Taming of the beasts no small circus feat in Ringling Bros. production
BY TRICIA DESPRES October 31, 2012 5:34PM
Animal trainer Alexander Lacey stars in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents "Dragons."
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
♦ Nov. 1-11
♦ Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd., Rosemont
♦ Tickets, $13-$90
♦ (847) 635-6601;
♦ Nov. 14-25
♦ United Center, 1901 W. Madison
♦ Tickets, $13-$90
♦ (312) 455-4500;
Updated: November 1, 2012 7:10AM
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, Lacey claims he never lets 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.”
Making his American debut with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Dragons” show, Lacey says handling tigers and lions has long been a tradition in his family.
Hailing from Nottingham, England, the Lacey family has raised more than 11 generations of lions and nine generations of tigers. Lacey says he was never forced into the family business. His parents sent him to boarding school so he could decide what he truly wanted to do.
“When you get into this business, it’s something you dedicate your life to, 365 days of the year,” says Lacey, whose fiancee is 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. Lacey said he was thrilled at the opportunity, but getting his family of tigers and lions to the U.S. was challenging.
“I guess it was similar to flying with a dog or cat, except the boxes were much bigger,” Lacey says with a chuckle.
“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,” he says.
Lacey has earned numerous awards and accolades, including “Best of the Best” at the prestigious Circus Festival in Monte Carlo.
Lacey and his family will spend most of November in the Chicago area, appearing in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus dates at the 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.
“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 said.
He travels the world to discover undiscovered talents, and he enjoys pushing the envelope for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey audiences.
“There are no camera tricks here,” Kiser says with a laugh. “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,” he says. “These are wild animals we are working with, so the audience — and I — never truly know what the night will hold.”
Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.