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Ringling No More: A Former Clown Reflects On The End Of ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’

Peter Bufano holds the clown shoes he wore during his tenure as a clown with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Photo by Jesse Costa for WBUR

Children of all ages will say their goodbyes to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus this weekend in Providence. The city is hosting the 146-year-old institution’s final New England performances, just days ahead of the grand denouement in New York on May 21.

Fans are lamenting the loss, but Ringling’s closure is especially hard for current and former employees. One of them is local composer Peter Bufano, who started his lifelong circus arts career as a Ringling clown.

“To me, Ringling going out of business is like my home town shutting down,” Bufano told me at his home studio in Allston. Sitting on his couch, he said he has mixed feelings about the historic circus troupe going dark forever. “It’s like somebody bulldozing your old high school. That’s what it feels like because that’s where I came of age.”

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