BILLINGS — In what could be the last circus at the Shrine Auditorium, the Al Bedoo Shrine Circus is back in Billings after a two-year Covid hiatus.
“It’s awesome, 'cause the crowds have been really good, they’ve been coming out strong. They’re happy to have us back, we’re happy to get back to work,” said Ari Steeples, ringmaster of the Al Bedoo Shrine Circus.
This year’s event is bittersweet as the Shrine Auditorium is under contract to be sold.
“Hopefully you know it’ll keep going out at the fairgrounds,” said Steeples.
Steeples isn’t the only one with a big attachment to the Shrine. Bardo Garcia says it’ll be difficult saying goodbye. He’s an eighth-generation performer and currently manages the circus. He remembers performing at the Shrine back in the mid-80s.
“Coming back after thirty-something years to a place you were when you first got here, it gets you. It’s emotional, I like it, I love it, I wouldn’t change it,” said Garcia.
That’s not the only big change the circus is trying to navigate. Many large circuses nationwide have gone extinct in recent years after large protests about the use of animals in shows.
“We’ve had a lot of protesters and everything over the years. It’s been an ongoing battle for decades,’ Steeples said.
He says smaller circuses have been forced to evolve. Aside from an elephant and some pups, there will be no animals on display at this year’s Al Bedoo Shrine Circus. The acts instead are human-focused.
“Every once in a while, you got to change the menu, change the formula,” Steeples said.
Both men can adapt and evolve with the times, but it’ll be hard for them to say farewell to the Shrine Auditorium.
“Knowing that it could happen next year, we’re not going to be here anymore, I wonder if the same people are going to come say hello again, stuff like that, it can get emotional,” said Garcia.
The Al Bedoo Shrine Circus is in town until Sunday and their next stop will be Washington state. You can purchase tickets here.