The lights dimmed in the musty big top as spectators watched ringmaster John Moss III step forward.
"Children of all ages," he boomed. "Welcome to America's one-ring wonder."
Seconds later, five enormous Siberian tigers stalked their way into the center ring, followed by their trainer, Ryan Holder. So began "fascinating felines," the first act of the Kelly Miller Circus, which played two shows Thursday in Point Place as part of its tour of northwest Ohio.
A packed crowd of roughly 1,100 watched Mr. Holder, seemingly oblivious to any risk, bid the tigers to sit, jump, roll, and stand on their hind legs.
Next up came the Delara duo of Delena Fusco and Sara Greene, who performed a series of aerial tricks while suspended from ropes. At one point, with the crowd cheering, one of the female acrobats held her partner suspended in midair, connected only by a rope clenched in their mouths.
Following them was an assortment of music, juggling, clowning, acrobatics and, of course, trained elephants that makes up the 2012 program of the Kelly Miller Circus, which will play two more shows in Sylvania Township today before heading to Michigan.
Proceeds from Thursday's two shows went to the Point Place Business Association's Scholarship Fund, the Ottawa River Cleanup Association, and the Lions Football League, said Rick Knapp, a volunteer at the Point Place Community Center, which sponsored the show.
The circus's owner and producer, John Ringling North II, attends every show on the tour. His family has deep ties to the circus business: He counts the famous Ringling brothers as his relatives.
He spent his childhood summers, he said, traveling with his family's circus. After decades away from the circus, he purchased Kelly Miller in 2006.
"I wanted to go back to the life I grew up in," he said. "I'm very fond of all the animals."
Seven protesters lingered outside before the show, holding signs that said "Boycott the Circus" and "The Circus Hurts Animals."
"I just wanted to raise awareness about the cruelty that goes on at the circus," said Elizabeth Sugg, who organized the protest in concert with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Authorities asked them to move to the sidewalk after they had congregated near the tent's entrance.
Tavana Brown, the circus' office manager, disputed the protesters' claims. "Our animals are taken to veterinarians every 30 days as required by the USDA," she said. "We have very qualified, very caring people who take care of our animals."
Aside from the center-ring entertainment, children could enjoy peanuts, cotton candy, and balloons. They also could get chances to ride one of the circus's camels and elephants.
May Whiting, 6, from Point Place had her face painted to resemble a pink butterfly. Her favorite part, she said, was watching the animals "when they're running in circles."
Today's Kelly Miller Circus shows will start at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. in Pacesetter Park.
Contact Casey Sumner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084.