For many, their first real paying job means typing and filing, but for Tatiana Ramirez, 17, and Lialani Thomas, 19, their first real job at the Coney Island Boom-A-Ring means snarling tigers and 8,000-pound pachyderms.
“They’re maybe a foot away from us,” Ramirez exclaims.
The Fort Greene resident and her Coney Island co-worker are both ushers at the circus, located at West 21st Street and Surf Avenue - but there are a lot bigger responsibilities under the big top than just checking ticket stubs.
“Kids will run into the ring,” Ramirez says. “So, we’ve got to make sure we’re watching the people in the front row.”
With all kinds of potentially dangerous action simultaneously occurring in and outside the circus ring, the two Brooklyn teens must always remain vigilant - even when some parents are not.
“People want to take their kids close,” Thomas says. “I say, ‘no you can’t get close.’ They want to touch the animals but at the same time we have to think about their safety. It’s a big responsibility.”
One particularly determined little boy put Thomas to the test during a recent performance.
“He didn’t listen and he kept trying to get up, so I actually had to stand in front of him,” the O’Dwyer Gardens resident says.
Working at the Coney Island Boom-A-Ring has definitely helped Thomas’ economic bottom line while attending class at Liberation Diploma Plus High School on West 19th Street.
All toll, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - producers of the Coney Island Boom-A-Ring - estimate that as many as 150 local residents have found jobs working at the circus this summer.
Ramirez and another friend at the show hope to extend their stay with the circus beyond the conclusion of its Coney Island engagement on September 7.
“We came with a mission to see if they would take us with them because they told us they were going to Europe,” the Brooklyn High School of the Arts student says. “I actually want to be a performer for the Ringling Brothers [and Barnum & Bailey] Circus. I even did all the research about their living conditions, traveling, the things they do and how they train.”
Ramirez isn’t passing up this golden opportunity for some on-the-job training and already has convinced one of the circus performers to teach her how to juggle.
“I try my best when I’m not busy working to try to talk to the performers and see what I can learn,” she says.
Whether the Brooklyn teens are taking tickets, directing audience members to the exits after another knock-out performance or preventing some small fry from getting underfoot while the elephants are out trampling about, circus work is tough.
On show days it’s common for staffers like Ramirez and Thomas to start at noon and work until 10 p.m.
While they both say they’ve already become blase toward the Bengal tigers and Asian elephants, the pair haven’t been oblivious to those times when the “real” world has encroached on the magical circus realm - as it did when the King of Pop died and a hilarious bit involving a dancing clown had to be cut.
“They would play a little part of a Michael Jackson song and he would do the moonwalk,” Ramirez explains. “But after they heard he passed away, they stopped doing it.”
Other realities have also hit these two new additions to the work force - taxes.
“I didn’t know they took out so much,” Ramirez declares.
“All together it was something like $30,” an incredulous Thomas says.
Nevertheless, she’s happy for the experience.
“You learn something different every day - wherever this takes me I’m satisfied.”
The Coney Island Boom-A-Ring runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 7. Tickets are available at 201-507-8900 and www.ringling.com.
©2009 Community News Group
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