Greatest Show on Earth sets up circus at Matt Court

Greatest Show on Earth sets up circus at Matt Court »Play Video
Workers assemble the stage for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Boom A Ring show in Matt Court.

EUGENE, Ore. - The circus is in town.

Not that you would know it - not yet anyway.

All the stuff - and there’s five 18-wheelers and two merchandise trucks full of stuff - is hidden down in the catacombs of Matthew Knight Arena.

The first performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Boom A Ring is Friday evening at 7. 

From now until then, an entire circus must be constructed inside the arena.

It is Jason Gibson’s job to make sure the whole process gets done.

“A month after high school,” Gibson said, “I joined the Army, and I was a Patriot Missile crew member for four years, and I served in the Gulf War, shot down SCUD missiles. And then after the four years I decided I wanted to do something else with my life. And I thought being a sound man would be cool. So I went to school to become a sound man down in Orlando, Florida. And I landed a job with a recording studio in Los Angeles.”

As if that lifestyle wasn’t interesting enough, Gibson ended up running away and joining the circus. 

“One of my buddies who was working for Ringling Bros. circus said, ‘Hey, I’m getting off the road. You want a job with the circus?’  And I thought, The circus? Oh cool. Because I could remember when I was a kid and going to the circus and I thought it was so amazing," he said. "So here was this California boy getting a chance to join the Greatest Show On Earth.”

After nearly 15 years, Gibson still seems genuinely thrilled by it all.

“I’m a behind the scenes guy, I wear a black suit and carry a stop watch to make sure everything is working smooth," he said. "I’m kind of like the quality control manager. But I feed off the energy as much as the performers do. It is such a rush to hear a thousand people cheering.”

Gibson, along with the cast and crew of 100, lives on the road.

“We’re a big family here," he said. "We have a school teacher, and we also have a nursery. So we’re just a little town moving to 45 cities a year, with between 25 and 30,000 miles of travel a year. All the staff and the performers’ children are taken care of, and all the rest of us are big aunts and uncles. We all look after each other.”

In today’s video game world, going to the circus seems so retro. But, Gibson said, people still love it. Especially children.

“This is a live performance, anything can happen," he said. "We have some dangerous acts, like our motorcycle high wire. We have the Globe of Steel. And we have these beautiful animals. We have these three Asian elephants, and they’re right there in front of you. Eight thousand pounds. That’s a big elephant. There is nothing like seeing an elephant up close. You see them on TV, but there’s just nothing like seeing an elephant up close.”

As Gibson watches the workers assembling the stage, piecing together massive steel frames, he sums up his life with the circus.

“This is such an amazing job,” he said.