What: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ “Built To Amaze!” tour
When: 3 and 7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown
Tickets:$14, $18, $35 and $70 at the box office
By John Benson
Kim Anthony Jones is always up for a challenge.
As a 15-year-old, the gymnast decided to tag along with a friend who was trying out for some sort of sport. At the time, the Bronx, N.Y., native had no idea what he was getting himself into.
“I was hanging out with a friend, and he mentioned he was going to try out for some team,” said Jones, calling from Long Island. “I was thinking it would be basketball or football. Then we walked into this gym with these guys doing all these amazing things on unicycles. I was hooked ever since.”
Jones said within a couple of months he learned the basic principals of riding a unicycle and was a full-fledged member of the King Charles Troupe, which returns as a featured act in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. The “Built To Amaze!” tour comes to Youngstown for eight shows Friday through Sunday at Covelli Centre.
The history of the King Charles Troupe begins in 1918 when a young boy named Jerry King sees a circus. Years later, all he remembers are the elephants and the man on the high wire riding a unicycle.
Fast-forward 40 years, and King, who at that point is now a father, teaches his son Charles and every kid in the neighborhood who wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle. He started a unicycle club and laid down certain rules to follow, such as discipline, direction and Christian principals.
“They began to over the years perform at block parties and community events,” Jones said. “They got their break in 1968 when they performed on the sidewalks of Madison Square Garden, and a circus producer took notice. A year later, they became the first all-black circus act to perform with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. They toured for over 19 seasons.”
Since then, the troupe has performed for stage productions domestically and internationally. Now the King Charles Troupe has come together again with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s 143rd edition.
Similar to juggling, riding a unicycle continues to pique the audiences’ interest.
“It’s an extraordinary show that’s at a level the audiences have not seen at the circus in a very long time,” said Jones, who inherently admits there’s a nerd factor associated with riding a one-wheel bike.
“Once the crowd takes witness and sees what we do in the center ring, I think that norm is completely broken,” he said. “Then they’re usually blown away after that.”
In a nutshell, Jones, who recently accomplished a record-setting 164 single jumps on a unicycle while double-dutch jump-roping, said the King Charles Troupe pushes the limit of the unicycle.
As far as what can and can’t be done on a unicycle, Jones said the sky is the limit. Literally, the members of the King Charles Troupe have some serious ups.
“The guys have momentum off the bike that allows them to jump off the bike from a distance and dunk on a regulation basketball court,” Jones said. “They jump off the bike.”
Well, maybe the next goal is to dunk and land back on the unicycle?
Said Jones, “That would be a task unto itself and would probably be impossible. However, right now we’re working on something new. You know at the NBA All Star game where Blake Griffin jumped over a car, that’s what we’re trying to do next, but off a unicycle.”
Now that’s a challenge.