Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Showbiz David's Ringling Musical to be Published ...

Pleased to announce that I have signed with BearManor Media for the publication of:

Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical.

More later!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Taking my Canon for a Walk on the Street Where I Cautiously Live ...

LATE BREAKING AS I GO TO POST:  Helicopters are rumbling over head.  Last night, CVS here on Piedmont Avenue, which had been boarded tightly up, was broken into and emptied out. Don't tell me these hoodlums and thugs aren't professionals.  Small stores on the Avenue, some seen here,  are also now boarded up.


Here are photos taken by a camera I have fallen back in love with --- my 10-year-old Canon SD780 IS, which I took to China in 2010. Last Saturday morning, I  walked up and down Piedmont Avenue, to snap images of the devastating impact of Corona on a number of small businesses, the "mom and pop" shops that give the Avenue rich personalized color and culture.

The most crushing blow of all, the closing of Issues, owned by two lovely people, Joe, and Noella.   They stocked magazines and books from all over the world.  And the customer base was, surprisingly, predominately younger.

Unable to get any loans to carry on, Noella, seen here, issued a touching farewell on their Facebook page:   "We never wanted to make this announcement. We wanted ISSUES to be a special place in the community forever. We poured our hearts and our souls into ISSUES and Oakland for thirteen years and it was our baby. Again, we are devastated and heartbroken. Thank you for making these years so amazing for us. We never could have done this without all of you. Please take care.With all our hearts, Noella & Joe"

I counted around six to 8  shops on the Avenue that appear to be either closed or on the verge of it

Only a block  down from Issues, Gaylord's now stands empty, too.  It came out of the early 1970s, fostering a funky youthful atmosphere, very laid back.  You'd order at the register, and you could hang out there for hours. Local paintings on the walls, excellent salads and sandwiches. I never thought this place would go dark. 

I went to the Piedmont Grocery over the weekend, the first time in around 10 weeks, just to get fresh Salmon.

At Pete's Coffee. People are very good about honoring each other's six feet.  Virtually everyone wears a mask.

Remember newspapers, and how they once fought for space in the racks?  We are getting closer to  the cold, alienating intersection at MacArthur Boulevard.  

And there it is, the long winding boulevard whose name conjures up the worst images of Oakland.  This is where the wonderful  neighborly look and feel of Piedmont Avenue abruptly ends. Cross the street, and that world is gone.

I hope he's not gone.  My barbershop, with a note on the door stating "temporarily closed". A good sign -- hold that thought, I tell myself.  Recently out of desperation, I raised a pair of scissors to my face in the mirror, and was able to clip away some of the hair around my ears.  I am thinking of asking Van, assuming he returns, to give me a very quick two or three minutes in the chair, just for the essentials, at full price.

Lonely settled morning.  I know that man with the dog, the latter a delight when he wears his little bright red vest and skips on air. And here they are, closeup.

We talked about the closing of Gaylord's.  He said that it seemed to be going downhill the last couple of years, and thinks that we may witness more closings. He is  like many people you pass over the years, to whom you never quite come to introducing yourself.

A picture before and after all viruses

Back to camera talk

Enamored of the sharper detail from my first iPhone, purchased four years ago, I saw no need to carry the Canon with me, hastily letting go of it.

But of  late, four years after I deserted it, I have begun wondering if a camera can be so overloaded with "pixels" as to create impressive images that exceed in detail what the eye actually sees?  That is, if they produce their own dazzling creations, ever more microscopic, rather than honest reproductions? Are the images produced by my Canon more impressionistic?  Or might they also be closer to the truth?  Looking back through the scrapbooks I keep, I marvel at the photos it had produced for me, such as those in China.

Take a close look at the photo, above, of a painting by my grandfather, Carl August Heliodor Hammarstrom, snapped by my Canon.   Notice the faint white streaks above the sun drifting left and upwards? I snapped the same picture on my iPhone SE, which makes the streak more distinctly pronounced, and the sun a little brighter, something I do not see when I stand before the actual painting on the wall. 

And thus, I can say with reason that what I considered might be driven by my sentimental loyalty to things that last and work well, is more than that. And I am left with a re-found respect for this little camera.  How could I disrespect a camera that so accurately captures the subtleties of my grandfather's brush? It feels good to be back with an old friend in my hand.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lights Out for Ageless Delights? In the Shadows of Death, Two Billionaire Ex-Circus Kings Are Stirring to Reclaim Thrones

Was there ever a season in world history as starved for live entertainment as ours? Corona, the villain whose ultimate destruction is yet to be fully known, has toppled big tops far and wide. Almost daily, down the Covington Chute come links to yet more news of more companies going into limbo.   One of the latest is Oregon-based Wenatchee Youth Circus, founded by Paul Pugh. For the first time in its sixty eight years, the show will not go on.

Even Blondie and Dogwood have finally caught up with the sheltered-in crowd.

From tiny to towering, they are all shut down, and we all know why, for we too have been  shut down.  And now we are venturing back into a risky new world, tired of putting our lives on hold, tired of the conflicting dictates of mixed voices.

A few flickering candles keep a few rings alive in video-land. The Big Kid Circus, run by a Bulgarian couple, gives off a wonderful buzz, the action down to earth, its warm and winning ringmistress, Brit-born Olympia —  she of a circus family going back many generations — shining with simple down-home enthusiasm. Now under lock-down, Big Kid’s  current offering, Cirque de Cuba, is performing online. Some 25 Cubans charmingly dominate a cast of 35, whipping up a snappy pulse with cha-cha dancing and lively spirits. How gracefully they mix with zippy old-fashioned circus fun  Not sure about admission charges. I’d pay a reasonable price to see the show here in my Corona cave.  

Giants can tumble, too.  The plight of Cirque du Sloeil, a victim of vanishing fortunes, offers staggering evidence of incredibly reckless over-expansion.  Many years in the making. Circus du Soleil is so much in debt (nearly a billion) as to make me wonder if they follow the U.S.national debt model for endless borrowing — or printing money on demand.  After repeated bail-outs from beguiled investors in exotic locations, the company now faces possible bankruptcy protection.  95% of nearly 5,000 employees were laid off.  Payments to  “dozens of show creations” were stopped.  Gabriel Dube-Dupuis, a creative director for 23 years, told the New York Times that they owe him “tens of thousands of dollars.

Moody's gave Cirque a credit rating of near junk status.

To their rescue, maybe,  comes the founder himself, Cirque King Guy Lalibterte,  who told Radio Canada that he wants to buy back the show, that he has investors lined up. He spoke of a “relaunch,” without giving specifics.   “We think we’re able to bring back the sacred fire in there.”  The Canadian government is on his side, hoping the company can re-anchor in Quebec.

Can he do it?  His biggest challenge may be a waning customer base suffering from Cirque fatigue. Meaning too much boring nonsense  (lame allusions to theater) and not enough great action (as in great circus)  Critics of the show complained to a New York Times reporter of its ground-breaking novelties having fallen prey to “facile story lines and kitsch spectacle, like acrobats in frog costumes.”  That is an understatement.  I have posted enough on the subject.           

Fate may be setting the stage for an even more spectacular comeback, and one more viable, for billionaire Kenneth Feld, who shut down Ringling  in 2017, is now planning to bring it back, albeit in a new form.  He projected a debut in late 2020, all of this in his own words to Spectacle Magazine on-line.  Are we to believe him?  I have never known of so momentous an announcement meeting with such wide-spread silence.  I can’t find a single other item out there drawing on or matching the Spectacle interview, not even on the CFA website’s running list of news topics.

Kenneth Feld may turn out to have picked the perfect time for a Ringling renaissance. By then, we may have a vaccine.  And by then, Americans will be so starved for live entertainment – and circus is as live as it gets — that they might storm the ticket counters to gratefully re-embrace (stand aside, PETA) circus as as once they did. The Feld of  Felds has a cracking good chance to bring off possibly the greatest comeback coup in circus — heck, in entertainment – history.  Best of all, he does not rely on the Federal Reserve for funding.  He will need to focus on what has given circus its timeless appeal. 

Memo to Montreal, in good faith and high regards, to the Cirque King:  Frog costumes for acrobats? A rest, maybe?  Masks? Lock them up. Better yet, throw them away. You might be forced to discover in yourself yet more creativity — and fire.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Circus Impossible: Summers Go Dark .... Parades Disband ... The Show Does Not Go On .... Death Stalks Vacant Midways .... Elsewhere, Art Concello Stirs Again ...

Once upon a glorious time in America, long long ago

And now ....

Hello Circus Vargas Friends! 
We hope this message finds you safe and above all healthy!
We wish everyone the best of health. Please stay safe. Stay home,  and we look forward to seeing you all happy & healthy under the big top in the very near future!

Welcome to –  for now -- the new normal.  To more of the above.  Welcome to more bad news, as if there was anything more to report. 

Circuses were already, pre-Corona, struggling, nearly gasping for each ticket sold,  each fragile new date gotten through.  Struggling to make “nut” before going nuts.  No doubt, what is a labor of love for people in various other arts who never make a dime (acting in community theater, for one), has already become a new old normal for circus folk.   Even the mighty Cirque du Soleil, a victim of its own insane grow-grow-grow mania, is now skirting the un-pretty edges of bankruptcy protection talk.

If there is to be an exception, it may have to be the Big Apple Circus, whose website contains but  this one meager message:

Big Apple Circus is not currently performing
due to COVID-19 safety and assembly precautions.

Have they already thrown in the towel?  On the surface of things, the show fostered a half-believable success at Lincoln Center  over the winter.  Come the new fall, when Corona may return, and with greater force, how can Big Apple talk enough New Yorkers into dawning masks and spatially crowding themselves, six feet apart, into a small and confining tent?

Salvation in the Great Outdoors?

 Circus Bella in an Oakland park

Over summer grass under a sky of natural blue, the circus will most likely return.  Easier to space patrons safely apart, easier to give them a more healthy-feeling atmosphere.  I have long argued for Big Apple letting go of Lincoln Center, and humbling itself back to the real city parks. Like Prospect.

The circus World Museum, ideally suited to present an outdoor show, yet is not going to be presenting any kind of a show at all, not this June.  Cancelled.  A bit in haste?   No, they are up against what all sporting events are up against: Having to severely limit the number of customers.  But sports teams can simultaneously broadcast on TV, and maybe break even until Corona is conquered. 

If it is true that a circus can actually not go broke by averaging a quarter of a house (Circus Vargas, maybe Carson & Barnes fit this notion), well then, they won't have to change a thing!  And by having to suppress attendance in publicity (Hurry! Hurry! Buy Now! Seats limited to a precious few!),  they might make themselves an in-demand attraction.

Am I dreaming? Will they even come back, ever?  No Baraboo parade.  No circus in June.  No Smirkus, either.  Virtually all the big and little tops are rolled up in canvas that may never be unrolled.

Goodbye and Thank You, Chuck Burnes

Death visits us too,  from Don Covington:  Gone now is long-time Circus Report columnist, one time Ringling clown, Chuck Burnes, who passed away on April 20 at the age of 89.  Chuck was a genuinely nice fellow who spent a lifetime luckily employed in many facets of show business –  co-manager of the Palace Theater, producer of stage shows for Disneyland, Great America, and Knotts’s Berry Farm, among others.  He appeared on television shows, toured around the world with Disney on Parade, and only ever once held a “normal job,” as lovingly recalled  by one of his two sons, Chip, and then for only a year and a half.

Chuck met his wife, Bambi under the big top, when she was a Ringling dancer and aerialist. Many years later, I got to meet them for dinner at a landmark eatery in Hollywood, where we chatted about their years with the Big Show.  They were there when the big tents folded for the last time.  And during work on my book,  Big Top Boss, they had me over to meet with a group of local circus fans and talk about its subject, John Ringling North.  Such good company.   

Reenter Art Concello's Greatest Show on Earth

Another sad passing is that of Mort Gamble, right, on January 29, co-author of a promising book in the works on Arthur Concello. He and co-author Maureen Brunsdale, herself a natural born  mover and shaker who heads up the impressively expanding Illinois State University circus archives and collections, were over half way through their manuscript at the time of Mort’s passing.  Maureen will continue on and see it through to publication. And in so doing, she  will be helping to restore and keep alive one of the most remarkable sagas in American circus management history. Concello, as you in-the-know know, was a virtual king behind the throne of John Ringling North, the two composing a Barnum & Bailey combo.  North, the unstinting showman of lavish and eclectic spectacle and world class acts; Art,  the nuts and bolts genius who made it all work -- and then some.

After the big top fell, in 1956, it was the flyer-turned-manager who single-handedly masterminded a long and tricky transition from big tops to hard tops.   A fact shamefully overlooked in too many so-called history books.  Even from Circus World Museum, in their latest newsletter, in which they pay tribute to Irvin Feld, a major donor, they write, “Feld brought the circus into indoor arenas.” No, he did not. 

Maureen has grown to marvel over the colorful Mr. Concello. “He was brilliant and wily, sagacious and tenacious, loyal and kind – in other words, complex! The cast of characters with whom he worked are an equally curious lot.” Boy, were they ever.

 From center ring to front office, where he became known as "Little Cesar"

Now, on her own, Maureen has typed her way up to and  through Art’s sudden resignation at the end of 1953, when he and North had a falling out over Art’s wanting to cut the show down in size.  He had already been experimenting with indoor dates.  The writing was on the wall.

“In 1950 alone, he was involved with bringing a carnival ride over to the US (the Rotor), buying then building a dog racing track in Havana, Cuba, creating the trailer park near the RBBB winter quarters, and working hard with Paramount men to bring the Greatest Show on Earth to life on the big screen.”

And what a perfect way to end this rather bleak posting. Thank you Art, for the part you played in that great great movie.  The more that things darken in the present. the more I thank God that at least we - and the world that comes after us – have and can find joy in the extraordinary visual evidence of how truly great the American circus was in its heyday.

In the meantime, ring-side seating, sir, for a party of  one ... or two? – and,  would that be with or without masks?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

“No Human Contact Required” ... A Darkening Media Circus Shadows Us All

I ask myself: Were I still in the workplace, how would I cope?  I would be horrified. I would be shaken to the core, humbled — wondering if I too would lose my job, and then how would I make my way through a decimated landscape?  I think of all the people suddenly without a pay check,  especially those with children.

This more intimate fear came to me from an aerial view on the nightly news of long long, evenly spaced lines in Dallas – well dressed people waiting patiently for hours for a box of food — a box of food — bringing dry tears to my eyes.  Millions of proud, hard-working Ameriacans thrown into chaos and disarray. 

Perhaps the one single factor that joins the nation is a shared preoccupation with “the curve.” When will it really flatten and stay flat?  And when will it slide down?  What I see is a line near a crest, stubbornly refusing to cooperate.

I am defaulting into food by delivery.  Safeway came yesterday morning.  And for lunch, I finally tried Door Dash, and ordered a Turkey meal from Boston Market.  Delivery a clean efficient pleasure.

Nobody knows how long it will take for this lonely plague to pass,  or how long it may take for the nation to fully recover. (The roaring twenties followed the 19l8 Spanish flu epidemic)  The most promising  news is that scientists are starting to find that far more people than originally assumed have already had the virus. This means, thus, that a much much smaller percent of those who die from Corona may only equal the annual flu rate, at around 0.1%.  

But then, the media hysteria can’t let go, (gleefully?) reporting that Corona will likely return come fall, and with greater vengeance.  Can you see them licking their chops over every new dark detail spelling more of the same?  ABC’s David Muir, who has always struck me if to be  riding a galloping horse while breathlessly delivering the news, must be deliriously charged.

Strangely, right and left wing are joining forces, louder and louder, behind one issue: We won’t take it anymore!  Even here, in blue blue Oakland, I see  people out on the sidewalks not wearing the now mandated mask.  Particularly dog owners and their dogs.  Can you blame anyone for wanting to get back to normal and to work?  I can’t.  They, too, must be respected.

To better understand a degree of the fear driving the anger, yesterday while walking to Piedmont Grocery, which I skipped -- the lines too long -- I ambled up the avenue, crossed the street to pass a  comforting landmark founded in the 1970s, Gaylord’s,  A funky coffee house that caters to students and creative types, at easy prices.  I spent many nights there in younger years, either with pen and paper or laptop.  Hold on ...

Ominously Dark. Ominously Empty.  All the furniture gone. The inside, a gloomy shell of a great  place thriving only weeks ago.  It can’t be.  This can’t have happened!  Not a single sign in the window.  The walls blank.  Nothing there. For a time, they had been offering front of the store take out.  I called their number, and got a recording --- the voice of the owner, I assumed:
Gaylord's has closed it doors. Thanks to everyone who has walked through the doors throughout the years.

These are the kind of small businesses having a hell of a time getting some of the money congress passed with fanfare, supposedly to help  them through.. Remember Mom & Pop, you DC scoundrels?  Too much, if not most, of your fake compassion ended up, in stead, in the coffers of regional and national chains.  So am I to take it that  “small” means anybody who is not a Facebook or a Google? 
Yes, I can better understand — and appreciate —  the rising anger of Americans aching for the status quo, demanding an end to shelter-in.  The lives of millions are at stake.  I now have a better idea of how it feels  to be regulated into a mind set of caution and restraint, and how it it can turn you afraid of your own shadow. How it might be under a totally different form of government. Have they gone to far? Or am I?

The still-functioning Piedmont Café, years ago good an old-fashioned American restaurant with wood booths, still —  without the wood separators —   offers the same sizzling fare --- bacon and eggs and toast leading the parade. Ironically, it’s been owned for many years by a lovely group of Vietnamese.  Sunday mornings can rock with crowds lined up for a sit down at this non-glamorous  but cozy space.  It bubbles.  And they are still hanging on, it would appear, for take out.  I went in this morning to take out a large croissant, and I handed the woman a bigger bill to keep, telling her how glad I was they were still there.  Her smile was bigger than her mask.

The loss of Gaylord's is a blow to Piedmont avenue, as would be the loss of the Piedmont Café and so many other homed-grown stores — another  blow to the binding social fabric of locally owned, served, understood, affirmed.   

No human contact required.

Monday, April 13, 2020

When a Broadway "Revival" Trashes the Revived: Oklahoma is Now Character-Revision Friendly to ADA, LGBTQ ... Small Crowds Cheer, the Masses Resist ...

Update, 5.28.30  The impression I lent of the 1998 Royal National Theater production of Oklahoma being true to the original 1943 stage show is somewhat misleading. Scroll to the end of this post for more. 

 Original cast, 1943

Along the Great White Way,  where directors love to re-conceive, they are at it again, this time messing around with the 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!, which revolutionized musical theatre scripting and scoring.

But whether Dick and Oscar would delight in the extreme PC-driven casting, not just seen in last year’s revival of Oklahoma! at New York‘s Circle in the Square Theatre, but in other productions out there as well, is another matter.  To read the dazzling reviews for what transpired at Circle in the Square is to imagine a blockbuster darling charmed by full houses and settled in for a good long run. Alas, the Curly and Laurie trick did not last a year, and apparently limped into closing night. Boffo biz out of the gate gradually slumped into checkered patronage.   
In a radical restaging by director Daniel Fish, the musical had been stripped down to the bare  “essentials," so noted the experts, shrinking the ballet to a bald dancer skittering like a horse across the stage;  toughening down the characters into a darker world of bizarre depth.  No chorus, little dancing, and a Jud Fry whose death is not an accident at the hands of of his own knife, but of the gun he gives Curly as a wedding gift – which backfires.  All of which culminates in a “quivering, feel-bad ending, and the tears,” in the words of The Atlantic’s reviewer Todd Purdum.

   Circle in the Square Theater, production, 2019

This one got the critics in neon, but it did not get the box office in gold for very long.  In six months the show was doing only so-so, and would close in January after 9 months on the boards – some thought it should have closed sooner.  It lost money and is now headed for the road, where the producers hope to recoup their loses. 

In his largely laudatory notice,  Purdum nonetheless observed a number of  “smiling faces”seen in the seats who were missing after intermission.  And yet, more “repelled” attendees walking out during the second half.

There is, to be sure, a small and growing segment of the ticket buying public that hungers for a more timely realism in step with changing sensibilities – a realism that shuns traditional marriage and now even the two genders.  They will not be ignored, and at the annual Tony Awards, where TV ratings continue to fall, their voices are echoed by Tony medalists taking time to lecture — or so I’ve heard.  Close by in the shadows, awaiting there turn, is  the LGBTQ crowd.  They fared far better in another more radical staging of Oklahoma!, in 2018, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, of all placdes. Held in Ashland (how apt a word), in that groveling departure championed by director Bill Rauch,  Curly and Laurey were lesbians, Aunt Eller a  transsexual; Will Parker and Ado Annie a gay couple,  while peddler Ali Hakim filled out the bisexual slot. Anybody out there still not accounted for?  Yes, apparently the powers at Happy Talk sanctioned this travesty. Have they no shame?

From the 1955 film: Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae
The dream ballet.

In a scathing review of the Daniel Fish staging, attack dog Rex Reed began, “It had to happen. The miserable fools who are hell bent on changing the theatre world by destroying timeless classics in a misguided effort to make them relevant, trendy, and politically correct (whatever that means) finally got around to screwing up Oklahoma!

Reed blasted Fish for cheapening and vulgarizing the cowboy classic, none too impressed by such glaring incongruities as “the now handicapped Ado-Annie [who]  belts ‘I Can’t Say No’ in a wheelchair as a nod to disabled performers everywhere.” Another Reed rant: “Why is the most dramatic scene, when Curly encounters Jud in the smokehouse, staged in a complete blackout?” 

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization in recent years has condoned if not encouraged such extreme make-overs — do you smell the sound of money?--  whatever can get the works of Dick and Oscar back on a marquee, whatever it takes to keep their names alive and the royalties rolling in — to the point of ignoble denigration. The ill-fated 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song (with a totally new book by David Henry Hwang pushing an anti-Communist agenda), left the critics hissing, and was history in five withering months. Not so, South Pacific, which, true to the original libretto — how revolutionary! —  enjoyed a two year run in revival. I saw it twice and would have gone again had I the chance.  Will they ever learn?

 Hugh Jackman in the London production, 1998
For my money, a movie of the 1998 London production of Oklahoma! at the Royal National Theatre, staring Hugh Jackman, is  by far the best staging I have ever seen of the show.  Credit director Trevor Nunn, who dug deeper into the script, but stayed a sane, level course. 

On the road, can Fish’s Oklahoma! make up for losses on Broadway?  It should do well in blue cities.  There are plenty of ticket buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area who might lap up its pandering to their social politics.  Our California mayor’s  wife is not “the first lady” but the “first partner.”  And that special person in your home, once known as wife or husband, soul mate, best friend, or dearly beloved  — is now, in the words of Bay Area-based doctor, Jen Gunter, op-editing for The New York Times,  “household sex partner.”  Batteries included?

In wrapping his review, Purdum asks,  “So how is Oklahoma! doing as it embarks on its quarter century as the model American musical?... Just fine.”

Evidently, for  Mr. Purdum,”just fine” does not include ticket sales (aka: populist appeal).  In order to lure profit-raising mobs to the  windows,  the producers may need tons more “first partners” and “household sex partners.”

Oh, what a beautiful orgy.


UPDATE:  5.28.2020:  My lending the impression that the 1998 British version by Trevor Nunn of Oklahoma! followed the original script with fidelity was not exactly right. I had based this on the misleading comments of the late Mary Rodgers and the Rodgers and Hammerstein office, offered in the Extras that came with the DVD. 

Turns out, according to an in-depth review of the production by John Heilpern in  the New York Observer,  that director Trevor Nunn  "added dialogue" from the original source, Green Grow the Lilacs, upon which Oscar Hammerstein II had adapted his libretto.  I had wondered why the film of the show is so long -- a good half hour longer than the 1943 production. So, out of curiosity,  I followed the script in book form, of the original 1943 production, as I listened to the movie of the Nunn staging. Virtually impossible at times. There are many revisions (or possibly new lines), some of them giving more attention to the character and menace of Jud Fry. In fact, Curly obsesses over him with Aunt Eller earlier in the Nunn staging,  before rather the after the song Kansas City.  Lines or sections of dialogue have ether been re-positioned or cut. Someday, somebody might make this a major project.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Face Masks ... Hit Show Grocery Stores ... Rotten Bananas in Demand ... My Fun House Gets a Reboot ... Ringling's Return Gets Ignored ...

Now I’m starting to feel guilty even going out for a walk. I’ve been using a turtle neck for a make-do face mask, I’d hate to be too tightly wrapped in those hospital things, fearing no escape. 

I’ll go to a nearby 7-11 to get the Saturday Wall Street Journal and grab some bananas  — if they have any. Yesterday, I wanted to buy all four left, a sorry lot, and got them for only a buck. No wonder;  By the time home, one had already turned thoroughly rotten on me.  Going to the Piedmont Grocery, the lines are so long, grocery shopping is the new waiting in line for tickets to Hamilton.

T. Paper is not an issue with me.  My nephew blames the national stamped on  “rear end paranoia.”  I predict a Broadway musical.

Inside, luckily I have things to do.  Such as renewing work on my model fun house, now that, at last, I’ve secured the Walking Charlie figurines I need for the moving platform above Laughing Sal

This project was begun  nearly two years ago.  It took about a year alone to find someone to create  Sal.  In desperation, I turned to working with and from a plastic figurine, to try shaping her into Sal.  You can see the barbaric surgery I subjected her to for arm repositioning.  And then I pasted a photo copy of the real Sal's face on her face.  Impressive?

 A nice lady in San Jose, doll house and miniatures enthusiast Ruth Heisch, had been following my quest, now and then e-mailing to see how I was doing.  And when she saw this monstrosity, out of pity or respect, she offered to dress Sal herself.  Bingo!  There was the magic breakthrough! Ruth gave Sal her hairdo and red shoes as well.

Yes, if the arms look short, it was NOT my surgery that did it.   (And, please, don't report me to the AMA)  The wavy card-stock you see: over it rides a pin attached to Sal, so that as the pin goes up and down, Sal moves forward and backward.  My nephew proclaimed it an "invention."

It took about another year to find somebody to make the Walking Charlies.  In this case, from Japan, puppeteer artist Nao Kobayashi. I had to keep pressing and pushing her through draft images to make them thinner – before sending them to an oven to bake.  I am pleased with the result, pleased enough, even though her Charlies are not  exactly as gaunt and lean as the real ones.  Below, I'm placing small thin platforms under their shoes, to make it easier to move them into place on the round turntable before securing.

While Sal rocks in half-deimented laughter back and forth, calmly above, the Charlies will move in a slow circle of  austere propriety. I never thought about this contrast in character until now.

And then there is  the Greatest Show on Earth.  Remember?  Although Kenneth Feld made known his plans to revitalize the show, you  will not learn a thing about it if you read  the insufferably elitist PC perfect Circus Talk, or go to the  CFA website. Not a word from either.

Shame on them both.  With Circus Talk, a house organ for the academic-based circus deconstruction industry, I can understand their revulsion over anything bearing the name  Ringling.  After all, didn’t they and their disdain for real circus  help fuel the campaign to run it off the road?  In a new issue, sent my way, as I am Covington Connected, they cover the flu influenza pandemic  of 1918, of how it affected “showbiz” Every venue is covered, except for circus.   We know that Ringling ended the season a bit early. 

As for the CFA: Knock Knock! Is anybody there? Does anybody care?  What do you think Kenneth Feld is to think when he can’t get even a rise from YOU?


Not only is circus dying, so too, apparently the fan base that would have once cheered such news.

Post script: I went to the 7-ll, and got some fresh bananas!  But no WSJ. Drats. I hope columnist Peggy Noonan, pending Corona test results, was okay.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Cirque du Soleil Near Bankruptcy ... World Circus Day Nixed ... Caballero Stranded in Parking Lot ..

This just in from Don Covington

(Reuters) - Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group is exploring debt restructuring options that include a potential bankruptcy filing, after it was forced to cancel shows because of the coronavirus outbreak, people familiar with the matter said. 

The famed Montreal-based circus company, largely known for its regular shows in Las Vegas venues, had to temporarily lay off most of its staff after social distancing measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus nixed its performances. 

Cirque du Soleil is working with restructuring advisers to address a cash crunch and its roughly $900 million in debt, the sources said on Thursday. 

Creditors are also in talks with advisers as they prepare for possible negotiations with the company, the sources said. 

Cirque du Soleil has not yet decided how to address its strained finances, the sources cautioned, requesting anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. The company declined to comment. 

 Cirque du Soleil’s current woes have been exacerbated by debt taken on to fund a $1.5 billion deal in 2015 that resulted in private equity firm TPG acquiring a majority stake in the company. TPG has enlisted its own restructuring advisers to work through the company’s deteriorating finances, the sources said. The private equity firm declined to comment.

Moody’s Investors Service earlier this month cut Cirque du Soleil’s credit rating deep into junk territory and said there was a “high risk” the company would default on its debt. Canceled shows this year are expected to result in steep financial losses for the company “with limited prospects for a tenable capital structure thereafter,” the ratings firm said in a March 18 note.

In other news down the Covington chute: World Circus Day Cancelled, Circo Caballero Stranded in  a Parking Lot.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Walking the Streets of a Shut-Down Town ... Waiting for the Silence to Lift ....

As quiet out there as an iceberg. So like a Twilight Zone.

    “HAVE A GOOD SIX FEET!” I say to strangers amiably (spatially) passing by, and we exchange fast smiles. Mustn’t linger. It might jump the six feet with malice.  It has a mind of its own, and it can multiple in unexpected ways, we are told — something not so unlike an electronics startup turning itself into a giant of nightmare side affects.  Or the new property managers of the recently-sold apartment building in which I live,  who carry on like programed pre-robotic operatives off a space ship.  

   Have a good six feet – the new have a good day – in case you were taking it to mean something else!

    CONTRARY TO THE DRAMA of enforced isolation, we are not confined  24-7 to in-home prisons.  In fact, any of us are free tp go out for  walks, long as we keep our distance.   Though soon, this respite may be revoked.

    STRANGE: ON THE NEARBY streets of Piedmont, such as above,  which I walked yesterday  — love the contrasting architecture — there are never more than a few people whom I might pass, and it’s hardly any different now.  Maybe the sheltered in are working out between home theaters and drone ports.
    MOST OF LIFE has been ordered to a standstill, church services silenced, even roller coasters hushed   The opposite of when I was a wee thing during WWII, hearing sirens in the night (San Francisco’s fear of Japanese invasions that never arrived). By day, the Big Dipper roller coaster at Playland-at-the-Beach, just across the street, bolted with reckless force, clattering and screeching and  roaring on through the war years, sailors on leave or about to be sent off, and their make-do girlfriends, screaming their heads off in vague fearful abandon, not knowing what lay ahead – if anything.

    MY UNCLE SMITTY  managed the Dipper. My dad, seen here, right, and my uncles by night manned the grips.  In the surging distance across the Great Highway, blew the soft eternal moan of the Pacific Ocean, its incoming waves a never ending reminder of things eternal.  The war years were a boon to Whitney’s great sea side amusement spread.  Laughing Sal at the fun house laughed her woozy  head off, as if stuck in a marathon party.

    PEOPLE STILL WENT about their work, nothing stopped.  My Mom bought some of our groceries at a different store, where the wood shelves were plainer, and she handed the man coupons from a little book.  And after the war was over, I remember standing on a street curb downtown, where a great parade was passing by, and watching my father in his Coast Guard uniform marching proudly in it.  There was a great feeling of victory and relief in the air.

    HAVE A GOOD NETFLIX. Today, we have been ordered inside, and immersed more than ever in the electronics of bogus friendship and video game addiction., movies on demand, almost anything on demand.  Within moments, at your front door.  The United States of Amazon.

Besides which, we may also be spending more time facing each other in the flesh, how novel — driven to restart stalled relations — rekindling a natural caring for each other.  Real friends and real family come through, this I can vouch for.  So many best friends have passed on over time. And yet still, I am lucky.    

    SAID A LITTLE BOY to his mother, a New York psychoanalyst, “Mommy, I like coronavirus because I get to spend time with you.”

Might this kid be so starved for non-analytical affection, that he may one day himself seek the comfort of a paid-friend (psychoanalyst)? Perhaps his own mother, at special family rates?

    MIDWAYS IN MELTDOWN: The circus, remember it?, took yet another blow.  Ringling — planning to reenter sawdust land — “let go” 900 of its 1,200 workforce. Circus du Soleil laid off  95% of its  4000+ employees. This global giant was anyway facing serious set- backs — shows in rehearsal aborted, shows on the road failing to click.  How long before the public tires of what may come to  feel old and dated — the predictable ratio of increasingly fewer great circus acts to the ever more numbing Other Stuff?

    CARSON & BARNES, Circus Vargas, UniverSoul, all folding their tents for an indefinite stand still. Vargas hung in there till the end “Attendance at each performance will be capped at 250 which will allow spectator to maintain ample seating distance, limiting close proximity and contact between members of the audience.” You gotta admire their spirits.

    THE MOST HELLISH thing about this new virus, they tell us, is how devilishly contagions it is. And  when I shop, I have my scarf  over my mouth and nose. And I, though in the older age group at particular risk, yet have not one underlying medical condition. I am blessed with excellent health, and still vaguely afraid like everybody else.

    AND DOWN ON the beaches, here to Miami, carefree younger people who were romping it up in gleeful defiance, now being told the party is over.  They too, are, as it is turning out, at far greater risk than was originally projected.

Have a good new six feet, kids!