Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Big Apple Circus Impresses with Web Graphics, Act Lineup Favoring Old-Line Thrills for Return to Lincoln Center ... No Sign of Paul and Michael, the Clown Care Unit, or a Tour Ahead ...


Well, what do you know, a circus is coming!   Or should I say, is returning? Any news of a circus coming or re-birthing, rebooting or rebounding  in these days of bare lots and banner lines missing in action, is good news.  The Big Apple Circus, under new ownership, is the reason. so let's have a blast of trumpets and a standing ovation even before the first act hits the ring.

New Sarasota-based  owners have been pushing an early ballyhoo that promises maybe more beef than ballet, what with outdoor high wire daredevil Nik Wallenda  topping the marquee.  Under  canvas, he will put up the precarious seven-high pyramid, which is an act fraught with danger, what with the group taking a nasty tumble last year in Sarasota that left several seriously injured.  So far, Nik is sharing top billing with the return of Grandma, the latter, I’d say, the best move these new owners have made so far.  Another reassuring move is the retention of band leader Rob Slowik to oversee music.  Of courses, what he turns out largely rides on the quality of the score he is handed ...

But what else will be the show?  Digging deeper into the Big Apple Circus website,  I found photos of other acts. among whom -- Ammed Tunziani,  photo at top, who flew with Ringling the last four years  and managed to land at least one quad, will be attempting the elusive trick at every Big Apple Performance.  This should give patrons an exciting Big Moment to look forward to. Unlike with the seven-high, audiences can enjoy the flying exploits stress-free, over the traditional net.  I stress stress free because I think circus audiences have become more accustomed to acts veering away from obvious severe danger.



Other turns include the Anastani brothers, above, with an Icarian display; juggler Gamal Garcia Tuniziani, contortionist Elayne Kramer, an African Russian Bar exhibition, and Jenny Vidbel's animals.  Her bohemian barnyard a few years back, which I was lucky to catch (remember -- a skunk and /or rodent and other oddball critters?) marked a high point in circus animal act training; and roller skaters Dandino and Luciano.  Along with Grandma, Joel Jeske to stir up additional giggles and guffaws. To be directed by Mark Lonegran, who staged last year’s Grand Tour.

Will the seven-high make a bigger or smaller impact in so small a setting? The act was born in the late 1940s, when circus shows commanded multiple rings and thousands of seats.   I saw it as a kid on the Polack show, to this day the most memorable moment in my circus-going life.  But those were different times.


Given the scope and athletic daring-do of outdoor reality TV, somehow I don't see the seven-high having the same impact as in did in days gone by.   When the Felds presented the seven high, they rigged it over an end ring, hardly a statement of pride or stature.  The night I attended the show, act was a no-show, due to a recent mishap.

We are about to witness a difficult transition.  New owners pledged to continue Big Apple Circus traditions established by Paul and Michael, but I see modest evidence of  this. Website has a "Giving Back to the Community" list of free charitable shows, etc, though no mention of the Clown Care Unit.  Nonetheless, what they have done so far looks promising.  “New York to the core,” proclaims new promo and ad copy.   Let’s hope the tour -- or one-date stand -- ahead will be a grander one.

Cry, Clown, Cry: In a  recent,very moving issue of Circus Report, two bitter-sweet accounts, one by fan Alex Smith from Providence,  the other by former Ringling clown Andrew Rose, at Nasseau, of watching the last Ringling performances.  Had I been there to see one of them, I might have cried all the way through.   Ringling-Barnum encapsulates so much American circus history!  I still say it shouldn’t have happened ... Anybody know how well the Melha Shrine did this year when they brought back the elephants?  Did the missing crowds who complained of their absence actually return?  I google the question, and come up with nothing.
.
END RINGERS: Have I got some goodies:  Blood bath at New England Center for Circus Arts: Seems that a few professors have quit, some students have walked, over recent firing of co-founders, twin sisters Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion.  Ugly scene only getting uglier.  My own lingering questions remain: Whatever comes out of this all, will this school or any other school in this country EVER produce top-flight circus acts? Pardon my indiscretion ... Kenneth Feld’s great love for the elephants included his own elephant compound, all along, I suspected, mainly a PR ploy to counter PETA and other animal groups forcing him into courtrooms.  Now there's word that it’s probably going to be phased out, that some elephants may be up for sale.  Are you surprised? ... .... America's got circus, too!  Hey, Mr. Producer:  How about booking a star turn off America's Got Talent?   Circus action fairly dominated the first half hour of a recent special featuring the judges favorite acts from the season so far.  Millions of Americans watch this show.  Knock!  Knock!  Anybody get my drift?  Some hints ...




Friday, July 07, 2017

A Sneak Peek at the Hugh Jackman Barnum Movie, Due Out in December

 
The new movie on Barnum's life, starring Hugh Jackman, is now offering a You Tube trailer.

I've watched it twice, and don't know exactly what to think.  Some first impressions:

Jackman cuts a dashing figure.

The settings look historically very authentic.  To me, the most promising sign.

Not so promising:  A predominant image of a ring filled with about as diverse a tribe of human characters as you will find anywhere, well, in  San Francisco.  The impression is more of a sideshow than a circus.  With this comes what may be the main theme in spoken words: We are all different.

Ah yes, different.  And just in time for the next diversity breakthrough revolution in America's self-creation mania.

An upbeat soulful song will no doubt appeal to younger ears.   My more mature ears found it generically engaging, although it struck me as being out of place in the period setting, as was the spectacle of an aerialist swooping down from above, looking more like Cirque du Disney than Barnum & Bailey.  

But then, this is to be a movie musical,  and based on what I saw ....  The VERDICT, Please!

I have no idea.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... Carson & Barnes Circus Heading Back to Hugo ... Summer Dates Shuttered ... Fall Tour Promised ...


From the show's Facebook: "For unseen circumstances with additional financial burdens,we have come to the difficult decision to bring the show off the road for the remaining summer months."

Last summer dates to be played are at Williamsburg, PA on July 10th. 

Traditional Circus Has a Friend In America's Got Talent ... TV Hit Delivers the Magic to Millions


Other night, I tuned in to America’s Got Talent, and was tickled to discover one remarkably accomplished performer  – a dog names Hero — nearing the end of what  I imagined to have been a marvelous performance.    Talk about novelty.  Hero and trainer Sara Carson interacted in the most unexpected ways.  That’s the wonder of circus discovery.

And then came a shocking display of judging indifference.   Two of the four judges, Mel and Howie, adamantly refused to be impressed!

What?  Were they kidding?  Pre-scripted?   I could not believe my eyes.

Neither could Simon Cowell, astonished and not a little angry.  He had loved the act as much as did the audience, as much as did I. 


So distraught over the two dissenters, whose thumbs down eliminated the act, Simon  huffed and puffed up onto the stage, as if willfully defying ground rules,  joined Hero and Sara, and made a direct appeal to the audience for a show of support, which it delivered in cheering waves.  Then he pleaded  with Howie and Mel to reverse their votes.  Mel held firm.  Howie reversed his, thus allowing Hero through to the next phase!  And you'd thought Simon had just parted the red sea. 


Simon is not the most famous entertainment critic in the world for nothing.

I love this show, even though I only ever see parts of it, and I love these particular judges, who generally, in the face of circus action, display such embracing enthusiasm.  They are Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum, and Simon   No Montreal airs compete on this program.  No navel-gazing or artsy posturing of the sort that we saw far too much of on the ill-fated Celebrity Circus from NBC, a few years back.  Pandering, really fawning, to the Cirque du Soleil stye of act, the humdrum Celebrity lasted through but five dreary episodes. 

In fact, the America's Got Talent judges can sometimes be so taken by what many of us might consider a staple act, that I am left to wonder how many circuses any of them  have seen in recent times.



Never you mind, they are helping to remind Americans why we still go to circus shows.

And Simon leads the way.   Although, he has issues with clowns, a fearful aversion he openly revealed last season.  Which may make the producers, of whom he is one,  more open  — and comedic characters more challenged to deliver on — quirky variations on clowning, sans traditional makeup and floppy shoes.




America's Got Talent  reaches millions and so perhaps this show is doing more to keep alive a vibrant impression of circus than any other venue out there.  When the young people taking up circus arts in our nation’s classrooms watch the show, I hope they are inspired to respect the primal power of the big top basics.  After all, a trick is a trick is a trick.

Oh, what a night it was.  Praise the dog and damn those judges!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tragedy or Renaissance? What Media Voices are Making of the Fall of Ringling -- Fake News to Fake Views ...

The last days of Ringling on earth were treated by major news outlets as almost a given, the underlying text seeming to be, well, the animals were a big problem and now the animal rights groups are celebrating a victory.  And the circus, maybe it’s outlived its universal appeal.  Ho-hum.

I wondered how this devastating chapter in American circus history would be more fully analyzed and covered in the days to come.  And as time has passed, the reactions have become either more critical of Kenneth Feld or of traditional big top entertainment as out of touch with modern culture.

And then came the so-called “experts,” some with academic credentials, the latter, a group known for befuddling the gullible with overwrought views.

Let’s start with USA Today, and with a voice from the corporate sector, calling the death of the Greatest Show on Earth “an American tragedy.”

The writer, Brad Deutser,  is a former Ringling staffer who advises companies on “how to achieve clarity, especially in times of transition, growth or crisis.”   In expressing sympathy for the Ringling shut down, Mr. Deutser advanced a number of novel claims, one being that “Ringling Bros. was the entry point for so many to begin their careers in show business.”

To begin? Really?  Surely, he did not mean their performing careers, unless he was thinking of the impressive number of young clowns tutored under Feld watch.   In fact, Ringling was the end point, the mark of having arrived for the most accomplished artists.  They would put up with having to appear simultaneously alongside other acts – just to be seen on the Big Show.  Watch the film Trapeze.

Asks Mr. Deutser,  "What will happen to the children who no longer have the Greatest Show on Earth."  Oh, paleeeze!  There are plenty of circuses out there providing the same experience.

And now comes the learned class, via a story in the Washington Times about the upcoming Smithsonian FolkLife Festival.  Whenever I see a quote, an article or book by an academic, I tend to cringe a little,  and to brace myself for runaway analysis.  Well, in college, you are taught to dig and think deep, which can lead to tortured reasoning bordering on the hallucinatory.  So, on the sunnier side of the lot, we find professor Janet Davis, at the University of Texas/Austin telling us that at this critical moment, “We're in a kind of circus renaissance in America.”

Give    me    a     break.   Upon what does she base her feel-good scenario?   Implicitly on the growing number of smaller, one-ring shows that have been springing up, most of them in and around campuses where circus arts are now being taught.


I am pleased to see these youthful manifestations of the ageless delight, but to confuse them for world class achievement — for, pardon my crude choice of words, commercial circus — is an epic reach into never never land. Sorry for my impudence,  prof, but no, I won’t be bothering to take the mid-term exam on this one.

Let’s    get     real:   The most telling reality by which we judge the appeal of any ticketed amusement is the crowd size it can attract.  And not just to a periodic season of shows lasting but a month or two a year.   Even in recent times, Ringling drew three or four thousand people per show. How many other circuses anywhere in the world can make such a claim?

Playing to  People Who Want Circus Acts, But Not the Circus

Today’s defenders of a bright new tomorrow argue that the public now wants to feel a more intimate connection to the artist. As in audience interaction.   Pyrotechnics (can you think Feld fireworks?) to them mean that your acts do not receive proper attention and respect from the audience.  Try telling this to the legions of Ringling circusgoers who have thrilled to many of  the best acts on the globe.


We have just lived through the traumatic  fall of  three major American circuses -- Ringling, Cole Bros., and Big Apple, the latter returning under new ownership.  To believe that student-oriented programs, all well meaning, can be a renaissance to the rescue is a pipe dream.

I hope the media goes a lot deeper than it has so far.  My eyes are wide open to what next some expert might have to say about the meaning of the demise of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

photos, from the top:  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Out of This World
Wenatche Youth Circus
Big Apple Circus, 2014

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Take a Ride on the Big Top Typewriter for Only $9.99! ... We're Celebrating More Good Reviews ... Read What Circus Report and Circus Diaries Say!


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"COMPELLING ... IMMENSELY PERSONABLE ... A THRILLING ROLLER COASTER RIDE THROUGH HIS CAREER AS A WRITER ... BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT THE WORKINGS OF THE CIRCUS INDUSTRY AND THE AUTHOR'S ENCOUNTERS WITH ITS STARS AND SHOWMEN.  A BREEZY PAGE TURNER."
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“WORTH A READ FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ALONE!”
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"A BOOK WITH GLUE ON THE COVER ... I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN!”
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"LIKE A GOOD PERFORMANCE, IT ZIPS ALONG AT A GOOD PACE.” 
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Hurry!  Hurry!  Zip along to the $9.99 ticket window!  Sale ends on Saturday at midnight!

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249 pages / 95 photographs
Index -- might your name be in it?
(Sorry, peanuts not included)

5.18.17

Monday, June 19, 2017

America's Community Circuses to Have Their Day in the Nation’s Capital

 
Thank you, Smithsonian for your upcoming Folklife Festival.  In particular, the impressive calendar of  circus shows to be given by various student-oriented troupes.

Finally, I have gotten my arms around a movement that has been in the works for many years, a movement I have only paid passing attention to  — a burgeoning number of smaller circuses based in local communities, often connected to a high school or college, that provide an outlet for the young wishing to experiment with circus arts

Most of these groups will be giving shows at the Festival, from June 29 through July 9.


Although most of them are student-oriented, not all fit this category.  Some include adults and some, the occasional guest professional act.  I would not be inclined to call them fringe, or experimental, or alternative, or even youth. All somewhat constricting. Here is my own new classification, which I am adding to the list of label categories on the sidebar:  Community Circus

How does that sound?  All-inclusive?  They are not commercial circuses.  They do not go out on annual extended tours.  They feature the talents of younger performers, most of whom, far as I know, will never go on to pursue professional circus, and may have never harbored such dreams in the first place.

I am thinking of how they operate like community theatre, although most community theatres sustain longer seasons, and present productions that come close to regional.  I have seen talents in community theatre that I could see playing the parts on Broadway.  But acting, I would argue, is far easier to master than the dexterity of fine jugging, acrobatics or aerial work.  

I am thinking of the Gainesville Community Circus, that, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “began as a project of the Gainesville Little Theatre in May 1930. Bingo!  Its name makes perfect sense.

Here are the shows appearing at the festival, all presenting performances, and some demonstrations a well

Sailor Circus
Wenatchee Youth Circus
Circus Bella (from my own neighborhood -- Go, Bella!)
Circus Juventas
Circus Smirkus
Happenstance Theater Theatrical Circus
Circus Harmony
Make A Circus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Cirque des Voixx

UniverSoul Circus

                                 

What does not make sense is the inclusion of UniverSoul Circus on the bill.  This is  clearly a commercial circus, even with any funding it may raise on the side.   Big Apple Circus technically is – or was — a non-profit, as is Circus Vargas.  But who would argue for any of these three shows belong in the  “community” class?

Is there a future for community circus?  Why not?  They rely on local funding, and have strong support from the communities they serve.   I imagine that most of the performers serve on a volunteer basis, that audiences are naturally tolerant and forgiving, given the student factor in play.

But even they have been known to face hard times.   Word is out that Circus Flora, is reportedly hurting for money, its future in doubt.

This Smithsonian Festival marks a milestone for our community circuses.

Long may they prosper!


Photos, from the top

Circus Harmony
Wenatchee Youth Circus 
Circus Jeventas
Circus Smirkus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Sailor Circus
   Circus Bella     

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Joy of Circus, The Rising Value of Monaco -- Why Doesn't PBS Pick This Up?


Gold to the Duo Shcherba-Popov from Princess Stephanie, right, and Prince Albert, left. 

They are hip. They are cool.  They are dancerly.  They are very personal, wearing their own faces, not masks.  In total, the kind of an act that makes you a believe all over again in the sheer joy of circus art.

They landed the Gold Clown at the recent Monte Carlo International Circus Festival, along with one other winner -- the Bejing Acrobatic Troupe.

They are two Ukrainian fellows, the Duo Shcherba-Popov, who brought off a remarkably fluid and choreographed  routine [I'd call it acrobatic equilibristics]  to a tune from the Great American Songbook, "Singin' in the Rain," from the soundtrack of the movie starring Gene Kelly.  The resulting impression is a glorious, quite personalized display.   Here is Liz Arratoon, reviewing the event in London's The Stage, describing  the act in detail:

"It [the display of juggler Alexander Koblikov] may be a hard act to follow but hand-to-hand duo Shcherbak and Popov are more than up to the task. Again they have characterized their act beautifully, while keeping the skill level sky high. Set to Singin’ in the Rain, they perform as Depression-era sparring workmen and create the most staggering display of holds and balances, including head-in-hand, head-to-head and spread-eagle planches. To finish, Nikolay does a one-arm handstand on the back of Sergey’s neck, while he is balanced on his hands. This high-standard act is the sort you long for and the jury awards it one of two Gold Clowns."


Monte Carlo: Best Kept Secret in the Entertainment World?

They are also a reason why I have such profound respect for the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.  I realize, of course, the festival may not be a perfect selector of talent. What is perfect?  On balance, it certainly seems to honor the highest achievements, no matter where they come from. Naturally, opinions are going to differ. For instance, juggler Alexander Koblikov, who works with ten balls successfully, and is working on 14 (not so lucky) landed a Silver Clown, was deemed the "best act" at the festival by Arratoon.

A true global reach -- as far away as North Korea

Talent from the far corners of the world as well!  I did not know, until learning that a North Korean act had been awarded a Gold or Silver Clown a year or so ago, that North Korea was even into circus at all.

The entire Festival generates competitive inspiration world wide, and thus gives many nations (China, certainly at the forefront, seen her receiving yet another Gold Clown) the additional incentive to strive to be the greatest. When I was in Beijing and interviewed Chinese acrobatics scholar Tain Run Min, he told me that much.

Where is PBS? 

Good grief, Pledge Break Society hauls out, over and over again, every last over-the-hill rock and roll act known to man.  They give a platform and a shill audience to all manner of self-help gurus. They televise  competition ballroom dancing, no less. The televised a rather dreary behind-the-scenes look at Big Apple Circus.  They've stitched together footage of Cirque du Soliel acts from Vegas.  So, why not a few hours from the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival?  Who's to blame -- PBS, or a tone-deaf PR department in the land where Princess Stephanie holds court?  This best-of-the-world circus showcase cries out, screams out for PBS coverage.    Is anybody there?  Is anybody listening? Does anybody but me even care?

You can watch Duo Shcherba-Popov at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew5AGaItecE

My thanks to Jack Ryan for sending me the link, also the photo of the duo.


Princess Stephanie, center, with daughter Pauline, left, and son-in-law Louis Ducret. The circus world is lucky to have such generous, such glamorous, and such devoted attention and support. 

first posted 2.3.13

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ringling Drama that Never Makes it to the Screen: Can Barnum or Lillian Leitzel Make it Happen?



P. T. Barnum, the subject of a new movie, The Greatest Showman, about his life and showmanship, due out in December,  said to be raising a “buzz” in Hollywood, some hoping it will be another La La Land.   It's a musical!  The Broadway musical,  Barnum!, gave us at least a great score from Cy Coleman.  This new treatment will put the popular Australian actor Hugh Jackman in P.T.’s scheming shoes.  Jackman made a huge name for himself when he played the role of Curly in the brilliant Brit staging of Oklahoma.  If you like Rodgers & Hammerstein, it’s a must see. 

Coleman's Barnum! had little patience with historical accuracy, turning P. T. into a skilled low wire walker in order to symbolize the many gambles he took -- reaping acclaim from Tom Thumb to Jenny Lind, and then, in concert with James A. Bailey, the first three-ring circus, brought out by the partners in 1881. They called it The Greatest Show on Earth.  You may have heard, it recently bit the dust.

And so the idea of another Barnum musical disappoints me to a degree.  Such amusements  tend to place comedy over drama. I am still waiting for a great American circus film -- that is, a tautly dramatic one.


Now comes, also, another big top flick currently in production at Warner,  Queen of the Air, this one based upon the 2013 novel of the same name, about the lives of  1920s Ringling stars Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  Margot Robbie, above, to play the tempestuous aerialist.  Here, the producers and writers have a chance to dig deep into tragedy, and as deep into circus atmosphere and conflict serving as a compelling context.  Can you think of a famous circus showman of the period whose life in the end was just as tragic?  Hint: think brothers.

Here is my Big Question:  How does a film maker, in dealing with that circus and that time period, recreate this:


In its favor, Warner is behind it.  Another promising sign is the film's producer,  Andrew Lazaar, who handled Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper.   This gives me hope for high drama.  There was plenty of that in and around the Ringling big top when Leitzel and Codona flew.  I'm hoping for the kind of  movie that can capture the epic atmosphere of the circus then, while daring to plumb the depths of Letizel and Codona story.

And so I wonder: Will either of these movies evoke the American circus in, let's say, Masterpiece Theatre fashion?

From other entertainment forms have come classic films. Ballet gave us, for example.The Red Shoes; movie making, Day of the Locust and Sunset Boulevard, to name a few.  So has  television (think Good Night and Good Luck, think Quiz Show).

Will the circus ever deliver, dramatically?  Other than the great flick, Trapeze, in my estimation a genuinely fine movie  --and, you might argue, Disney's long-ago Toby Tyler -- what has Hollywood given us?   Recently, it gave us the wretchedly sadistic, historically dubious, Water for Elephants (60% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Once again, I’m waiting for the Big One on screen.  And this time, please, hold the songs.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

America's Got Circus, Too! ... Rooster at Xylophone Rocks First Frame of Simon Cowell's Talent Show

Barnyard Showstopper Sends America's Got Talent into Early Orbit



Back opening another season of America's Got Talent, first act to hit the stage, Jokgu the Chicken, peeked out an impeccably precise God Bless America (I think that was the song codified on the farm).  And God bless the egg crops, too!

Never have I seen so accomplished a critter at a keyboard.


Simon and co-Judges were brought to their giddy feet. "This is historic!" proclaimed Simon.  And what Simon says is what Simon goes.  

The quirky act made me wonder if Jenny Vidbel had a hand --- or paw --- in it.

First show on the new season came out of the gate like a Big Apple Charivari  with series of CIRCUS ACTS flashing across the screen.  Oh, how I love these fearless judges, all returning from last season. They have a keen taste for the down-and-real sawdust scene.  And aren't afraid to show it.