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Circus World set to begin pirate-themed season with equipment upgrades, new acts

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“Mr. Bill” Machtel performs his clown acts at Baraboo's Circus World in clips from 1997 and 1995. Contributed by Circus World Museum.

Circus World has officially opened its doors and organizers are looking forward to beginning the 63rd season with upgraded equipment and new acts.

Director Scott O’Donnell said the newly installed speaker system was a needed change.

“Our old system served us well, but we really sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher on a good day,” O’Donnell said. “To us, it sounds like we’re in surround sound.”

The speaker system now covers all 60 acres. Announcements can warn visitors of incoming inclement weather or notify people if a pony might be on the loose and about to gallop by. Thematic music will be played throughout the area. A new ticketing machine has been installed as well. Preparing for the upcoming season with these technical aspects has been part of “what we call the circus behind the circus,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s all the elements that go into allowing us to tell the story in a dynamic way, and hopefully a seamless way, for our guests to visit us from around the nation,” O’Donnell said.

For nearly a decade, each annual season at Circus World has had a theme. This year, “YO-HO at The Big Top” will have a pirate focus.

“We’re hoisting our sails and getting ready for that grand adventure,” O’Donnell said. “Because it’s the circus, it’s not broody, Johnny Depp pirates; it’s more ‘Muppet Treasure Island.’ We encourage all of our guests to come in their best pirate wear.”

Another update for residents and visitors alike to celebrate is the return of the Big Top Parade after two years, O’Donnell said.

“It’s really an ‘Only in Baraboo’ experience,” he said. “It’s great to see the community come out and celebrate their circus heritage.”

Dave SaLoutos (copy)

Ringmaster Dave SaLoutos performs during a July big top show at Circus World in Baraboo.

Dave SaLoutos, longtime ringleader, will be the grand marshal of that parade. SaLoutos said there will be plenty of new events on offer under the big top as well.

“We’ve got several multi-generational circus families coming this year,” SaLoutos said.

From a German wheel to a bungee trapeze and a plate spinning act, there are “a lot of firsts for the circus this year,” he said.

The summer season of daily live shows begins May 20 and runs through the end of August. O’Donnell said the state site is following state guidelines regarding COVID-19 precautions. Visitors can choose to socially distance or not under the current recommendations, he said, and masks are not currently required.

The Circus World Museum has exhibits, national landmark Ringling buildings and a wagon collection, with items used throughout circus history on display. Live events will not only take place under the big top, but there will also be a thrill show outdoors.

040921-bara-news-circus-world-petrovs-02 (copy)

Aerialist Sofia Petrov Zsilak swings on a trapeze ring during a performance pre-2020.

Participating in the outside events is Alex Petrov, a motorcyclist who crosses the Baraboo River on an incline wire while performing acrobatics. Flying trapeze artists will entertain for the first time in 30 years.

Another performer will be “One Wheel Wonder” unicyclist Wesley Williams, who has broken the Guinness record for riding the tallest unicycle at nearly 30 feet and appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent” and “America’s Got Talent.” A dog act by Williams called “Puppy Pals” will be part of the show as well. Clown Mr. Bill is set to return as will the elephants and other animals, SaLoutos said.

Unlike large museums, Circus World displays just 3% of their holdings at a time. Part of their preparation work includes ensuring there is something new for visitors, even if they return each year. That seems likely this year especially, O’Donnell said, given the increased price of gasoline and inflation rates.

“It’s bound to be a summer of staycations, is what we think,” O’Donnell said. “Because of the price of gas, doing a day trip some place will be a better economical choice for guests. Thankfully, we live within a day trip of passionate, wonderful supporters of Circus World.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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