Monday, November 11, 2019

Popcorn, Peanuts, & Porn: On the Crotch Watch at the Big Apple Circus. Night Club Antics Split Two New York Reviews

 photos by Matthew Murphy
Don’t blame the latest “new” Big Apple Circus for not daring to shake things up.  Judging from the two reviews I have so far found,  this latest effort offers up its treats in a dubious context, darkened by heavy metal on the side, sexy vocalizing, and erotic airborne action.   All of which evidently makes reviewing it a new kind of challenge.  But the best New York critics never shy away from facing whatever may come their way, and letting their pens flow accordingly.
Early in her upbeat notice, The New York Times beat critic,  Alexis Soloski, noted:

“I wondered if I had come to the right place.” She was taken aback by an aerial strap act that opens the show, performed by a pair of look-alike platinum blonds, set to heavy metal music.  “They spun, swirled and hair-tossed, pressing one crotch atop the other as each did the splits, a visual palindrome that skewed lewd.” 

Strap and fabrics are becoming  the erogenous zone for new circus revolutionaries.

Another jarring image for Solsoky came in the form of clown Amy Gordon, while roller skating in a corset and top hat and singing “Uptown Funk” –  “If you sexy then flaunt it/if you freaky then own it.”   Added Soloski, “Perhaps the merch stand could sell me some light-up pearls to clutch.”

But this Times scribe stayed the affirmative, arguing that such sleazy goings-on  “couldn’t spoil the annual thrill of seeing a troupe so effortlessly diverse, international and adept” She loved, among the show’s best turns,  the  “magnificent fluff balls” of the Savitsy cats; the high wire antics of the Lopez family, and the thrilling Wheel of Death – ‘many of us screamed.”  And the Times, a long time friend of Big Apple,  handed out another Critics Pick.

Question is: Will the attractive talent pool be ill-served by such raucous overtones?  Production is apparently weak on thematic overlay.  Long-time band leader Rob Slowik is out.  Another trumpeter, Wages Argot, is in, his band blasting out brassy originals by Jamine Delwarte and Ada Westfall.  From Circus Flora, co-directors Cecil MacKinnon and Jack Marsh staged the program. Evidently, they left their dramaturg in St. Louis.

All of which or none of which,  left Michael Sommers, reviewing for The Stage, filing what feels like a soft pan.  “Let’s note that the current attraction is not among its finest editions’.

Calling it a strictly “no frills endeavor, “ Sommers gives due credit to a few “admirable” acts, but has little patience for the “Las Vegas” antics and imagery, for “acts on the duller side,” such as juggler Kyle Driggs, and for the lack of a visual showcase of the kind that Paul Binder gave the circus. “There is a strange perfunctory quality to the show.”  He cites ringmaster Storm Marrero for frequently working the crowd to clap along, a pandering for applause that “gets tiresome.”  Nor did the random-looking wardrobe of up-and-coming designer Emilio Sosa win over Sommers vision, coming off as if  “most artists brought their own outfits with them.”  Ouch.

It sounds like a challenging mixed bag to me.  I’d love to see it for myself.  I can see touches of Circus Oz there.  UniverSoul, for sure. Obviously, they are trying to make it a more hip show.  Will the racier edge pull in a younger, more responsive crowd? Might it turn parents away from bringing their kids?    I am waiting to see how CircusTallk reviews this one.
 Here on earth, in summation, Sommers  gives it 3 out of 5 stars -- “pleasantly entertaining but scarcely memorable.’

Alexis Soloski  wraps, “The aim of Big Apple felt shakier this year, and its sense of audience more wobbly, but it’s still a pleasure and a thrill, and the sexy stuff flies over most children’s heads.”

 Will the risque atmosphere fill the tent to profitable?  Make kitty?  Or ... are  we closer to last call?


Many thanks to Don Covington for including the complete review in his e-mail send outs. If you try finding it on the Times website, you may be blocked, as was I,  at their members-only border.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Remembering Circus Report Founder Don Marcks: How We Met

As the Circus Report nears its finaly iasue in December,  I will be posting a series about the Don I knew for many years.

No single image anytime in my life that I can recall, captivated me so instantly and fully as did what I saw in the window of the Western Auto store down Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.  I might have been ten-years-old at the moment of conversion into the world of sawdust and spangles. 

There, behind the glass, my spirit was captured by the spectacle of model circus wagons standing atop flatcars.  The shapes.  The bright gaudy colors.  The look  of a wondrous world coming into town! I’d never seen anything like this in my life. 

I went back to Western Auto, everyday, to stand and stare at the magic. To study the  wagons. To marvel at the festive decorations . And then, Marcks Circus was gone.

Not long after, I learned what balsa wood was at the Toy and Model Shop of Fifth Street. I learned how to use exacto blades and tester’s glue.  I taught myself how to  cut pieces of wood and fit them together to form my own crude circus wagons.  Both Playland-at-the-Beach, across the street from where I was raised in San Francisco,  and the Marcks Circus would compete for role-model attention and space when a  4x8 slice  of plywood was installed by the family in our garage.  My own private workshop!

In a year or so, I was riding a bus from San Francisco, across the bay, to a town called El Cerrito.  Once it reached San Pablo Avenue, I had been told to look for Mechanics bank. Ask the bus driver!   He let me off on the corner, and I walked up to Oak Street,  turned right, and looked for 525.

Don Marcks, maybe 15-20 years my senior,  was a rather solemn soul, yet ready to share samples from his collection, if at a slight remove.  He walked me out to a large shed across the backyard grass, invited me in, and proceeded to open drawers, and remove sample wagons.  I got to hold a few in my hands.  I could have gone through the whole lot, but he made this first visit more of a sampler.  Maybe he wanted not to soil the mystique.

We became friends, thanks to his friendly letters and sharing spirit..  In some, his unfiltered opinions about circus shows leaked through, which assures us that circus fans did hold sharp views, however privately held.

October 19, 1955: “Yes I saw the Ringling show this year several times for I was in Seattle, Richmond, San Francisco and Los Angeles on the show .... As for the specs, they could drop them without anybody noticing it. [I did not agree!] ... I felt they had some very good acts and thought the show was good except that it was too slow and too long.  Without a doubt it could have been speeded up and cut at least an hour off the time. Boy to sit and watch a circus for three hours for the public is a long time and I don’t care what anyone says, those seats of theirs are the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat on”

I think it was closer to  2-1/2 hours, but without an intermission, the complaint was valid.  For myself, I could have watched it many more times.  It gave off a certain subtle enchantment. 

As for the frugal seats of one Arthur M.  Concello, for sure they were not designed to pamper. Even I, at age 14, felt a bit cramped.  Which makes me wonder, for the first time,  if some patrons remembered the confined seating and were thus less inclined to return in following seasons? I actually have fond memories of the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. chairs. Grand!

“Will probably see you when my show is displayed in Antioch next month”

 On another of his display dates, I went with him to help set the whole thing up.

A couple of my early wagons, on display at the Toy and Model Shop, in Santa Rosa

Don often offered me excess or superseded parts of his own model.  Jan 28, 1956: “Just got to thinking and I do have a few ½ inch scale ring horses that you could have if you wanted.  They are in various positions and are brown. ... There will be a small indoor circus at the high school in Petaluma.  I plan to attend and if you should perhaps be there I’d bring along the horses along the horses for your then — Let me know for sure about this?"

My scale was closer to 1/4", and so I found his figures rather heavy, and somehow they didn’t fit my layout.  He did give me some (very heavy) wheels that did fit my wagons. He was then switching over to plastic.

Oct. 13, 1958:  “Show [Ringling] definitely lacks something ... Perhaps it is the poor band .... and the fact they don’t announce much stuff... However, one must admit that they still have more and bigger than any show on the road.”

We grumbled for many years over the demise of Ringling-Barnum under canvas, and were thus, I believe, prone to be more critical of the indoor shows that followed.

Wagons I made in my mid to late teens. 
His letters were typed out, single spaced, and most of them needed another two or more pages . And in some, I can’t spot a single typo! I have dozens of them, and they all will eventually reside in my archives at Illinois State University, under the aegis of the Milner Library's Maureen  Brunsdale.  Don Marcks will never be forgotten there.

Next: Going to the Circus with Don

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The World Without Ringling: Pushy Purveyors of Theater-Circus on the Rise ... Goodbye, Ageless Delight. Hello, Big Top Trauma Center

I believe the elements in each circus act are expressive in and of themselves, that the poetry of each act is where the value of the circus lies. To impose a plot and character on the circus is like trying to turn a piece of sculpture into a symphony."
--   Larry Pisoni, interviewed for my book, Fall of the Big Top

Ever since the artistic explosion of Cirque Du Soleil came to town, ever since the animal rights crowd gained law-enacting force, circus has been driven into near-oblivion.  Across deserted midways now, a new class of academic artists bent on bringing valid theatre to the big top are flexing their elitist views with ever greater voice --- if not force.

Can they help revive our withering big tops?   The free market place will decide.  So far, there is little evidence of widespread public elation over the sawdust-stage combo.

The meeting ground and launching pad for their hectoring notices seems to be  the on-line Circus Talk, in whose upscale pages you can behold their most audacious expectations.  This is a journal highly esteemed by such people as Don Covington, calling it “the new Billboard, the single most important trade paper for the circus world internationally ... Its staff of critics and reviewers provide some of the most insightful coverage of contemporary circus anywhere”

I have no doubt that Don is right about the sweep.  One may feel intimidated by the websites towering presence.

When I first took a ride on the glossy and glorious Circus Talk, perhaps too much in haste, I got the impression of an upscale, mutual back-slapping celebration designed to host a chic marketplace for artists, agents, and owners.  And so I could not quite imagine the editors going full tilt on objective circus reviewing that might offend anyone in the  choir. 

Paranoia or perception?

Don sent me Circus Talk’s review of the Big Apple Circus of 2018, a very long, very thoughtful  notice by Madeline Hoak, one of the highly credentialed theatre-circus advocates. In a critical mood, she makes no bones about her unease and irritation over lapses in human disclosure, character arc fulfillment, thematic cohesion, diversity and "strong dramaturgy."  No room here for those corny old words Pep and Pace. I suspect these eggheads are  mainly trying to impress and outdo each other.

More Human Condition, Please!

To wit, a few Hoak nuggets:

“A small cast of incredibly peppy and youthful actors” Actors?

Adam Kuchler’s “character has no substantial arc.  This type of disjointed artistic direction was an unfortunate constant in the show”

“Were it not for the emotionally laden music it would be a flat demonstration of highly impressive and technical aerial work”
“Ringmaster Monseu’s script was disappointingly simple, and her delivery was molded into the hollow, affected tones I associate with previous ringmaster John Kennedy Kane.”  Actually, I rather liked the ringmasterly role played by Kane, although I can’t recall him shedding tears for the fall of Adam.

‘Of all the performers, I got to know Adam Kuchler the best.”

“I found myself asking, where was the tragic?  Where was the sadness?  Where was the commentary on the failures life hands us.”

On the failures life hands us?  Are        you       kidding?  Let me repeat:


Yes, at a circus!  In other words, where was Shakespeare?

 Take them seriously. They may one day visit your little adjunct make-a-backyard-circus, and post a grade for theater-compliance.  Best to have a dramaturg on the lot to defend your thematic cohesion.  That’s the cool new word to drop in New Circus circles. In fact, for a time on the Big Apple Circus website, photos of this year’s players included the mug of Hovey Burgess, next to DRAMATURG.

But What About the Acts?

Now, okay, so it sounds like a real review. But is it?  Aside from Ms. Hoak’s misgivings over flimsy, ill-wrought narrative, what did she have to say for the acts themselves?  Nary a bad word.  “Two cheery hours of circus success.”  And there you have about the same thing you will get from Circus Report or White Tops.

I recall looking through reviews of the same Big Apple Circus opus from other sources, one from The New York Times, whose critic down on street level, Alexis Soloski, found the show quite a pleasure, albeit it “high flying, but also more low key ..... The marquee acts are fewer ... The horizontal juggling: visually ravishing  --- but un-astounding. ... Upright ladders: astounding discipline, but isn’t much to look at until he adds a soccer ball.”

Most New York notices found the clowning weak.  Some welcomed the lack of a story angle mucking things up.

In fact, it was the same Times critic, Ms. Soloski. whose tepid review of the previous edition drew a firestorm of outrage from the learned ones, some arguing that any one of them would have been better qualified to pass judgement for the Times.  Mutual back-slapping?  I would love to see how they might have reviewed the show. 

For my money, I would any day place greater trust in a notice by Alexis Soloski.

There are maybe four reasons why Ms. Hoak gave all the acts a glowing pass:

1.  She has seen few circuses, or is new to circus history.

2.  She wants to avoid coming off as critical of old circus.  She does express genuine affection for Big Apple Circus.

3.  She was too focused on character and plot to give much attention to such trivial matters as number of clubs in motion, difficulty of tricks -- or aerialists slipping out of harnesses and heading south.

4.  She had been dating  the company dramaturg, and got dumped

5.  She wanted to be the company dramaturg.

Circus Talk and its disciples may actually be able to invent theatre-circus in a way that, may untimely bring about a whole new genre.  Don’t count them out.  What they are really doing, as I see it,  is using circus candy as a tease, a seduction, a way to lure in people who can’t stand circus, but desire its more appealing elements in a non-circus package. Are there enough of these people out there?

What next on their wish list: Primal scream on the fabrics? Suicide over sawdust?


Give me a seat near the circus and let me hear stirring fanfare and let the great parade of wonders begin — and I am young again in heart and spirit. Give me a boy and girl close enough to share it with and to hear all the exclamations of wonder, bewilderment, surprise, and let the laughter ring out.

   Gabriel Heater, 1943

Where was the tragic?  Where was the sadness?  Where was the commentary on the failures life hands us.”


Friday, October 11, 2019

American Unicycle Wonder Wesley Williams Wows Moscow, Declared an "Idol" at Russian Circus Festival


Okay, let my pride of prophecy parade:  Because I gave this young American circus star stellar coverage on this here blog after discovering him on a TV's The Gong Show, I was elated to read this in the latest issue of Spectacle Magazine on-line, just out:

Young American Enjoys Success at World Festival of Circus Arts in Moscow

"Unicyclist Wesley Williams represented the United States at the 2019 World Festival of Circus Art 'IDOL' in Moscow, Russia. Only 20 of the best acts from around the world were chosen to perform at this prestigious circus competition.  Out of all the acts that participated Williams received one of the highest honors, The Main Prize Bronza 'Idol.'

This marked Williams first appearance anywhere outside the United States.  He called it "an honor just to be invited to the competition.  Although it was a super sweet feeling to see that all my blood, sweat, and tears and years of preparation for this moment paid off.”

Wesley, you gave me everything I hope for and rarely get in a circus act these days, topped with a show-stopping climax on that sky-high unibike of yours.  Talk about raw heart-pounding peril. All performed with great classy showmanship and down-home humility.  Best of all, you put yourself and us on the map in probably the most revered circus ring in the world --  MOSCOW.

Great going, kid!

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

About the New Big Apple Circus About to Uncork ... Could it Be ...?


Hmmmm.  A video tease from the show left me numbingly unmoved.

But But ...

Took a look at pictures and bios of the acts on the radiant website ... Kitty cats, yes, performing fluffers!  Two guys who do something on the back of a horse.  A high wire trio ... Juggling   ... the Russian barre re-conceived by a big troupe of aerial acrobats, and with Monte Carlo cache ... Big troupes always excite me. All sorts of other goodies ...  Chinese pole ... Wheel of death ... Do I feel the punch, pop and pound of a big top whopper?

So .... ah ... calm down, David.  It depends on the quality and depth of these acts.  Here is one word that I was left feeling over my first encounter with these inviting images, (not the inert video):


Monday, September 02, 2019

Rust in Peace: A Walk Among the Ruins of Clyde Beatty Circus ...

Joy in a once-embracing land: 1996

So much bad news continues coming my way.  Not yours?  Are you in dedicated denial? Or lost and hiding  behind old scrapbooks and movies?  Posters and photos?  Pretending that the "circus" show you just saw on a stage, at a concert hall or cruise ship, under a summer tent of students putting on a circus, is proof sufficient that American big tops are as alive and thriving as ever?

Sorry I don’t share your fragile fantasy.  But I do understand, CFA.

To look at the newest old photos is eerily surreal.   We are smack dabble in the middle of what may one day be a bleak and settled history of circus for generations to come.  We were there.

Tim Tegge was there/is there, too, and he  knows what is going on.  Maybe we all do, but for many of us, it’s too painful to face.  And so, any economy — or volunteer —  ensemble of jugglers and acrobats, a dog or two, a pair fluttering through the fabrics — will give the suffering imagination wings to magnify spangles into spectacles, match sticks into tent poles.   Culleppper & Merriweather, the new Ringling?  Ask noted author Janet Davis to explain.  Even the learned can’t cope. 

Tim and wife Barbara, on their way to a wedding in Orlando, stopped off to walk the aging, desolate grounds of now-defunct Cole Bros. Circus.  He clowned on the show from the end of 1994 through all of ‘95 and ‘96.  Bunked in room #85 on the joey sleeper.  “It will always remain ‘the Beatty show in my heart ... not ‘Cole Bros.”

Same for me, Tim.  I saw the Clyde Beatty Circus in my PC-deprived boyhood.

On his Facebook, reprinted in the soon-to-be-gone Circus Report, Tim remembers how ”invigorating and exciting” it was to be joining the show in the spring, when equipment had been freshly painted, and there was “more activity than you could possibly imagine!”

Going back now, Tim is  struck by the decaying condition of trucks pealing away, by the old trapeze rigging still standing, “rotting away in weeds and high grass.” In one of the lonely photos, a small green tree nudged up against a Cole Bros. semi looks as if to be coddling it out of sympathy and respect.

Tim cuts to the core emotion that all of these images produce in me  “Almost like watching a friend slowly dying from a terminal disease. It is painful and you're totally helpless.”

That once fine and proud and oh-so well run circus, the nation’s largest tent show in the indoor age of Ringling, rues Tim, “will never again take to the road.”

Never again. Did you really have to say “never,” Tim?

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Kelly Miller Circus, Sunday, September 1, 2019 ...

The Kelly Miller Circus Is Official Closed. Thanks For The Memories.

Other than this message, typo included,  the website is now totally blank, all other pages having been apparently removed.


Remember the once-happy days of John Ringling North II?  His stetson hat, an audience landmark?  There he is, but no, as originally reported here, that is not him, as I guessed, at the head of the table with staff and fans, but Casey Cainan .  Johnny II could not and would not continue without the animals, and who are we to blame him?  Do I see Harry Kingston at the feast?  Surely I see clown and tell-it-like-it-is blogger (then) Steve Copeland, third up on the right.  Steve was so honest in sharing life on the show --  such as crowd sizes to cell-phonies mucking up the audience -- that we had to have our daily fix.  Truly a new kind of on-the-spot circus reporting -- Nothing like it before or since.  We were lucky!  Now, it all feels like a wonderful little golden age.  In my heart still, Ringling forever.

Monday, August 26, 2019

BIG APPLE CIRCUS IN CHAOS: Debit-Ridden Sarasota Backers Back Out – New Regime Fires West Hyler & Team, Dumps Entire Show ... Circus Flora Lands Artistic Control ... Five Weeks to Opening Night, Website is a Shell

In the beginning ...

Not since the Ringling family wars of the 1940s has there be anything quite like this under a big top.  Fasten your seat belts, kids!

Breathtaking – the brazen stupidity of it all, junking a complete show-in-the-making only six weeks before it is slated to open?   Doubly amazing:  If last year’s Lincoln Center date actually sold almost twice as many tickets as the previous one, as claimed by current CEO Greg Walker, then why in the world would you ‘86 a new show by the same creative team, ready to go on?

For the riveting rush of details informing most of  my observations here, we can thank Spectacle Magazine’s editor Ernest Albrecht.  He has skillfully –- and doggedly, I would assume  --- gathered and assembled the pieces into something far more coherent and complete than has heretofore been made known.  

Founders Paul Binder, right, and Michael Christensen.  All photos from various shows over the years.    

Sold or rented to?

There is a tangle of players here to sort through, so I may confuse us all.  One thing seems clear: Big Top Works, an arm (now in a sling) of Sarasota-based Compass Partners, LLC, which bought the circus out of bankruptcy, ran out of money.  Compass called a halt to the ride.  At the outset, Compass  had given  operational control of the circus  to one of its  own,  retired spinal surgeon Neil Kahanovitz .   The doctor’s  five-year stint in pre-med days working for Clyde  Beatty Circus in a trapeze act, made for good press copy. 

The first opus Kahanovitz produced, from reviews I have read, appeared to have been good enough, if not great enough.   It only took Big Apple’s being back in business for the press to hail Kahanovitz as “the man who saved the circus.”   Apparently, he did not.  Anthony Mason may have to retract some of his chirping on CBS as veiled spin-master for the show.  The Wall Street Journal may wish to reconsider how to cover circus more probingly.  

The doctor came.  The doctor went.

Circus King for a season:  Neil Kahanovitz, crowned by the media for saving the circus,  was dethroned without notice. 

Faced with deepening debts, after pulling the money plug on Kahanovitz, though evidently not letting him go, Compass proceeded to engage the services of Remarkable Entertainment, described by  Albrecht,  as  “a managing operator of the Big Apple Circus”   Albrecht writes that they “replaced Kahanovitz  and his investors who had fallen into serious debt.” Presumably, Compass still owns BAC.  RE's CEO is Greg Walker, who continues as CEO of Big Apple.   In fact, he has claimed to have been at the helm since last summer.   But back then, Kahanovitz was still granting interviews, ostensibly in charge, when he talked up plans for a national indoor tour. The tour was aborted before it began.  Whomever pushed the idea onto investors, Kahanovitz and/or Walker, displayed epic child-like naivete. 

 Who are the new operators?

One of Remarkable’s investors is  Randy Weinter, dubbed by The New York Times “the leading impresario of nontraditional theater.”  Wall Street Journal described him “the mad genius of night life."  Big Apple Circus needs a mad genius of any life.

Wrote Albrecht, "Kahanovitz financiers walked away and left him personally exposed financially." Into the breech jumped Remarkable, “making it a powerful force in the scheme of things financial and potentially creative.”

Only at Lincoln Center

By the time Hyler was notified  by telephone of his having been removed along with his entire creative staff,  they had been at work on the new show for almost a year.  Sets were built, costumes designed.  (Have you a feeling that we are in the Twilight Zone of the big tops?).  Most of the acts were also given the boot. Three of them,  reported the New York Post, as I previously covered here,  have filed lawsuits, each claiming to be owned $200,000 for five weeks of work they had signed onto.  

The Post’s glancing notice may strike New Yorkers as a first alert:  This big top was not saved, and is still in serious trouble.   Not the kind of news you want when you are about to premiere whatever it is you can throw together in the next five weeks.   They have announced that they will not tour beyond Lincoln Center. Something about people in other cities not having the money to pay the high ticket prices necessary to keep the kitty in black ink.

Is this understudy ready for prime time?

In to fill the performance void left by Hyler and company, come long-time Circus Flora movers and shakers.  Flora’s Jack Marsh will produce, while his mother,  Cecil McKinnon,  will provide artistic guidance.  She has scripted and directed Flora shows for many years.

On it's website, the group describes itself,  "A theatre company specializing in one-ring circus production." 

I have never seen Flora, which does annual summer shows in St. Louis.  I have heard and read good things about the company, such that, in my mind, it holds an honorable position as a very good mid-level circus with a more hometown feel, offering some very good acts, albeit heavily entwined in story lines.  McKinon favors more theater than ever did Paul and Mike. (Albrecht reviews the current show in the same issue, linked below.) I doubt Flora ever came close to putting out the kind of world class circus action that Paul and Mike did in their best seasons.  And I suspect that New Yorkers, given reason to question yet another regime change so fast, may not be so willing to give the show an easy pass — especially if it comes to town with too much dialogue and not enough get-to-the-point muscle.  New Yorkers have all the theater they need, all around them.

The Big Apple Circus website is a virtual shell.  Not a single photo or story appears.  Not a single act is named   A haunting symbol of yet another big top teetering on the edge.   

Dare I ask, will the show even go on? 

Paul Binder, around the time he announced his retirement, circa 2008.

Link to Spectacle:
Once there, look to the right and click onto FYI.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Beleaguered Buffoons Win Affection, Respect in Touching McDonald's Ad ... Remember When Kids Loved Clowns?

Here comes, from London Town, a sunny break from all the snickering negativity about circus clowns. And what a relief from our long, dreary sludge through a dark tunnel of media indifference and veiled hostility.   

Thanks to UK blogger-writer Douglas McPherson for the link.  "I wondered if they're showing this circusy McDonald's ad in your area." No, Sir Douglas, not so far.  And I can't avoid the never-ending barrage of advertising and drug pushing.

The McDonald's ad, first posted on YouTube in 2015, stars the great Russian clown, Popov.  His aging image inspires in me memories of my trip to the Soviet Union in 1979,  when I saw some of the most gifted jesters on earth. I beheld the silently riveting Karandash at Moscow's New Circus. Elsewhere, inventive joeys who filled the rings memorably.

The special thing about this ad, which is credited to Leo's Think Tank Ad Agency, is that if feels more like a warm and loving tribute.  It is remarkably composed:  Sensitive, affectionate, musically moving -- you'll even see a costumed horse in the background.Good grief, a performing horse?  How daring!

Why have I not seen this?  Let me have some fun going paranoid:  Might McDonald's fear retribution from any number of viciously antagonistic big top haters?   Might PETA hold vetting rights, stateside?  In fact, had the burger giant decided the ad would backfire here?

Okay, just take a look for yourself, and tell me if this does not come close to something very special. .

I wish McDonald's would do a one-hour tribute to what we've lost under our vanishing big tops, using the same talent to script, score and produce it: I doubt you'll see the likes of this on Pledge Break Society. 

It's okay to shed some tears.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

BIG APPLE CIRCUS SLAMMED IN LAWSUIT: Three Performers Each Claim $200,000 for Botched Tour ... Details Point to Reckless Mismanagement

From Showbiz David –  Biz Buzz Division

Adam Kuchler, Mark Gindick and ringmaster Stephanie Monseu, photo from the New York Post. 

How Much Do Circus Performers Really Make?

OKAY, FIRST OF ALL, to prepare you for my headline issue, what do you suppose the average circus performer makes in this country?  I would have guessed  between $20,000 and $40,000- $50,000 a year — maybe the rare ones up to 80, 90 grand.  Ringling may have once gone that high for the likes of a Bello Nock, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Barry Lubin was getting over a hundred grand from Paul Binder for his delightful Grandma cameos.  

I did a little goggling, and settled on the figures supplied by Salary.Com, looking at Cirque du Soleil, which I imagine pays more than any other still-in-biz big top, anywhere in the world. To quote:

"Cirque Du Soleil Inc in the United States  is $56,769 {average] as of July 30, 2019, but the range typically falls between $46,782 and $69,313."
Okay, onto the Big Question: Why did the new Big Apple Circus owners offer three performers $200,000 each for five months of work in the so-called indoor unit, the one that never made it off the ground? And we are not talking Monte Carlo Showstoppers.   We are talking two clowns – Adam Kuchler and Mark Gindick --- and last season’s ringmaster, Stephanie Monseu.

Tour was aborted five days before it was slated to go on, "low ticket sales" the cause.

How do I know this?  Because the New York Post reported last Saturday on a lawsuit filed by the three plaintiffs  in the  Manhattan Supreme Court. Plaintiffs allege they have signed contracts, that they were let go without compensation, thus having to find alternative bookings for 20 weeks of work lost.  I doubt they could have landed such loot elsewhere.   (You may recall another lawsuit against Big Apple Circus, reported here, by two parties claiming they were promised upper-management positions, and then pushed aside and out the tent, without compensation).  Do I spot a trend here?  I have nibbled around the edges of what feels like cloudy ethics in play, to post it politely

 Who is Really in Charge?

The two-hundred-grand figure alone tells me that this show is being run by amateurs. But then, if this Sarasota-funded outfit really doubled its tickets sales at Lincoln Center last season, as heretofore claimed by current CEO,  Gregg Walker (over those of the first season out), that points to a brilliant mind at work.  Whose mind?  The same mind  at work now?  Which brings me back to the subject of Neil Kravnazh --  the retired spinal surgeon to the Supremes (of the court),  accoladed for having “saved” the circus.  Whatever happened to Kravnazh, who was generally profiled as the man very much in charge of every aspect of BAC.    According to Walker, he, Walker, has been at the helm since last summer.  But the doctor was still being quoted in news reports about the circus as late as this past March. Did somebody fail to inform him that he was no longer CEO?   And why?  If another person was behind the soaring ticket sales, Walker seems the likely one, I can see that marketing genius grabbing the power away from the doctor. My best guess.   You realize, of course, the soaring sales were talked up by Walker, but, to my knowledge, not independently confirmed.


END RINGERS:   Barnum is back in fresh print, credit two books, one just out, the other ten years ago..  Barnum: An American Life, is drawing respectable though not glowing notices, while, The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum drew raves when it was released in 2009.  I'd like to read it ...  Public respect for circus plunges: Just look and listen around, rather shocking.  Ringling’s exit was received with a collective shrug, the public and media sighing, sad, but, yes, it was about time.  Those poor animals.  Circus is a thing of the past. ... Comments at the end of circus articles, one after another, echoing the same anti-circus animals, even clowns, tone: It’s about time! ... The same ill-wishers may not be so happy if race tracks are shut down, and if owning pets becomes the next big PETA-pronounced evil.  As they say, be careful what you wish for.

This is 1956, not 2017

IN THE CLASSROOM, ALL IS WELL: Argues noted academic author Janet Davis, having penned an op-ed piece for the Wash Post, chirping that we are actually living in a very good time for the circus.  Arguing we lived through the same emotional frame back in 1956.  Really?  Back then, the public wept over the demise of the Ringling big top. Newspapers wept.  Editorial cartoons wept.  All of them to my knowledge.  Back then, the public en masse flocked to big tops, GUILT-FREE, to enjoy performing animals and slightly, lovable, eccentric (okay, devious) clown characters, along with the thrillers.  And back then, shows like Ringling-Barnum and Beatty-Cole did not fade into history books, but rebounded for another fifty seasons.  And what have we to support the Davis doctrine:  She cites two shows as examples of a still-thriving big top scene:  Circus Flora and Cullpepper Merriweahter ("still going strong").  Lame.  I’m canceling your course, prof.  Think I’ll enroll in Gender Detection Studies.  I hear the actively dating young are lining up to grab that one.

Many thanks to Barry Lipton for the New York Post link.