Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Legends Comes to Northern California

Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls
Now Playing Under the Big Top

This afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Vicki Zsilak, Exotic Animal Trainer for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey and mom extraordinaire who has mastered the art of “juggling it all”.   

This third generation performer from Hungary grew up in a circus family.  Her grandparents performed a challenging slack wire act and were world-class jugglers.  Her parents actually met while both were touring with Ringling Brothers in the 60’s and were not only highly skilled jugglers but her also father served as production manager for the greatest show on earth. The turning point for Vicki, even though she was surrounded by hands on training and attended the Hungary School of the Arts, came when she joined the circus as a performer in her own right as a member of a horseback juggling troupe.   “When you grow up in the circus, you are close with the animals.  I’ve always been around them.”   World-renowned animal trainer Gunter Gebel-Williams and his son Mark taught Vicki how to handle and train all types of animals and not only did she flourish and grow as an animal trainer under Gunter’s and Mark’s guidance, but is was there that she met and fell in love with the love of her life, Alex Petrov who also worked with Mark to take care of the animals and even present some of them inside the ring.  From there their partnership was formed both inside the ring and out with the two who were drawn together by their love for animals and the circus eventually marrying and are still happily married to this day.  

Today the two, along with their two children Richard age 16 and Sophia age 9 travel the world as part of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presenting their 2 x 2 act consisting of goats, llamas and even two kangaroos. 
To hear Vicki tell it, she’s “just a normal mom doing normal mom things,” be it the laundry, shopping or cooking, even while out on the road for months at a time. The organization goes out of its way to take care of not just their performers but their families as well. During the day, the children of entertainers attend school, run by two teachers that travel with the show and at night, a nursery and childcare is provided.  For her two children it’s definitely the best of both worlds getting a double dose of education; one with the Ringling Brothers traveling school and the other by way of growing up in the circus.  Her love and pride for her children is apparent but when I asked her if she was hoping that they would carry on in the family business she immediately responded with “ I want them to do what makes them happy, whatever that may be.”  In the meantime she is teaching her son to juggle while other performers are sharing their skill set with him.  Her daughter helps her take care of the mini goats and ponies, “a job she takes very seriously.”  

One of the biggest misconceptions the public tends to have about her job is exactly what goes in to pull off what seems to the unknowing eye as an effortless 4-minute act.  For Vicki and her family, training animals is definitely a labor of love.  She explained to me that working with animals was much like being a part of a family. It takes years of building that trust, earning their respect and getting to know each of their personalities hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Most importantly, it’s in the way you treat the animals and letting them know that they are a member of your family.  It is then, and only then will you be able to showcase them in that “effortless 4 minute act.”  The mutual respect and admiration between Vicki and her animal family is immediately evident. 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents LEGENDS, opens in the Bay Area starting at Oracle Arena (Oakland) from August 14–18, SAP Center (San Jose) from August 20–25 and the Cow Palace (San Francisco) from August 28–September 1.  Featuring Vicki as well as over 100 performers spanning 25 countries plus more than 85 animals from nearly every continent around the world, the Ringling Bros. 144th Edition features several unique acts including:
v China National Acrobatic Troupe from Beijing perform several impressive acts including balancing 20 people on two bicycles, fast-paced hoop diving and graceful Diabolo juggling skills
v Introducing the Double Trapeze, especially designed for Ringling Bros., with the attempt of four consecutive triple somersaults in a row
Plus additional circus legends highlighted in the show such as Big Cat trainer Alexander Lacey; edge-of-your-seat Cossack Riders equestrian stunts; Globe of Steel motorcycle daredevils; of course no show would be complete without the Ringling Bros. Clown Alley and treasured performing pachyderms!

Be sure to arrive early to experience several exciting interactive elements including Vicki and her 2 x 2 animals before the show starts included with the ticket price – visit the Animal Open House to get up-close with our amazing animal stars and the All Access Pre-Show where families can step onto the arena floor to meet our performers, learn circus skills, try on costumes and much more!  This normal mom, just doing normal things is sure to capture the hearts and the imaginations of all.

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