By Leilani Roberts Ott
Shane Johnson of Dallas doesn’t remember the first circus he attended, but he’s heard the stories. It was only 10 days after he was born on April 16, 1974, and it was at the Muskogee Civic Center.
He’s come full circle. Johnson and his partner, Fletcher Runyan, are co-producers of the All New Bedouin Shrine Circus, which will be at Muskogee Civic Center at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12 at the door for adults and free for children 12 and younger.
Johnson and Runyan call their 2-year-old company Circus United. They do circuses for Shriners only.
“My father was a Shriner,” Johnson said. “I like the organization. It means a lot to me.”
His father, the late Don Johnson, was a circus producer, too. Johnson started working with his father in the 1960s. His father was working at Johnson’s first circus in Muskogee and his mother, Gainer Johnson, was a flying trapeze artist. She now lives in Florida, where she is a stunt woman.
Johnson learned to “work tigers” for his father’s circus and has the scars on his arms to prove it. He doesn’t enter the ring with the big cats now, but this circus will have big cats doing tricks.
Runyan, however, has yet to hang up his tightrope. Before the circus starts, he has on his producer cap, making sure the lighting is right, the music sounds good through the speakers and everyone is in costume ready to entertain. Just after intermission, he dons his aqua “razzly dazzly” costume and takes to a tiny wire, where he jumps rope, rides a unicycle and does a somersault. The crowd in Stigler on Tuesday night loved it, cheering loudly.
“I grew up with an eighth-generation circus family,” he said. “They trained me.” He started doing tricks at age 6.
It was through circuses that Runyan and Johnson met. Runyan also does his act on the wires at National Basketball Association games across the country.
The friends believe people love the circus because it’s live entertainment.
“It makes people laugh and clap,” Runyan said. “There are bears and tigers, a motorcycle on cables, the steel globe of death.”
Johnson said people like the circus because it is something fun they can do with their family.
“ A lot of people have problems, stress,” he said. “They leave the pressure and on the way home they can talk to their family and say: ‘I love the tigers. I love the clowns.’ It’s all about pretty girls and funny clowns.”
During a recent performance in Stigler, Shrine clowns Wildfire of Stigler and Boomer of Muskogee welcomed children to the circus. Bryer Mayhall, 3, of Stigler said he’d been to the circus before.
“I like puppy dogs and cats,” he said.
Before the circus begins and at intermission, there will be pony and camel rides and bounce houses. The acts range from motorcycles on an inclined wire to comedians and jugglers, including Ray and Erin Grins of Long Island, N.Y., who have been performing since high school. The husband-and-wife team also do shows aboard cruise ships.
Gordon Carlin of Muskogee, the circus chairman and chief rabbon, said proceeds will benefit the temple building fund of the Bedouin Shrine. He said members of the Shrine handed out tickets to children for recent shows in Tahlequah, Stigler and McAlester.
“We’re more than happy with these guys,” Carlin said during the Stigler performance.
If you go
WHAT: All New Bedouin Shrine Circus.
WHEN: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
WHERE: Muskogee Civic Center.
COST: $12, adults; and free, children 12 and younger.
PROCEEDS: Benefits the Shrine Temple fund.