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Out with elephants and in with apps: Ringling Bros. is reinventing the circus

Close your eyes and envision the circus: What do you see? Enormous strutting elephants. or entertainers in flashy, multicolored outfits performing acrobatics, riding bikes, and acting like clowns, all at the same time? But if you were to open your eyes to Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s new show, Out of This World, you wouldn’t recognize anything you’ve come to associate with the 146-year old Greatest Show on Earth.

Digital Trends attended the preview show for Out of This World at Selland Arena in Fresno, CA, and the most pervasive difference between it and other Ringling Brothers shows is its first-ever character-driven storyline, which follows Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and Starseeker Paulo dos Santos’ intergalactic journey to rescue the greatest circus performers in the universe from evil Queen Tatiana.

“It used to be so many acts and performances happening at once, now there’s a lot more focus,” Alana Feld, 35-year-old producer of Out of This World told Digital Trends. “The show is also a lot faster paced, because kids today don’t have the attention span maybe I did as a child or before that.”

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Ringling sped up the show and kept kids’ eyes glued to the theatrics by adding an icy rink to the circus, with video projection mapping underneath it — a first in Ringling’s history. With this video, the storyline of intergalactic travel is easier to follow: The performers arrive on a sand planet and the icy floor is altered to look like mounds of sand.

“Now that we have this pristine, white ice floor that we never had before — we always had a black, rubber floor — we’re able to use 3D video projection mapping,” Feld said.

Ringling Brothers also unveiled a new mobile app — available on iOS and Android — which lets users take a Circus Selfie, then apply photo filters to dress themselves up in circus-style garb, right up to the Ringmaster. The app also brings you closer to the performers with a Meet The Performer tab. All of the performers in Out of This World wear costumes outfitted with speakers that emit an inaudible signal that a phone’s microphone can detect. When picked up by a phone using the app, interactive information on the performer is provided.

If you attend the Starseeker’s Early Access pre-show, about an hour before the main event, video boards on a mocked up spaceship’s screen may show your circus selfie or your high score from one of the numerous games on the app.

Ringling Brothers had to reinvent the circus to keep it alive, partly due to a wave of laws passed in recent years centered on animal treatment. In 2013, Los Angeles passed a law prohibiting the use of bullhooks — sharp sticks used to train elephants — due to the “great harm and great pain” they inflict, according to Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who announced the new law. As a result of other cities passing similar laws, Ringling Brothers decided to retire its legendary Asian elephants and make way for a new technology era for the circus. “With the decision to retire our Asian elephants, we thought this was a really great opportunity to do something different for the brand.”

Out of This World had its world premiere at Staples Center July 14 and plans to hit Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and other states before the tour ends its 2016 campaign at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 18. The tour will be a multi-year endeavor, so there will be a lot of chances to catch the new Ringling Brothers.

Tickets can be purchased here.