Taming of the beasts no small circus feat
BY TRICIA DESPRES For Sun-Times Media November 1, 2012 11:22AM
Animal trainer Alexander Lacey stars in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents "Dragons."
RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM
& BAILEY PRESENTS ‘DRAGONS’
♦ To Nov. 11
♦ Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd., Rosemont
♦ Tickets, $13-$90
♦ (847) 635-6601;
♦ Nov. 14-25
♦ United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., Chicago
♦ Tickets, $13-$90
♦ (312) 455-4500;
Updated: November 5, 2012 4:03PM
Stepping into the ring at a relatively measly 180 pounds, renowned animal trainer Alexander Lacey greets his family of 700-pound beasts very carefully. With personalities ranging from “playful” to “lazy” to “occasionally grumpy,” Lacey’s stable of lions and tigers can be unpredictable ... just like people. Yet, having grown up around these big cats his entire life, Lacey claims never letting fear enter the ring with him.
“Seriously ... I never have been scared,” Lacey says, attempting to sound convincing. “Wait, I’m lying. The first time. ... I was petrified. When you get down there without bars separating you and the animals, you realize how big they truly are.”
Currently making his American debut with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Dragons” show, Lacey says the handling of tigers and lions have been somewhat of a tradition in his family for a great number of years. Hailing from Nottingham, England, the Lacey family has, in fact, raised more than 11 generations of lions and nine generations of tigers. Yet, Lacey says he was never forced into it. Instead, he was actually sent to boarding school by his parents to ensure that the family business was something he truly wanted to get into.
“When you get into this business, it’s something you dedicate your life to, 365 days of the year,” says Lacey, whose fiancee works as a trapeze artist.
After countless accolades and shows throughout Europe with his amazing act, Lacey was asked to join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey team in the states. And while Lacey said he was thrilled at the opportunity, the challenge of getting his family of tigers and lions to the U.S. did come with its share of challenges.
“I guess it was similar to flying with a dog or cat, except the boxes were much bigger,” chuckles Lacey, who has earned numerous awards and accolades, including “Best of the Best” at the prestigious Circus Festival in Monte Carlo.
“It was their first time on a plane, so it was nice that we were able to stay with them throughout the flight until we landed.”
Lacey and his family will now spend virtually the entire month of November in the Chicago area, appearing in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus dates at both Allstate Arena and the United Center. Joining together “mystic dragon lore with authentic circus feats,” “Dragons” also will feature acts such as the Shaolin Kung Fu Warriors, charging Cossack riders and a magnificent display of Asian elephants.
“In today’s world there are so many options for kids, and you are basically competing with their phones or iPads for their attention,” explains David Kiser, Ringling Bros.’ vice president of talent, and a former circus clown himself. “The fact is that you cannot capture the true magic of the circus on a screen. The circus has become somewhat of a comfort food of sorts — you know that for a couple of hours you are going to laugh at the clowns and find your way to the edge of your seat.”
Kiser travels the world to discover the undiscovered talents, and says he enjoys pushing the envelope for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey audiences.
“There are no camera tricks here,” Kiser laughs. “These are real, live human beings who are here to inspire the audience. There are no super heroes here — just super humans.”
“In Europe, we wouldn’t perform for more than 4,000 people at the most,” adds Lacey, whose mom lives not far from the Wisconsin/Illinois border.
“Here, we can play for up to 17,000 people at a time, which is just fantastic. These are wild animals we are working with, so the audience — and I — never truly know what the night will hold.”