Saturday, February 23, 2008

Another Season, Another Chance ..


Circus tents should spring forth in Spring. When early sunshine awakens, so too the ring stars of today and tomorrow and in-between, fresh and rehearsed and ready to take on America ... Kelly-Miller and New Cole, Carson & Barnes and a few others still tour the old fashioned way, spring to fall — although, without the guest roustabouts from south of the border, held up in crippling legislation against the temp work visas they and circuses depend on, the future is in doubt ... Ringling’s trains, pre-Pittsburgh labor strikes (lest we forget), were about this time steaming and whistling up for the long haul to “The Garden.” And a host of dazzling performers from across the ocean were walking through new production numbers out in the Florida sun. John Murray Anderson at the mike, Art Concello somewhere about, John Ringling North slumbering away in his Jomar, or suited up in blue, a gleaming smile of curiosity on his face, to maybe take a look-see at the new acts and parades, especially the costumes. How he loved those Miles White designs... Tourists from sea to shining sea angling for a glimpse of Brunn or Alzana or Berosini, for a taste of the next Greatest Show on Earth ... Artistry from the Old World; Spectacle and innovation from the New.

A touch of Ringling magic has moved to a town called Hugo. Today, if lucky, you might spot John Ringling North II gearing up his staff for the second Kelly-Miller season operated by a real Ringling ... And from an anonymous source comes a prediction that what’s about to depart Hugo would delight the late Cliff Vargas: “All the pieces are there” is a promise that makes me wish I owned my own private jet, so I could swoop down and take in the grand opening on March 15 ... Jim Royal, by the way, who does the Concello thing for North II, before that served a number of seasons as production unit manager for Big Apple. Among the editions he supervised was Picturesque, a show I found quite wonderful (at least 3-1/2 stars wonderful). Jim reflects on the modern era: “It always seemed to me that the themes of the show never overwhelmed the performance. BAC never got too ‘high brow.’ Picturesque had many artistic references that some of our audience members appreciated. For those who didn’t catch them, that didn’t intrude on their enjoyment of the show.” Royal gave the climactic teeterboard Kovgars, who flew fast and last on the bill, the Royal attention they well deserved, heading for the main tent “damn near every show just to catch their act.” Great taste, Jim ...

...The young and the older join forces when spring awakens canvas tents and sends veteran elephants into shrieks of trouping delight. (Okay, I’m trusting John Pugh on that latter claim, for once he told me about his pachyderms trumpeting lyrical over the sight of a lot they hadn’t played on in a while.) We need those young boys and girls with spring-like enthusiasm to guarantee future seasons. And, luckily, they keep getting the bug. He’s only 18-years old and barely out of high school, but contortionist Logan Jacot landed a job on Lewis and Clark, and just close to reporting for spring work, he got detained in a car accident that broke his leg in three places and collapsed a lung. This ambitious young trouper has a great rebounding attitude, already facing rehab and hoping to rejoin the show in a couple of months. Since I had mentioned Logan in a recent post, he happened upon it and was cheered by the attention: “It raised my spirits greatly and made me forget all my current fears of not being able to perform again.” I’m sure you’ll be back, kid, so take your time — you have your whole life ahead of you —and get all the contact you can with those Europeans. Bask in their advice and aura, for they can teach you things that you may never learn from a school. Tuition free, too. Heck, you are already a trouper, having performed, I see, in your 17th year on the Zoppe Family Circus. ...

And Johnny Pugh continues to operate his New Cole despite the same old floating rumors that’s he close to selling. He’s been close for, what, 20 years? And Barbara Byrd, we presume, is fearlessly prepping for her trek into the heart of hostility and pretension that awaits her in the city of San Francisco ... Courage is a fact of life along the sawdust trail. Ah yes, the challenge of canvas separates the showman from the dreamer. And the beat of the big top goes on — even here at a Starbucks, where I am typing out this post and listening to the great Sinatra, just having launched into that classic of classics, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” So does the big top, Frank. Promise, this is real journalism in real time. At Starbucks? Maybe they knew I was coming...


[Photos: Above, director Richard Barstow, left, with Michael Burke and John Ringling North during Sarasota rehearsals, 1956--costumes designed that season by French artist Vertes; Logan Jacot in The Time Reporter, photo by Jim Cummings]

1 comment:

Ben Trumble said...

I imagine you've read of the legislation pending in California to sell the Cow Palace to Daly City. If the deal goes through the Cow Palace will be torn down, replaced by shopping, condos, and other forms of "progress." The wheels of government turn slowly, so the sad day may still be several years away, but it would probably mark the end of any real chance for large traditional circus to play SF anymore.