Welcome to Walden, New York, where the 150 performers and crew members of the legendary Big Apple Circus gather from around the world to put together the new show for their annual 350-performance tour.
Traveling by trailer caravan, the circus arrives in Virginia and pitches the tent for its first tour stop. On the eve of the first performance, a pivotal act is cut and there's a mad scramble to rework the show. Making matters worse, a seasoned company regular is diagnosed with cancer and must relinquish his act. Lackluster ticket sales only ratchet up the pressure.
Squeeze into a tiny lot at New York's Lincoln Center with the entire Big Apple Circus -- tent, trailers, performers, crew and animals. It's the holiday season and shows are packed, but snow and ice are collecting on the big top and the hoses that run water to the trailers are frozen solid. A beloved miniature pony dies suddenly from colic. Cast and crew are sick and exhausted, but the show goes on. Some members of the Big Apple family -- a crewman, a trapeze artist, even the artistic director -- contemplate leaving the circus world behind.
Big Apple's founder and its newly installed artistic director embark on their annual trip to the renowned Monte Carlo circus festival - a kind of international circus family reunion - to scout fresh talent. Back in the U.S., the performers and the crew put on two shows a day and travel from Georgia to New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. The Anastasinis, a seventh-generation circus family, wonder if their young sons will be content to carry on the family legacy.
Emotions run high as the circus season winds down. Many members of the cast and crew won't be going back to Big Apple next season - some are heading to Europe; others are still trying to figure out what's next. Some of the younger performers who have grown up in the circus consider leaving circus life. The night before the final shows, the crew puts on a traditional spoof called "Midnight Clowns" for the performers. The laughter is infectious and the partings bittersweet. As the trailers pull out of the lot and the tent comes down for the last time, we join in the ...