Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the Shriners Circus is back. This year’s circus, taking place at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, will offer 12 performances during school vacation week this April.
The Aleppo Shriners Circus began in 1951 and is the primary fundraiser to benefit the organization. The Aleppo Shriners are one of 200 chapters worldwide. The Shrine is best known for its colorful parades, its distinctive red fez, and its official philanthropy, the Shriners Hospitals for Children, often called “the heart and soul of the Shrine.”
“This all-new circus will be the greatest show to hit the Shriners Auditorium in 2022 and will be a fun-filled extravaganza for young and old,” says Roger Metcalfe, Shriners Circus chairman. Metcalfe should know. He has been a Shriner for 47 years and has chaired the circus committee for 17 years.
Metcalfe, who lives in Wilmington, says that being a Shriner runs in the family, having had uncles and cousins who were Shriners. The family tradition continues as his wife, sons, daughter, and grandchildren help him every year when the circus comes to town.
“Having had to cancel the circus the last two years due to the pandemic, I’m looking forward to seeing the young children as they react to all of the different acts,” says Metcalfe. “We pack a lot of entertainment into a two-hour show. Even the 20-minute intermission is full of activities.”
Circus attendees can expect to see aerialists, dancers, performers flying through the air, death-defying stuntmen riding four motorcycles at the same time in the Globe of Death, and a man being shot out of a cannon. Of course, the famous Aleppo Clowns will spread laughter and silliness throughout the arena. There will be no exotic animals at the circus.
The current president, or Potentate as his office is called, of the Aleppo Shriners is Robert Brown, who has been a Shriner for 43 years. He joined because his father was a Shriner, and he became hooked on the charitable work the organization does with the hospital.
“I hope people will come and have a fun time,” says Robert Brown. “We’ve missed having the circus the last two years and I’m glad it is back so we can continue to fund our mission.”
Since opening its first hospital in 1922, Shriners Children’s has been devoted to providing high-quality specialty medical care to the children and families who need it regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status.
Today there are 20 nonprofit Shriners Children’s Hospitals across North America, including one in Boston.
Someone who knows first-hand how important Shriners Children’s is to those in need is lifelong circus attendee, Jennifer Spear of Pepperell.
“While the circus doesn’t directly support the hospitals, I love when they talk about these incredible facilities during the circus and how the Shriners are making an impact,” says Jennifer Spear. “My son, who has autism, had treatment at the Springfield hospital, and we never saw a bill.”
Spear’s grandfather became a Shriner in 1978 and both the Shriners and the circus have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Spear’s father, Cliff Critch, is a Shriner as are her husband and 19-year-old son. Spear and her mother serve as HONS, more commonly called Shrine Ladies.
“I love that there are so many different things going on at the same time at the circus,” adds Spear, who notes that one of her favorite childhood memories was collecting cards that the clowns give out with their picture and information on it. “Now one of my 10-year-old daughter’s favorite things is to collect the cards.”
“I’m so excited that the circus is back. I have a group of 25 friends and their kids who will be going together this year. While I love the food and the entertainers like the crazy motorcycle stunt drivers, my favorite part is seeing the people that are there every year to help with the circus and give back to the Shiners that give so much to others,” says Spear.
In addition to all the incredible entertainers, a new element that Brown is looking forward to is the Celebrity Ringmasters. The Shriners have invited local TV and radio personalities to join Brown as he welcomes the crowd at each performance. Some of the recognizable faces and voices that are scheduled to appear include Erika Tarantal from WCVB, Channel 5; Catherine Parrotta from Boston 25; Sue Tabb and Kendra Petrone from Magic 106.7; Kennedy from MIX 104.1; Ramiro from HOT 96.9; and Hank Morse from North Shore 104.9.
Of course, a circus wouldn’t be complete without food. There will be plenty of fried dough, pretzels, popcorn, burgers, sausages, and soda available. “We will also have our special lemonade and snow cones in souvenir cups,” adds Metcalfe.
“After all the restrictions we have had to live with over the last two years, we hope that people come and enjoy this all-new circus featuring some of the best performers and entertainers in the country.”