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« Why Shows Fail | Main | The Future Was Fantastic in '57 »

Daredevil Circus Spectacular at EPCOT Center

Listen to this...

How do you seamlessly fit a circus into futuristic setting of Future World? You do it with this explanation:

“The four-times-daily, eight ring spectacle transforms CommuniCore into a ‘spacearena’ for an interstellar cast of spine-tingling acts -- some of the world’s most famous acrobats and thrill performers plus troupe of elephant-like Martian Mastodons performing on Future World’s fountain stage."

“With Mickey Mouse as a guest ringmaster, the 25-minute cosmic thrill show features high-riders balancing their Space Cycles on thin wires zooming up to the 100-foot-high midpoint of Spaceship Earth, a fet-speed trapeze act, an ‘astrobat’ atop a swaying space needle, and an equally brave ‘interplanetary mechanic’ who ‘repairs’ a wildly orbiting space station by fearlessly climbing about it as it hurtles through the atmosphere.”

If you didn't catch their performances in Russia, hopefully you saw them at EPCOT Center.

“...stars include the Wynn Family Troupe, led by Space Cyclist Hans, son Jay, and Carl, the intrepid space-station repairman; the Flying Rodriquez Family whose double-trapeze performance is one of the few free-world acts ever featured in the Moscow State Circus; daring swaypole performer Gary Sladick, and the Cristiani Elephants, four amazing pachyderms which have performed their ‘bullheaded’ and ‘light footed’ balancing act in world-class circuses.”

The Spectacular was part of the Walt Disney World 15th Anniversary in 1986-1987.

One thing is certain. The views of the park from up there must have been striking. Hooray for 1980s EPCOT Center!


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Reader Comments (9)

This is great. I had those glasses the muscle man is wearing in the third photo and probably wore them to Epcot Center in the 80s.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSKIPP

"elephant-like Martian Mastodons" hahaha. I don't remember this but It's great to see they pulled off something like this. Could it have been part of their attempt to shake off the "too boring" and "too educational" reputation? I loved epcot center regardless of their attempts to educate me some.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

My understanding of Disney lore was that this was one of the first attempts that Disney execs made to counteract the "EPCOT is boring!" reputation that the theme park was earning and to boost (supposedly sagging) attendance.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I always thought Epcot was fun. Water something down too much and it insults one's intelligence.

June 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

The only person who thought EPCOT Center was "boring" was Michael Eisner (then again, he thought all theme parks were only meant for the lower classes). He hated the park from the very beginning and would have loved nothing better than to sell the place off.

The Circus was yanked from one of the promotional events held at Disneyland during prior decade. It was the only one that would not only fit the "boring" Future World area, but Eisner's preconception of what the public wanted from amusmenet parks (which would be played out in the following decades as efforts to shove Ferries Wheels and Coney Island boardwalk games into each and every Disney project).

The only classic story from the circus pertains to the fountain. Today's fountain show was initially built into Communicore in 1982, but it's completion quickly fell into a "Phase Two" mode. However the stage for the elephant show destroyed (rumors were that it collapsed) everything that was built and it would take years and years to regain the budget to repair and fix the show.

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Voice

they also tried to tie that whole year in to the Bicentennial of the Constitution (I think).....see how the characters in front of spaceship Earth are dressed in their patriotic costumes? When EPCOT Center hosted the press party one of the nights of the first week of 15 Years I was working on the Plaza memory is that everyone was drunk, the parade went on for what seemed like HOURS and they had those big head costumes similar to the America on Parade costumes in the parade. And that I saw Dolly Parton perform that evening on top of the Fountain of Nations stage. Love your posts!

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I've just read this post, and I have some historical perspective I'd like to contribute however late.  I was in entertainment while this was going on.  It starts with a show director who had seen the original Cirque du Soleil in Quebec in 1984 and thought it would be a great notion to rip-it-off for Epcot.  This happened to coincide with marketing needing something new to market after the 15th.   Apparently just being EPCOT Center wasn’t enough, so he proposed it, and it was accepted.  They may have been still giving away prizes at the gate, but it was after the 15th campaign.

The circus was originally to take place on platforms on World Showcase Lagoon, with the primary viewing spot at Showcase Plaza.  The only thing that survived from this concept was the high-wire act, who's set-up stretched between the land outside Motion-Odyssey, across to the area outside of Imagination.  There were way too many problems with the Showcase Lagoon concept and it changed to a "circus of the future".

The thing is, circuses are organic.  They develop around the acts they get.  It’s not, "we'll put a Wheel of Death right here.  Oh, and we need to hire someone to do it".  But this being Disney, it didn't really matter. Added to that, is that circus people are a completely different breed than "Creative Entertainment" was used to dealing with.  The overall egotism of Creative Entertainment and their unwillingness to acknowledge they didn't really know what they were doing, caused enormous delays and waste.

My favorite example of this is the costumes for the elephants.  They were in the process of being built before the Cristiani Elephants were brought in.  As it turns out, elephants don't just put on outfits and perform.  They require training, sometimes years of training, so Disney's costumes were never used.

Another amusing elephant tale was the sewer caps from UK to Future World had to be painted the color of the Promenade.  The elephants were housed in a shed behind UK and were walked, with guests in the park, to Future World.  Elephants are apparently visually sensitive and would stop at the dark sewer caps and would only proceed with a great deal of cajoling.  So, the sewer caps were painted and the problem solved.

Getting the circus performers contracted also required a great deal of cajoling resulting in enormously expensive delays.  Two full days were waisted getting those publicity photos in the entrance plaza.  Virtually everyone you see in the photos in your post, except the circus performers, sat for two days, in costume and getting paid, waiting for the circus performers contracts to be signed.

There are lots of other stories.  Once the futuristic concept was settled on, it was "creatively" decided that the Ring Master would be a futuristic super-hero character.  "Sort of like Arnold" is the quote I remember.  Well as it turns out, finding a body builder, that can act as a ring master, is tougher than you think.  A performer was hired who fit the physical requirements, but was eventually cut due to an overall lack of talent.  The other body builders in the show that spun the web act, also had an unforeseen expense of their presence. A small gym "had" to be built in the FW East tunnel for them to maintain their “pump”.

Most surprising to those outside Disney, is that the show itself was never fully rehearsed with all elements in place.  Frankly, this in not unusual in my Disney experience, but it was a disaster in this case.  Mickey, Goofy and Pluto were scheduled for more than a few early morning rehearsals, only to watch workers screwing-in light bulbs into the light string canopy "Big Top" over the stage. No acts would show up because of contract issues.

It bravely opened, as scheduled, none-the-less.  It's first excruciating performance ran well over an hour, but it was supposed to be a 25 minutes.

The characters were the first to go, lasting only the first day.  The show limped embarrassingly along with elements slowly being cut, until the whole thing was scrapped.  The high-wire act was the last to go. I'm not sure of how long it lasted.

The stage did not collapse as a poster commented.  It was left after the circus to save money. It was thought it could be used for something but the sight-lines were extremely bad, being too high off the ground for anyone in the center of the stage to be seen by an audience on the ground.  It was an eyesore to say the least, as it completely covered the fountain leaving only the cascade of water.  It was used for a few marketing things and was finally removed. The original fountain was brought back, but didn’t last long in it’s pristine state.

None of the people involved in this show lost their job and moved quickly to other things until they eventually diminished from age. The point at Disney is to project constant activity, which because of it’s cooperate culture, is confused for productivity. As long as you do, you stick around a for while. The stage you see today on the “Fountains of Nations”, and it’s existing fountain show, are left overs of another brilliant concept, "Splashtacular".

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBesimple

I wrote the music for that show, It was challenging mostly because the Elephants were used to certain beats and tempos, so the Music had to be written with must of the same brakes, tempos and beats to make it work, ( I had access to the Music they used just before this act).
It was fun! I enjoyed this project and working for Disney.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRicardo Murguia

Me and my brother George were performing at the Tomorrowland Terrace in the theme park at Disneyworld (Orlando), we were their House band from 1982 to 1989, our band was called "Tabasco", we wrote all the music for the Elephant's segment, and they also used our music for the Show's intro and end.
It was a pleasure working for Disney and for several projects at Epcot.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRicardo Murguia

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