Stepping Out

Under the Big Top with the Cole Bros. Circus

A summer spectacle to bring out the kid in everyone


Those timeless acts that make up the Cole Bros. Circus are ready to entertain Long Islanders as the circus caravan makes its way throughout the region this month.

A summertime tradition in the area, the circus’ familiar Big Top is a familiar sight in our communities each year. This time around Cole Bros. had added Eisenhower Park to its route here, which also includes Oceanside among other locations the circus visits.

The circus opened in Eisenhower Park on Wednesday, July 3, and continues through Sunday, July 7. It then moves around the area and sets up in Oceanside, Monday through Wednesday, July 29-31, at Firemen’s Memorial Field.

Billing itself as the “Circus of the Stars” it holds true to an American tradition as it celebrates its 129th anniversary this year. The Cole Bros. Circus is a throwback to an old-fashioned slice of Americana: the last of the large traveling tent circuses.

Known as the “The world’s largest circus under the Big Top,” the Cole Bros. Circus continues to showcase all those traditional circus acts — acrobats, aerialists, clowns, and animals —all under its “Big Top” tent. That innovative crimson and gold Big Top measures 136 feet wide by 231 feet long.

W. W. Cole, who inaugurated the Cole Bros. Circus title in 1884, began his circus career in 1871, amassing fortune and fame by bringing to cities and villages the most astounding marvels of the day. Among the amazing attractions promoted by W. W. Cole, incandescent light — a single, glowing glass globe, powered by a steam engine — drew record crowds, with young and old alike filling Cole’s tent to witness the seemingly impossible invention. The brightly lit tent of Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars bears slight resemblance to W.W. Cole’s 19th century Big Top, but the tradition of watching what appears unbelievable happen right before your eyes remains the same.

The astonishing feats performed by the Cole Bros. troupe start with the tent raising on opening day. Commencing before daybreak, the circus erects its massive Big Top, assembles some 2,000 seats, rigging and lights, and completes construction of its mobile city of entertainment before noon.

The 2013 Edition of Cole Bros. Circus salutes their decades of circus history, led by ringmaster Chris Connors, with mystifying magic, aerial and acrobatic thrills and


This year’s spectacle features Princess Vicenta’s fascinating assemblage of white tigers; the regal Asian elephants with special guest star-siblings, Baby Hugo and his sister Val; and for the first time in the U.S., the high-wire artistry of Columbia’s Tabares Troupe. Also, from Kazakhstan, the amazing Lana who dazzles her audience as she turns the center ring into a magical realm of llusion. Daredevil turns include ThunderDrome, the moto-globe of death, and The Human Cannonball, who bursts from the barrel of his cannon at intense velocity. Comic relief arrives compliments of the crowd-pleasing Bermudez Troupe, who try to steal the show one smile at a time.

For 23-year-old aerialist Xan Kaplan, who performs as part of Cole Bros. Corps de Ballet, her role with the circus is a dream come true. Kaplan, who grew up in Manhattan and Queens, has been fascinated by the circus since a young child. “I’m not from a circus family, but my twin sister and I were always interested in circus performing. I started out doing gymnastics and then moved on to acrobatics when I discovered the trapeze.”

When she was in high school she hung a trapeze bar from a beam in her parents’ house, and her first aerial performance was a doubles-trapeze with her sister at a small cabaret style show. After high school, Kaplan went to circus school at the Circus Warehouse in Long Island City, a specialized educational facility run by professional circus performers. “I was hooked on performing right away and kept performing in nightclubs and small shows in New York City while I went to school,” she said.

After graduating, a friend from circus school told her about a job opening and in less than 24 hours she was in her first professional show, a motorcycle high wire act that she worked for one and half years.

Kaplan is a newcomer to the Cole Bros. family — having been with the circus for four months now — and is thrilled to be a part of the tradition. “ The circus is so different from any other form of live entertainment. It pushes the boundaries of what you believe.”

Hundreds of circuses have come and gone since the mid-1800s, when Cole first introduced his circus to villages and small towns throughout the U.S. Circuses large and small, carried by horse-drawn wagons or on dozens of railroad cars, three-ring circuses and dog-and-pony shows alike crisscrossed North America bringing entertainment to the public. Cole Bros. Circus has survived all this time still appearing much as it did over 100 years ago under the Big Top. Since 1884, generations of Americans have been caught up in the sights, smells, sounds and feats of skill that typify the Cole Bros. Circus – including the new generation of young performers, such as Kaplan.

“I am living my dream,” she said. “I always wanted to work in a Big Top circus and to be here is fantastic. There is so much I want to do here.”

Kaplan is thrilled to be part of the circus “family.” “We love what we do,” she said,” and we do it all together very day for nine months out of the year. We live together and we eat together. We get to be really close and look out for each other.”

Despite artistic “temperaments and an occasional flare-up of “sibling” rivalry, the cast members of the Cole Bros. Circus really act “just like family,” according to Connors, “living in a small, very special


“We’re there for each other in times of trouble,” Connors said, “as well as when it’s time to get together and have fun.” Performers gather under the Big Top for birthday parties, to attend baby showers, and even celebrate weddings.

“The Big Top is definitely the heart of our mobile community,” explained Connors, “and our circus family puts it on loan every day, giving performances so that people along the circus route can bring their families to visit our home and experience the magic of the circus.”

Circus tradition remains central to Cole Bros. longevity. The cannonball routine, which closes each show, is one of the circus’ big draws. José Bermudez, The Human Cannonball, bursts from the barrel of what is The World’s Largest Cannon, according to Cole Bros. lore, as he quickly travels across the Big Top. He accelerates at 5 g-force as he traverses a treacherous trajectory filled with cables and rigging. To achieve a safe landing, he must maneuver his body to reduce velocity and avoid catastrophic, immediate deceleration.

The ThunderDrome is another favorite. A family of three intrepid motorcycle riders —Eric, Anthony and Wendy — brave a spinning contraption with their motorcycles doing tricks all at the same time.

Of course, the circus wouldn’t be complete without animal antics, and, naturally the Cole Bros. has its share. Vicenta Pages debuts in center ring this year, where her parents met three decades ago, with her impressive white tigers. Argentina’s Fassio

Family and their captivating canines — elegant Afghans, loveable St. Bernards and a mighty Chihuahua, delight everyone.

“This show has something for everyone,” said Kaplan. “And we are all so happy to be here performing for our audiences.”

Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars

Eisenhower Park: Now through July 7, times vary. $16, reserved seat upgrade $4, VIP seat upgrade, $7. Free tickets for children available at

Fireman’s Memorial Field, Oceanside: July 29-July 31, 5 and 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available at Oceanside Fire Headquarters, 65 Foxhurst Rd., Oceanside. Tickets can also be purchased at or (888) 332-5200, or at the Cole Bros. Circus Box Office, open 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on show days.

Sponsored by Oceanside Fire Companies, at Firemen’s Memorial Field, Mott St. off Long Beach Rd.