In May 2017, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ curtain fell for the last time, leaving many professional acrobats, clowns and animal trainers – not to mention the production staff – without what was often considered the field’s greatest employer on earth.
Former Ringling clown DJ Weiss, who’d followed his mother into the profession, was already shadowing the circus’ event manager with the idea of retiring the red nose in exchange for an office job.
“I wasn’t thinking about leaving the circus,” Weiss says. “I knew my body wasn’t going to keep taking the falls and doing the all the crazy stuff as a clown. I wanted to work my way up in the company.”
Instead, Weiss found himself in Charlotte working multiple jobs: By day, he was field marketing manager for McDonald’s (he also made a couple of appearances as Ronald at Ronald McDonald House events); by night, he was waiting tables at Peculiar Rabbit near his apartment in Plaza-Midwood.
But just as he was starting to get comfortable staying settled in one place, Feld Entertainment re-hired him in March— as tour coordinator for Disney on Ice — and he was back on the road again. But he’ll return to Charlotte this weekend, during “Disney on Ice presents World of Enchantment’s” four-day run at Spectrum Center.
And he’s looking forward to the brief homecoming.
“I met my best friend Heather there. There were a lot of cool places to go, whether it was uptown brunch at 5Church or a concert at the Music Factory. I’m excited to take the cast around to local places, like Snug Harbor, and get some ramen,” he says. Best of all? “I get to visit my car.”
While Feld Entertainment’s decision to end “The Greatest Show on Earth” after 146 years was unexpected, Weiss says, “As a performer you could see the audience dwindling.”
Sixteen months later, he isn’t the only alum to find a home with Disney.
“There’s a lot of circus people still with the company,” he says. “Our head wardrobe person from the circus works at the costume shop in Florida. We have a lot of former stagehands that got repositioned in other shows. My old associate director of casting works in the offices of the ice show.”
Weiss has settled into his new role arranging travel and accommodations, public relations and outreach programs — whether that’s from a makeshift backstage office or his seat on the bus.
“I used to live in a very small 8-by-10 space on the train. Now I have a full suite to myself every week. I get to come in for early mornings and can get a cup of tea instead of sit in the makeup chair,” he says. “My skin has gotten much better, but I can’t have blue hair anymore.”
Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Enchantment
When: 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m., 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and noon and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.