Children were greeted at the door by people for and against use of animals in circus acts as the colorful three-ring spectacle known as the 2007 Minneapolis Shrine Circus came to the Target Center.
On one side, a group of excited schoolchildren strolling toward the Target Center was greeted Friday by the playful antics of "Gizzy" and "Goose" the clowns.
On the other side, they were welcomed by another group of smiling faces -- protesters holding signs with the image of a tiger and a message that read, "Calling all children: Help me! Don't go to the circus!"
Meanwhile, Bo, a 13-foot-tall pachyderm, stood alongside six other elephants munching piles of hay in the back, awaiting their turn in the colorful three-ring spectacle known as the 2007 Minneapolis Shrine Circus.
"This sure is getting a lot of attention, huh?" Larry Carden, an elephant trainer whose family owns a fifth-generation circus business, said before Friday's early show. "I hope we get big crowds out of it."
That could be the case after the Minneapolis City Council voted two weeks ago against a much publicized, hotly contested proposal to ban wild animal circuses.
Instead, the council opted to tighten regulations and raise permit fees and potential fines for circus operators. On Thursday, staff members from the city's animal control department and the area Humane Society inspected the animals, and planned to do so again throughout the circus' seven-show run.
A ban "would be ridiculous," said Troy Hatcher of Brooklyn Park, who went to Friday's show with his wife, Michelle, and their two kids, Tory, 2, and Myles, 1.
Christine Coughlin, executive director of the local nonprofit Circus Reform Yes, said her group outside was trying to "remind people inside that animal cruelty is happening right before their eyes."
"I think the issue raised some awareness," said Katrina Barnett of Farmington, who let her daughter, Catrielle, 3, go on a $6 pony ride while her son, Liam, 5, took an $8 elephant ride on Friday.
"I could actually see an animal-free circus," Barnett said. "But it would be quite different without them."
Her family was among more than 3,000 people, many kids, attending the two-hour show that featured a lion, tigers, elephants, comedic monkeys and a human cannonball.
"We hope to exceed last year's totals, especially with no baseball and football in town this weekend," said Don Wurden, potentate of the Zuhrah Shriners. He expects as many as 70,000 people this weekend.
Organizers said last year's shows attracted nearly 60,000 and brought in about $1.5 million to downtown and the surrounding areas.
On Friday, under the bright lights and pulsating music, cameras flashed as several tigers and a lion, after jumping over each other and through numerous hoops, leapt through a full ring of fire to applause.
The crowd also roared when "Bo" and the other elephants performed stunts, and laughed as seven Rhesus monkeys and a small ape jumped from post to post and shimmied down poles in their shiny orange costumes.
But the loudest applause came for David Smith, a k a "Captain Circus," whose 63-year-old body was blasted from a cannon across the arena safely into a wide net.
"It's all in a day's work," said Smith, a father of 10 children who has been launched in the air some 9,000 times.