For ‘children of all ages’: Jaffa Shrine Circus marks 75 years

The Big Top is back in Altoona.

The 75th Jaffa Shrine Circus kicks off Friday with two shows at 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. and keeps up the fun with morning, afternoon and evening shows through April 17.

John Campbell, the Jaffa’s circus administrator, said because of Easter they decided to run the show so it ends before Good Friday.

“Altoona is always a favorite spot on our tour because just the venue, the auditorium, is so up close and personal, and it’s like people almost become a part of the show here,” Ringmaster Billy Martin, who is also a Shriner, said. “It’s so intimate … it’s just a real nice feeling and it is like coming home. The folks here in Altoona are … circus fans from the get go and they love the circus and we love Altoona.”

The Royal Hanneford Circus visits 25 Shrine facilities in the United States, Martin said, and, as Campbell said, has produced the local event for several years.

The show has an animal focus this year, and a new act with camels has the “Hump Day” joke going strong, Campbell said.

“Every other act is an animal act it seems, and we have the tigers, the elephants, the bears, the camels, the performing house cats, I mean, who could ask for anything more,” he said.

The camel act from Ian Garden Jr., who comes from a family of performers, has six rare spotted paint camels, which come from the Canary Islands. Camels perform tricks similar to ones that horses do in the circus, Martin said.

Another breed of camel will be available for rides and photos before the show and during intermission.

Although the show is animal heavy, performers will also enter the spotlight.

The Aguiar family from Venezuela will ride their motorcycles inside what Martin called the “Sphere of Fear.”

“The most we’ve ever had is three motorcycle dare devils in the globe but this year we have four,” he said. “It’s a brand new act here in the United States. And then the brother and sister also do an amazing balancing act where they stack chairs up and go all they way up to the top, I mean, it’s a tower of chairs, and they do an adagio balancing act, as well, so, really, really something to see.”

The old circus term about it being for “children of all ages” still fits, and it offers “affordable family fun and it really helps a great cause,” Martin said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.