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'Circus XTREME' coming back to Hershey

One of the top ways young children and their families can create memories is always at the circus. But this particular circus is kicked up a notch. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey presents “Circus XTREME” comes to Hershey May 25-30 at Giant Center.

“Hershey is always a fun stop for us, and we had to do it again,” said Ringmaster David Shipman. “We’re excited to showcase what we have this year.”

And when you bring the family to Chocolate Town, the ringmaster says be ready for things never done before by the circus.

“We embrace tradition of where we come from. We’re using traditional elements like furious tigers and the tight rope with modern techniques,” Shipman said. “We’ll also have a free-style sports display at the end of the show to keep the audience at the edge of their seats and stay engaged.”

But one popular act of the show that will not be seen anymore is the elephants, who have officially been retired. The elephants will also no longer be parading through Hershey as done previously.

“We did phase them to the Ringling Bros. elephant conservation on May 1 in Florida,” Shipman said. “It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to them, but we’re excited to create new experiences for the audience.”

Another reason for the change is the show’s commitment to growing each and every year.

“Part of what makes us the greatest show on earth is setting new standards for excellence,” Shipman said. “They’ve been around for 146 years. We realized that so many memories were created with them, so we’re really challenging ourselves to recreate some of those moments. It’s an exciting challenge to stay current and relevant.”

Even though the elephants are gone, there are still plenty of animals for the whole family to enjoy, including one act that is a big crowd pleaser.

“We have 80 animals in the show this year. We have horses, camels, dogs and 16 tigers that fit into one enclosure,” Shipman said. “The camels’ showcase is at the start of the show, ridden by dessert goddesses. The dog act by featured actor Alex Irina Emelin is always a crowd favorite to see the dogs and see how happy they are.”

But the humans will wow you, too, including a well-known circus act.

“It’s exciting to see someone go 66 miles per hour in 2.2 seconds across an entire arena. The energy just soars, pun intended,” Shipman said with a laugh. “It’s exciting for audiences to see something like that.”

Shipman was one of those young children who experienced the circus, seeing his first show when he was 2 and a half years old. From that point on, he knew he wanted to be a performer. He also got some luck along the way to jump start his career.

“Once I knew I wanted to be a performer, I really invested in my craft doing musical theater. I was part of an elite chorus performing in front of thousands of people yearly and get experience touring,” Shipman said. “But being Ringmaster was something not supposed to happen. I found out about auditions on Facebook but missed them. I then sent out head shots and resumes not expecting anything, but then got a private audition with the owners and was offered a contract on the spot. It was bizarre. Then the first stop on the tour was my home town in the same arena I saw my first circus.”

As Ringmaster, Shipman takes pride in facilitating a story, and always has a different approach to engage with a new audience. And if it’s your first time, he’ll be looking for you.

“The longer you do this, the more difficult it gets to re-create a new way to do it, but I have tricks,” he said. “I have the unique advantage of looking out into the audience. I look out for the kid like me and reach out to him. I also look for other first-time audience members.”

But when your family comes to experience the thrill of the circus, Shipman hopes the essence of family is felt throughout the show.

“We created opportunity to put down cell phones and disconnect and go back to simpler times. The beauty of it is enchanting,” he said. “Adults understand the risks involved and understand it from that perspective, while the kids enjoy the thrill and magic of it. It’s truly a show of all ages.”

Showtimes include 7:30 p.m. May 25-27, 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. May 28, 1 and 5 p.m. May 29, and 1 p.m. May 30. Tickets for the May 25-27 and 30 shows are $17.85, $27.85, $37.85 for the Gold Circle, $47.85 for VIP and $87.85 for the front row. Tickets for the 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. shows May 28 and the 1 and 5 p.m. shows May 29 are $17.85, $32.85, $42.85 for the Gold Circle, $52.85 for VIP, and $92.85 for the front row.