Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sunday Morning, Looking Back: Big Top Bits: And Astray we Go!

This first appeared on August 1, 2007

From Russia with Lust: Not a pretty story, not for the Essex, Vermont Circus Smirkus Academy that was. Smirkus a few seasons back hired an ex-Russian ring star Vladimir Avgoustov, 56, to coach its students, and he did more than that, at least with one 7-years-old girl during a 2006 summer camp. She was a student at the Vermont School of Circus Arts, which succeeded the Smirkus Academy. Our ex-Soviet ring star, pleading guilty to sexual assault, will spend at least five years in prison. He could be deported. It happens not just in confession booths.

It Happened on Wallace Bros. Circus many years ago, soon after I had joined on as an “usher”(ho, ho, little did I know about “cherry pie”) and one of the joeys was discovered under the seats between shows having a good time with a young female. (On another day, he virtually invited me under the seats, too; I declined) After his hasty removal from the Wallace lot, I was asked if I would like to replace him in clown alley, and thus was born my short-lived career in greasepaint.

Beggars in Spangles: Those once revered Russian circus icons, so mysterious behind the iron curtain, are not so other-worldly anymore, not in the States where they are finding steadier work. Here they run pony rides between performing. Some show up on America’s Got Talent. Did you see the sad spectacle of the Popovichs, descendants of a famed Russian artist, with dogs that delighted the judges one week, then, back the next with too much “story,” resulting in the same judges, no longer entranced, telling them to stick to the animals and leave the cerebral froth behind. Off they got booted. Cold tip to circus performers: Do your hardest tricks and keep those inner narratives to yourselves. Outside of a Cirque ring, the public still expects a circus act to be -- well, a circus act.

Beyond the big top, your average circus act rarely gets much respect anyway. Television fails to capture the live nature of the brilliant beast. Sure, you can perform in Vegas while your “audience” slobbers around slot machines. The Felds have tried in vain to set up circus retail shops in malls. Like a Christmas tree laying out there on the street after New Years, circus is a one-day-a-year holiday. Been there yesterday; done that for a year. Now, go away. The public wants it fleeting — just like it advertised itself for centuries.

Jack Hunter reminds some of us of a certain age (I plead guilty) of how lucky we were to have seen Ringling-Barnum under glorious canvas. And we were. And, no, kids (and you know who you are), it’s not likely to happen again — unless Cirque’s billionaire big top mogul Guy Laliberte suddenly has an urge to revive the golden age. Only could he bring it off, so send him your wish lists.

Small Is In. Even first-of-may showman John Ringling North II figured this out when he purchased established one-ringer, Kelly-Miller. Now as for those (well, the one of you out there) who laughed over the thought of a Ringling running so small a trick --- consider this: Ringling circus founding genius Al, who to his dying day loved — some claim favored — the one-ring show, would likely delight in his grand nephew’s late-career achievement.

Animals Should Floss, Too. Baraboo’s man for all seasons, Bob Dewel, who once upon a time practiced dentistry for humans, was approached by one local vet seeking Dewel’s help in putting stainless steel crowns on the teeth of cows. And what for? “To prolong their life and milk production.” Since Bob had just set up his chair, he was afraid to curry an unsavory reputation so he turned away the cattle crowd. Crowns for clowns worked better, I assume. You might have made a fortune, doc!

And that’s a cow wrap from Oakland.

[above image: Moscow Circus program magazine, 1967 U.S. tour]


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