Big Top Circus coming to town

by Benita Fuzzell

With the 2021 Banana Festival adopting the theme of “Under the Big Top”, Circus Americana will enhance the festivities this year, featured to stage shows on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17 and Sept. 19.

Fulton Tourism Commission board members Pat Gossum, Melanie Gunn, Derrick Jackson, Terri Harvey and Pat Frazier approved a budgetary increase for the festival’s entertainment during special called session July 16 at Fulton City Hall, which will allow for retaining the circus.

Tourism’s Executive Director Thea Vowell provided the board members present with information regarding the Arizona based circus, which includes a vintage Italian “Big Top” tent, which holds from 400-450 spectators, contortionists, jugglers, acrobatics, low wire acts, stilt walkers and more.

Vowell said the tent could be erected on the property which was once used for the greased pig contest and some carnival attractions, across from Lake Street’s Keg restaurant.

She reported two shows could be held on Friday evening, possibly at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and then two shows staged on Sunday afternoon. Each show, she said, would last an hour and a half, and tickets would be sold in advance and at the door, for $12 each.

Vowell said a “sneak preview” of the circus acts could possibly be scheduled for Wednesday evening’s festival events downtown, at no charge, and some circus performers could participate in the Grand Parade.

On Saturday, Sept. 18, a Petting Zoo has been scheduled which will include exotic animals such as kangaroos, lemurs and others, to be located in Unity Park. The petting zoo, from Hooker Farms in Milan, Tenn., will also be able to provide train rides throughout the park area.

“We usually have entertainment downtown on the Unity Park stage on Friday nights, but if the board approves the circus, that would take the place of Friday night’s entertainment. There could be a chance we try to find some local talent to perform on the stage on Friday evening, as well,” Vowell said.

The price for the circus, Vowell said, would be $20,000, and money had been previously budgeted for entertainment on Friday night, such as a band, however those funds could go toward the circus costs. Ticket sales would decrease the actual expense, as well, with all ticket sales proceeds to be returned to the festival.

In addition to the circus expense, the board approved an increase in the advertising budget, to expand means by which all festival events, such as the circus could be publicized, with the advertising budget to be increased by $2,000 more than previously budgeted, bringing projected budgetary expenses for the 2021 festival to $100,000. That total expense would be offset by income generated through festival sources such as the sale of souvenir booklet advertisements, corporate sponsorships, Top Banana memberships, t-shirt sales and entry and admission fees for various contests and events. In 2019, festival income was at $56,462.78.

For comparison, Vowell provided the board with figures from previous festivals, from 2013, when festival income was at $30,439.36 and expenses at $73,229.55; 2015, when expenses were at $62,697.57 and income, $45,592.75; and in 2017, expenses were reported at $79,020, and income, $54,456.25.

“The circus is entertainment, and we need to get people to town for it. We never make any money off of the entertainment we have, anyway, so this will be no different, and we at least will be able to sell tickets to get some of our money back on it,” said board member Melanie Gunn.

“I say we do it. We have the money, it’s there,” board chair Pat Gossum said.

Board members present unanimously approved the provision of entertainment funds for the Circus, as well as the increase in advertising budgeted to promote the festival events.

Pat Frazier suggested a push for more publicizing of events, such as the use of television advertising. Vowell said she had used television before, which was costly, but also she had used radio, local area newspapers, social media, websites and posters to promote the festival as well as other Tourism events.

Frazier asked for suggestions regarding how to increase attendance at the Tourism sponsored activities and Vowell reminded the board that volunteers seem to decrease in number each year, and often, volunteers serve as a reason for others to attend. She also encouraged local leaders to participate with their support and attendance.

Frazier suggested speaking with local businesses and merchants to request more involvement from the business community.

Vowell reported while corporate sponsorships and Top Banana memberships were down from previous years, the decrease was not as much as had been originally anticipated.

Board members Peggy Tribble and Connie Smith were absent.