The El Zaribah Shrine Circus has been a Valley tradition for 40 years, and though the circus may have changed, it continues to be designed for children and the young-at-heart.
Put on by the El Zaribah Shriners, the weekend circus will take place from Sept. 8 to 10 at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
Recorder Jack Garrett, the circus’ organizer for over 20 years, said planning the circus is a year-long endeavor, but the reactions of the crowd keep him doing it.
“I enjoy it, to see the outcome and the people, how happy they are enjoying the circus, and the kids in particular,” Garrett said.
Garrett said because many families come back to the circus each year, he tries regularly to bring in new acts.
This year’s lineup features aerial, clown, animal, crossbow, motorcycle and human cannonball acts.
During intermission, children can ride ponies and elephants for an additional fee.
At each performance, the local Shriners organization will give away one girls’ and one boys’ bicycle. Each child receives a ticket for the bicycle raffle when entering the venue.
Throughout the years, the Phoenix circus has taken place at different locations, including the El Zaribah temple.
The El Zaribah Shriners is a local chapter of Shriners International, a fraternal organization dedicated to masonic values such as brotherhood and philanthropy.
Garrett said many members join Shriners organizations because of the work they do in their communities.
“A lot of these Shriners have had family members who’ve been in the Shrine hospitals, and they want to join the Shriners to pay something back,” Garrett said.
Members of El Zaribah can get more involved through units and clubs tailored to different interests.
Prior to the 3 p.m. performance on Saturday, members of different units and clubs will ride around the circus ring on three-wheel trikes, motorcycles and little cars. Clowns and other members of the Shriners, clad in their red fezzes, will also march around the ring.
Each day at the circus, clowns from El Zaribah will sell red foam noses for charity, paint faces and make balloon animals.
Some of the clowns have served the local Shriners organization for 30 years or more. Bruce LaBell, the man behind Auguste clown “Goober,” has been involved for five years and is a third generation Shriner.
LaBell said at events, the clown unit tries to bring awareness of the organization’s work and to bring joy to people, especially children served by Shriners.
“It helps them to be able to step back, especially some of the kids who are sick…It gives them a few minutes to step out of themselves and not be feeling the hurt or feeling the pain. We’re the comical relief that gets them to think about something else,” LaBell said.
LaBell, who works as an inspector in his everyday life, says being a clown lets him give back while showing a different side of himself.
“This gives me an outlet where I can destress, be around the kids and put smiles on people’s faces,” LaBell said.
Proceeds from the circus help to pay for the day-to-day costs of running the organization’s temple, located near 40th and Van Buren Streets. The fundraiser, which raises over $100,000 a year, is the biggest of the year for the organization’s general fund.
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Garrett said the circus helps the Shriners chapter to keep the temple open so it is able to assist children and families dealing with orthopaedic, cleft lip and palette and burn conditions.
“We spend probably about $20,000 a month sending kids to LA, Salt Lake, sometimes Sacramento for the burn center up there. So, without this temple being open, those kids wouldn’t be able to be sent. So, we need to keep these doors open,” Garrett said.
Throughout the year, members of El Zaribah raise money for general and hospital funds.
The Shriners Hospitals for Children network is made up of 22 orthopedic and burn facilities throughout North America.
Garrett said during the circus, families often share stories of how their children can walk, dance or play ball because of treatment at Shriners hospitals.
“It makes us feel like we’ve done something really important,” Garrett said.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8. 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9 and 10.
Where: WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale.
Admission: $18 general admission, $15 for military and seniors, kids 12 and under free with paying adult with coupon, $5 per car for parking.
Details: 480-946-3696, azshriners.com.
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