Hundreds of children leaned over railings that circled underneath Skypoint on Tuesday afternoon, reaching out to catch boxes of popcorn and balls of cotton candy being tossed by Al Bedoo Shrine clowns and waiting for the Elephants on Broadway event to begin.
But not 8-year-old Riviera Utly. She sat high on her dad’s shoulders for a better view as she watched circus performers juggle clubs, rings and torches.
“This is so neat,” she said. “I don’t want to miss a thing.” When asked what act she was most excited to see, she replied, “The elephants, of course.”
Elephants on Broadway is a sneak peak at the traveling Jordan World Circus performance, the largest annual fundraiser for the Al Bedoo Shrine Temple in Billings. The event is organized in part by Tim Goodridge of Magic City Blues.
Tuesday marked the fifth year of parading circus elephants under Skypoint and the 62nd year of bringing the circus to town.
Dick Daul, circus chairman and past potentate, said organizers created Elephants on Broadway in an effort to replicate the original circus parade from six decades ago.
“The elephants used to be unloaded from the railcars downtown and would parade down Broadway before the circus,” Daul said. “This was our way to bring that tradition back.”
Ring master Tess Emerson stood in the center ring dressed in a duck-tail sparkling tuxedo jacket and stiletto boots. “Are you all ready for a circus?” she asked a crowd of about 800 people.
Clowns with red noses and size 20 shoes played practical jokes while dogs jumped through hula hoops and walked on their hind legs.
Emerson said her job is to bring an audience through the circus adventure.
“I see myself as someone that guides the audience through lights, sparkles, excitement and laughter,” Emerson said. “I lead them through a world of fantasy and magic.”
Habin Omar, a fifth-generation animal trainer and performer whose circus heritage dates back more than a century to Italy, said Skypoint makes for a perfect circus tent.
“We’re always glad to perform here, under the city’s tent,” Omar said.
The three headlining elephants — Becky, Bunny and Libby — dazzled the crowd with bows, handstands and waves of their trunks at the crowd. But the act was just a highlight to their usual circus routine, Omar said.
The circus will be presented Wednesday through Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium, with 11 public shows and one private show for special-needs spectators. Children 12 and under will be admitted to the circus free. In recent weeks, members of the Shrine delivered 30,000 special circus booklets, which include a coupon for the free tickets. The coupons can be redeemed for tickets at the Shrine box office before the circus and can be used only for the matinee shows.