Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey fans, Monster Jam enthusiasts and lovers of Disney On Ice and Disney Live recognize the name Feld Entertainment, the production company behind the touring shows that entertain more than 30 million people a year.
What they may not realize, however, is that the company's chief executive officer calls Tampa home. Kenneth J. Feld grew up in Washington, D.C., and Feld Entertainment has its headquarters in suburban Vienna, Va.
Yet with so much of the company's training and rehearsal operations based in Florida — the circus' winter home is the Florida State Fairgrounds and the Disney shows come together at the Lakeland Civic Center — Feld chose to move to Harbour Island in 2006.
Feld has found Tampa to his liking. An exercise and running enthusiast, the 63-year-old loves jogging on Bayshore Boulevard and the proximity to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Feld recently spoke to the Times' Ernest Hooper about residing in Tampa and his love of running.
How did you end up choosing to live in Tampa?
As the company expanded and we started doing more and more shows, (I) was either (in) Tampa for the circus, Lakeland for our Disney On Ice and Disney Live Shows, and we have a pretty sizable facility in Palmetto. We also have our center for elephant conservation in Polk County. I was spending so much time down here it made a lot of sense, and I had lived in every hotel down in the area for a lot of years. I didn't mind it until I had a day off. On a day off, you don't want to be in a hotel. If I'm working and I'm leaving at 7 in the morning and I get back at night, it was not relevant. But on a day off, I didn't like waking up in a hotel.
What do you think of living here?
It's great. To live in a condo down here, life is simple. You close the door and just go away. I still travel quite a bit. It's very simple. What I love is I live on Harbour Island. If I want to go to a hockey game, I just walk across the bridge and I'm there. I don't have to think about it. If we want to go to the movies, we can just go to Channelside. There's only seven days a week, so I eat out at least six nights a week, maybe seven nights a week. So there's a whole cycle of restaurants that we go to. It's a pretty simple life down here, which I like.
I understand you're into running. Our weather must be a bonus for that.
That actually started before I moved here. When I was 39, somebody said however you are when you're 40 is how you're going to be the rest of your life. So I frantically changed. I had about six months to change all of my habits. I never exercised, so I started exercising. I changed my diet. So that sort of changed things for me. Then, I started running in my early 50s. Bill Powell, our regional vice president for this area, talked me into running and it was right when the circus was starting, the beginning of January. I did the Gasparilla run, the 15K. I didn't know if I could make it then, and it was exhilarating. I started becoming a running addict and I figured for my 55th birthday, I was going to run the New York City Marathon. In the first year, we did it in 3:58 and we beat our goal. I've run five marathons: New York twice, Chicago twice and the Marine Corps marathon, all under four hours.
What do you enjoy about marathons?
Whenever there is a marathon and I'm not running in it, I have a marathon envy. It is the most positive experience. You're running a race you know you're not going to win, but all the runners are rooting for each other and all the spectators are rooting for every person. I think outside of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, it's maybe one of the most positive experiences that anybody can ever have. There's not a negative thought that exists out there. So there's a lot of pleasure that's derived from that, and you're doing it. No one can run that 26.2 for you. So, it's one of the greater feelings of satisfaction you can get.
How did you get into this business?
In 1967, when I was a college student, my father bought the circus. He was a rock 'n' roll guy. He had a rock 'n' roll business. He started touring rock 'n' roll in the '50s: Bill Haley & The Comets, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. So that's what I grew up with. Then he became the promoter for the circus in 1957 when it moved from the tent to indoor arenas. In '67, he was able to buy it. My summer job when I was in college in '68 and '69 was going around the world looking for talent. When I graduated in May of 1970, the day I graduated, I went to work for the circus and I've been doing it ever since.
With so many different productions, you're a busy man, aren't you?
No, they do everything. I have great people. The hardest thing to learn is how to get rid of stress, and I've discovered how to do it. Transfer your stress to everybody else. I call it stress transferal, and I've become really good at it. But I will tell you, I love rehearsals. It is my favorite time of the year to be down here.