By Jason A. Smith
A tradition continues this weekend in Hampton, as area residents gather under the big top.
The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is set up at Atlanta Motor Speedway, featuring a number of animal acts and human performers as part of its 125th anniversary year.
Ron West, the senior marketing director for the circus, said audiences will witness "one of the greatest shows" the company has ever put on, thanks in part to the animals in the show.
"A circus is not a circus without animals," said West. "This is kind of like an education program. Lots of people have never seen an elephant in their life."
The circus also includes four camels, eight ponies and eight dogs. However, the biggest attractions, in terms of size, are four Asian elephants which West said demand a great deal of care.
"The elephants weigh about 4,000 pounds each," he said. "They eat about 150 pounds of food per day, and drink about 50 gallons of water each, per day."
West said each of the animals is well trained and cared for, as they travel to various venues to perform. According to him, the company's "open-door policy" enables circus fans to see the animals when they're not performing.
"Anybody can come here any time on the lot, take a look at the animals and see how well they're taken care of," said West. "We don't keep chains on them at all. The only time they are ever like that is when we travel. That way they don't move around in the truck."
West said the skills of Cole Bros.' human performers will dazzle audiences as well.
"We have a seven-person high-wire act, a pyramid," said West. "The gentleman at the top of the pyramid is only 10 years old. At the end of their performance, he will do a headstand."
West said the circus gives the public a chance to "enter a fantasy world, and leave their troubles behind them." He anticipated an average of 1,500 to 2,000 would come to each of the circus' shows this weekend.
Greg Connors, one of the managers for Cole Bros., said the circus entertains numerous audiences each year, during a rigorous schedule.
"We tour up and down the east coast, from DeLand, Fla., up to Massachusetts, just outside of Boston," said Connors, 30. "Then we head back down south into parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Then we make our way back through the Florida panhandle. That takes about 9 1/2 to 10 months out of the year, and keeps us busy every day."
In addition to managing the circus, Connors also serves as a trainer for the parrots in the show. He said the best training method involves using treats to reward the animals.
"You get them to want the treats, and you praise them and praise them," said Connors. "Eventually, they'll do anything. They like to please the people."
Connors said the elephants are people pleasers as well. He said they have a tendency to throw their considerable weight around in anticipation of their next moment in the spotlight.
"When the elephants don't work in the ring, they get very antsy, and very grumpy," said Connors. "They like to work, and they like to perform. They're huge divas."
One of the human performers is 16-year-old George Arestov, who has a one-man balancing act on a Rolla-Bolla, which is composed of several rolling cylinders. Arestov said his Russian father, Igor Arestov, began training for the circus when he was 3 years old.
George Arestov said he enjoys making connections with audiences at Cole Bros.
"They all like to make a lot of noise when I do these tricks," he said.
The Cole Bros. Circus said other show attractions include daredevils performing various stunts, and clowns, acrobats, jugglers and a human cannonball act.
The circus' stint in Hampton kicked off Friday with two shows, and will continue through Sunday, with performances today at 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. Sunday's performances are scheduled for 1:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.
Ticket prices are $17 for adults, and $12 for children. Tickets are available at Atlanta Motor Speedway, or by visiting www.tickets.com.