By MARTY CLEAR
Just eight years ago, at age 15, Alex Ramon started performing as a magician, doing card tricks and sleight-of-hand in tiny venues around the San Francisco area.
For the next two years, he will make elephants disappear in front of thousands of people all across North America.
"I'm 23 years old and I'm the featured performer in the Greatest Show on Earth," Ramon said. "It's hard to imagine anything better."
Ramon has a dual role in the newly revamped Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which opens Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. He serves as the emcee — the role traditionally performed by the ringmaster — and he is the featured performer. In that capacity, Ramon replaces Bello, one of the world's most famous clowns, who had been the featured performer for many years.
(Ringling Bros. has two different shows touring the country at any time. Each is on a two-year tour that starts in Tampa. It has been two years since local audiences saw the circus starring Bello.)
Ringling Bros. is calling this year's circus Zing Zang Zoom, and Ramon is billed as the "zingmaster."
"I'm the very first zingmaster in Ringling Bros. history," Ramon said. "So the first question is, 'What's the difference?' I am going to be doing the announcing, as a traditional ringmaster would, but I'm also going to be performing magic and illusions throughout the show. It's a very big change for the circus."
It's a challenging environment for a magician, Ramon said. The illusions have to be so spectacular that people can appreciate them from the cheap seats. And they're performed in the round, which limits what he can conceal from the audience.
Ramon will use circus performers, children picked from the audience and animals in a lot of his illusions. And he will make an elephant vanish.
In addition to the new features, the show still features all the quintessential circus elements: animal acts, high-wire acts, clowns and human cannonballs.
"Every year, Ringling Bros. tries to improve on the previous year's show," Ramon said. "This year they've come up with something that people have never seen before in a circus, and Tampa is the first place anyone will see it."
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.