Ringling Bros. still one of the hottest acts in town

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Brian Miser isn't sure how to describe what it feels like to shoot through the air — 40 feet high and 65 miles per hour — from a giant crossbow, while his clothes burn even after he lands on the big airbag. Believe him, though, that it's not someone's typical day at work.

Miser, 49, says he is the only daredevil who does the “Human Fuse” trick, which ends with a fire extinguisher. He does it some 400 times a year with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is coming to Consol Energy Center on Thursday for a four-day run. He climbs onto his self-made crossbow, lights it on fire, and after three seconds, he shoots through the air. Even wearing his flame-retardant suit, he still gets singed on his chest hair and armpits about once a week. Meanwhile, stunned circusgoers gasp.

“It's very exciting. I do get scared every once in a while,” says Miser, a native of Peru, Ind. “Sometimes, I'm a little bit too calm for it. I like to have a little bit of fear to keep aware of the danger.

“I take a risk but it's a calculated risk,” says Miser, who finds it hard to get a thrill from roller-coasters. “I know the dangers involved; it's still super-dangerous.”

The circus dubbed “The Greatest Show on Earth” — a 141-year-old tradition — is bringing the “Fully Charged” show to Pittsburgh. The theme symbolizes the power of the performers, including the Russian acrobats and the elephants; different forms of power and energy, and the charge of an excited audience, says ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott.

“We energize the audience ... and their energy comes back to us, and we produce this fantastic show because of it,” says Scott, 26, a native of San Jose, Calif. “Whatever different ideas of power and energy we can think of, we try to incorporate into our show.”

Scott, who joined the circus in 2010 as the 36th ringmaster in the history of the show, says that the audience can look forward to the favorite evergreen acts, like the elephants and tigers and horses, along with acrobats and trapeze artists, and goofball clowns in the Clown Alley providing comic shticks.

Then, “Fully Charged” will offer some new acts, including Miser's “Human Fuse,” and the Mongolian duo of The Titanic Tulga and Mighty Meetal, who demonstrate Herculean strength by lifting half-ton telephone poles and twirling them while acrobats balance on top of them. Chinese acrobats will play basketball on 3-foot-tall bounce stilts.

“We have everything people expect in Ringling Bros., as well as the new acts,” says Scott, who works as the circus' emcee and also sings. Three songs have been written specifically for this show.

Circus performers spend their lives touring with the train, and practicing their often-dangerous crafts and stunts. What motivates them?

“It's all about the joy of performing,” Scott says. “We dedicate our lives to specifically what it is we do. I've seen jugglers practice juggling for eight hours straight.”

As for fans, the authentic thrills keep them coming back to the circus year after year, he says.

“What keeps them coming back to the circus is that it's real ... and it's right in front of you,” he says. “It's nice to at least once a year to go to a live performance where that guy is really leaping on a high-wire.”

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