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The Sisters Feld
They are women, hear them roar!
Wait. No. That's the big circus cats in the background; the Sisters Feld are fielding questions amiably, gently.
Which is not to imply they are pussycats.
No, to get to where they are -- executive vice presidents and producers of Feld Entertainment -- they have made sure their field of dreams is paved with the sweet smell of sawdust.
And when you're in charge of the bull whips that crackle with the electric excitement of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, you better have spine to go along with the sparkle.
The calliope ca-ching of success is their serenade and has been for decades; Nicole and Alana Feld are third-generation circus scions -- named to their positions a couple of years ago by their CEO father, Kenneth, who took over top ringmaster role of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus on the death of his father Irvin in 1984.
Though this is the Year of the Dragon, don't mistake the sisters for dragon ladies when the circus comes to town on Feb. 22 for a six-day stay at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly. Any fire spewed here is reserved for the sparks that greet the Globe of Steel, a motorcycle amusement in which the performing Torres Family leaves behind fumes of fun and fearlessness traveling 65 miles an hour across an encased 16-foot steel globe.
Want more animated antics? The three-ring circus has gone modern-tech while retaining its old-world wizardry, say the sisters.
With eminent educations -- Nicole's a grad of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and has been with the company since 2001; sis Alana is a Boston University alum and joined the family business two years after Nicole -- did they earn their summa-cum-laughs at Clown College? No, they both laugh about the reference to the Ringling Bros. circus school in Sarasota, Fla.
But they did major in merriment. "We grew up around clowns," says Nicole. "Our parents used to go to work but first drop us off with the clowns. We learned how to put on makeup from them -- and, yes, that does include putting on a red nose!"
Sure, the Big Top was always a great big whoop to outsiders but it was no big deal in discussions when hanging out with friends who had to pay their own way to the egress. "It was our way of life," Alana says simply.
Did doing it their way mean pet tigers instead of Tabbys? And just how big a scooper do you need when taking a leashed elephant out for a walk?
"No," laughs Alana, "we didn't have unusual pets at home -- although two of the elephants in the show are named for us."
Both women say that sharing the Feld name "is a huge responsibility," with Nicole stressing that "we are stewards of the show, of a tradition that belongs to America."
"We're always challenging ourselves; there's a special balance between tradition and the new, asking what can we do to remain relevant."
And that applies to keeping the animals in their ward safe and secure, they say. To that end, both women proudly point to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida, in operation for a decade.
"Ringling Bros. has a long history in caring for our animals, as well as our human performers," states Nicole.
Is it all that unusual for a Jewish family to be running the circus? (Feld Entertainment is also involved with producing Disney spectaculars; another sibling, Juliette, has joined Nicole in producing Disney on Ice events.)
"In many ways, those persecuted in life -- the Jews, the gypsies -- have found the circus a haven; it has always been a place," historically, for those some "considered outcasts," says Nicole.
The women recall that their own Bat Mitzvahs were big shows. The Greatest Shul on Earth? Recalls Nicole: "We wanted big themes -- but not the circus!"
Nicole's theme was "Hollywood"; Alana's "Magic."
"But I did have a dragon," recalls Alana, "and a magic carpet ride."
And Nicole had her own twist for the occasion, "a party featuring a contortionist."
If any group can bring strangers together it is Feld Entertainment, which operates under one big top of talent. After all, Feld operates shows in which a Mickey Mouse and elephants are stars. Yes, "they are both two very different animals," Alana says of the pachyderm and the pack rat, but they've joined forces despite their differences for a major cause.
And what is that? Isn't it obvious, Alana ask impishly: "To bring entertainment to families everywhere!"