel for an hour to another city, she said.

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