Thursday, August 21, 2008

Midweek Madness Check-In ... Remember Vaudeville? Remember the Circus?

Okay, in a rush, here we go down the flats and off the runs. See the stranded wagon in the weeds marked Max’s Vaudeville? Been there since the thirties. Not even do I remember vaudeville, but its elements live on — singers, dancers, comics, strip teasers. So, I fear, the circus. Already here are the contorted spin offs, some on stages, some without rings. Theatre heavy, circus light. A table under the trapeze for you, sir? ... Ken Dodd wistfully asked me, “what happened to vaudeville, David?” and said nothing more. In denial he was not.

So, too on the midway: Acrobats to Save-The-Planet here, jugglers and joeys addressing existential gloom over there. Daredevils without mechanics? Check out the BMX bike competions. Under our shriking circus tents,the basics are more and more missing in action. If Circus Oz doesn’t kill the circus, nothing will. Cirque du Soleil, in a fit of brilliance, somehow foresaw the changes coming and leaped by decades ahead over night.

To review or not to review? Two Big epiphanies this season left me wondering why. First one, Circus Osorio, a nice outfit, minimally talented, pleasing families who can’t afford high prices on a low budget. Why review what is not reviewable? So I didn’t. And why, at the other end, review the Ringling high tech concession pit for consumer mad moppets? The marvel of Walt Disney was that he turned out great cinema that appealed to all ages. Those movies were worth reviewing. I do not see that same genius coming out of Vienna, Virginia.

Reading Steve Winn’s scathing put down of Over the Top!, I saw myself in him, and considered us both irrelevant under that tent. Which makes me feel more pretentious than ever. (Blame it on the CFA, who published me at age 14) Better leave the judgments to the younger set. Don Marcks would bristle whenever I told him, "I refuse to go see a circus at a ballpark”. No setting. No context. No-rings may be next. Now on that last count, Don might have held his bristle. Another friend (we exchanged our views of Ringling every year) nearly had a nervous breakdown when I once I told him I was going to skip Ringling that year -- I just couldn't sit through another David Larible show. There should be a song, “When the Audience Came To Town.”

Around the lots ... Hey, watch out — that’s the pole wagon coming down! ... Glance back in awe to a display of circus dazzle in the year 1932. Captured on a You Tube video of Ringling flapper Tiny Kline. She iron jaws across Times Square, spinning stylistically with elegant abandon as she goes. And best of all, you will hear this glamorous diva speaking with the self assurance of a Gabor. A thousand pictures can’t match one priceless video. To the waiting cops, says Kline, “At last, I found a safe way to cross Times Square!. I’m saying ‘ hello’ to Broadway!” ...A memoir by Kline, edited by author Janet Davis, now out. Sounds like a juicy read.

Here’s Ringling production manager Georgia Stephenson telling the San Jose Mercury News that Over the Top! is “wooing audiences with a shorter running time.” Nice try. Two and a half hours won’t cut it. ... Ringmaster Chuck Wagner missed his calling by three rings and three years. Might have reached Ronkian stature in the older bolder set up. ...Thanks to Don Covington for correcting my error about the principal clown in the red hat duel. Should be Tom Dougherty, to whom I apologize. Ringling’s program magazines become more vague with each passing year. Putting out a libretto would help, along with a diagram for dummies of the metaphors (Mr. Winn spotted a few fumbled metaphors).

“The curtain descends, everything ends too soon, too soon,” penned Ogden Nash for the song “Speak Low."

Too soon. Always too soon. Wagons all off the flats, waiting for tractors to pull em out to the lot. Pickets lined up. PETA with banners. I know this, the circus we remember, it ain’t coming back... If I can just adjust to these ingenious story lines, the trenchant themes, the lazy synthetic pachyderms whom for all I know, were cloned, and the ever-engaging power clowns.

Swing that pole wagon over, guy! Line up those metaphors!

[photo: Circus Oz]


Raffaele De Ritis said...

I don't understand what you have against David Larible or the fact to have a clown as headliner for most of the show. I know that this is not a great tradition in America. But historically, and still today in Europe, it is common practice to have good clowns for long acts. In your (remarkable and beautiful) book, you criticize the fact that Larible did two 15-minutes acts. But he used to do this as a soloist before Ringling, like the standard of his colleagues. All the European clown entrées of last century (and most today) are long not less than 20 minutes. Legendary circuses as Medrano in Paris used to book two or even three of them in a show. Grock's act in the circus lasted 40 minutes. I think that Mr.Feld just dared to apply this in the Usa and, according the audience and the critics, he was completely successful.
I wonder that you consider "a filler" one of the most talented clowns of the circus history.
And, concerning this point, I was impressed by a specific sentence of your book, page 118: "Considering the ill fate of numerous stars (...)who went to seek better terms or form their own shows (...), Larible may be in for a long, laughless sit.
After his departure from Ringling, Mr. Larible did several little things. Among those: he was invited at the Monte Carlo Festival (where he already won a Silver in the past) and won a Golden Clown. He is by three seasons the headliner of Circus Roncalli, the most beautiful circus in the world, where he is in the ring the 40 per cent of the show getting daily standing ovations. During the breaks and the winter seasons, he performs in the best theatres of Europe with a theatrical one man show of 90 minutes, displaying his mimic and musical talent, relying only partially on audience participation. This, yes, is a true "Larible show": and I don't know other circus clowns today that achieved something similar in the theatre. The venues of this includes legendary Teatro Goldoni in Venezia, Carre' in Amsterdam, Berlin Symphony Hall and similars in Spain, France etc. He was invited at China Wu Quiao Festival to receive a Life Achievement Golden Lion (and making 20.000 Chineses laugh), at Moscow Bolshoi building as a guest star, and finally again in Monte Carlo as guest of honour for the 30th anniversary gala along with Popov.
To me, he is perhaps the greatest living classic circus clown, in full respect of any other opinion.
Besides that, congratulation for your passionate book (even if I don't agree in the totality of the vision), a reading that I suggest to everybody interested in circus.

Wade G. Burck said...

Whoa, Whoa. There is no clown on his own, that is as funny in a large coliseum as he is in a small tent. About like those one rhino acts that I have been told folks "scream" for when they enter the tent. In a big building about as well received as a fart in church. Why did GGW, Baumann, Holtzmeir, need the big acts? What about elephants? One or two might fill up a tent in Europe, but even 9 look sad on Ringling. Elvin Bale had a lot of stuff to be the King of the Air. That little bitty deal the female cannonballer is blasting around Europe in, is pretty sad in comparison. Put two or three flying act's in Roncalls chapiteau. Big, Big, Chapiteaus are what's in America, as you know even when cut in 3/4's with a black curtain. You could be pretty successful with a singing dog on a Vaudeville stage, but you are going to look goofy and be lost in the United Center. Monte Carlo???? Big deal, that's just a stop over for who ever is not working at the moment. Except for the false impression that they spin about the Best 0 The Best. that will get you some pat's on the back from fans, who base their impression on who was cordial or charming, talent be damned.

Raffaele De Ritis said...

I don't think Mr.Larible ever looked goofy and lost in American arenas, where he spent 15 triumphant years. I saw him many times there, and I recall a far better effect than a fart in a church. And, besides doing his two yearly acts, he introduced a character, a concept and a class in the overall production.
In your country, he've been the Elvin Bale and the Gunther of clowns.
Monte Carlo: Wade, you know how much I agree with you on that. But in Mr.Larible's case it was never a case of a "stop over", because he never had trouble to find work in his entire career. Concerning his awards, well, I was there witnessing the longest stranding ovation I ever can recall. And this mostly from a normal paying audience, as you know the Monte Carlo big top is composed.
For how odd can be the Monte Carlo ethics and evaluation system (again, you know my vision) he had no friends in the jury. Beside this, in 30 years almost every living clown was at the festival, but just two got a Gold before him: Popov and George Carl.
And the hironic side is that: if he won a gold, is also because the experience of big arenas in Usa emphasized his charisma and talent.

Showbiz David said...

Dear Raffaele: First of all, thank you for your very kind comments about my book. They mean a lot to me. Onto Larible. I'll be the first to admit I have harbored a long-term bias against extended audience and clown acts. I was raised on the American circus, until recently a very different animal. (I think Wade makes some good points.) As for my petulant crack "long, laughless sit," that's one of my more stupid predictions. The laugh is on me. Thank you again for your comments.

Wade G. Burck said...

You are a fan of Clowns, I am a fan of Horse, Elephant, cage acts. I saw Mr. David Larible, no disrespect to him as he is a talented individual, a number of times. I liked the deal he did with the balloons and tying somebody up and pretending to throw knives. I also sat in the seat's with other circus performers at different times, as well as friends from the "out side world" at different times, and the consensus was they used to look forward to Gunther appearing a half dozen times in the show, but by Davids 3rd trip they agreed it was wearing thin. I think advance self serving friend/fan publicity will work wonders anyplace. I knew someone who came here with questionable skills but the newspaper interviews and fan magazine articles, (and unless it is a legitimate critic review of the show/talent they are very questionable) that said they were the greatest from their country. They spend 13 years on one or two of the smallest shows in the United States, and return home with press, and now they are called the greatest that has ever been in America. In a small intimate setting which is no more then 2 to 3 thousand he would probably rock them. I saw a small group of clowns on a show in Mexico with a seating capacity of 1800, that were hysterical the 9 turns they did, and I didn't understand Spanish. Whether they would be as funny in a large building or coming out a few more times, I don't know.
The knife throwing thing David did was good and I am sure in a smaller more intimate venue he is well received, but I just don't think you get that in the larger venues.

Wade G. Burck said...

Addendum to Raffaele,
Try to convince me that a stint in America, deserved or not, is not powerful paper in Europe. Add the name Ringling to "returning after a critically acclaimed American tour" and you can ride that paper for the rest of your career. Shows call themselves Circus Las Vegas not even Circus Reno, and Circus America not Circus Canada. And I assume it has to do with the illusion of bigness and grandeur. Illusion is the driving force of much of this world. And I love debating with people of your and Show biz, and Henry Edgar's integrity.

Wade G. Burck said...

Show biz,
Wait a minute. You can say "long laughless sit." You don't have to patch. I didn't patch for "stop over". If it wasn't funny, "laughless sit" is. If you aren't working in mid January, MC is a stop over, or more accurately a "spot date." That's just a fact and it even has a name in Circus vernacular. As sucessful and beautiful as Solei and the dozens of knock offs may be, I just don't want to have to accept yet that that is really what people want. And quit ragging on the designer concessions. I'm trying to get more money for the performers/working staff, and you are crapping about concession prices. What if they had told GGW, "we would love to give you more money, you are certainly deserving, but we didn't sell enough of those 40.00 glossy programs that nobody can read, or 25.00 snow cones." Do you think he would have stayed around long enough to become the Lord of the Rings?

Raffaele De Ritis said...

Thanks, I now understand better the reasons of your criticism. And once more I appreciate your intelligence in accepting other people's criticisms or acknowledging the results of a prediction. I'm sure that all comes from passion and love for the circus you have been raised with and that is sadly disappearing.
Keep working on this magnificent blog: we need your serious and noble exercise of "critic".

Raffaele De Ritis said...

you are totally right in saying that "directly from America" can do a lifetime press, even for the worst flyer having been for a month in some obscure mud show. In fact, this can be a very interesting approach on the blogs for our Europe-Usa discussions.
But concerning Mr.Larible (and to eventually finish with this), two things:
1)He never exploited America in his European publicity if not as one of his various resumé points;
2)If he never was in America, he would have been identically successful as he was before RBBB.
3)He never had in his carer a "laughless sit".
As for Francis Brunn, Unus, and all the rare great soloist that RBBB dared to show alone in the big arena.
It just a matter of talent, personality, charisma: when you have this you can stay 15 minutes in the largest venue: even if, of course, not with the same feeling of an intimate context.

Wade G. Burck said...

Raffaele and Show Biz,
A great mix of various levels of expertize is what makes discussion great.
Yes he did have some of those "laugh less sits" here in America, as I sat through some of them. The more great people push for perfection, the more failures they will have. It doesn't matter if you are GGW, Larible, Chuck Yeager, Napoleon, or Eisenhower. It is the just "go alongers" so as to have something to eat, and be a part of something great that have caused the most harm to the industry. Was Davids coming back for ovations, in various states of undress brilliant? It surely was, and even a child "performing", has his/her parents attention better in the living room, then out in the big yard yard.
When you suggest the greatness of Unus, Bruun, and others you forget they worked once. If they did the same thing, with possibly a costume change or variations of their acts 5 or 6 times their brilliance would have faded fast. If GGW had come out 5 or 6 times with variations of an elephant act, his brilliance would have faded just as fast, most likely never even developed. David like, GGW was as big as the press machine behind them. Without that you have to get it on your own, with the help of friends and fans and hope the public buys it.
I feel there are 3 "types" of people involved in the Circus. Performers, Fans, and the ticket buying public. Fan's is where it gets sticky. They range from personal friends to aficionados. There are fans of Ballet who will go to anything ballet, from a high school production to the Metropolitan and love them all, the best one being the one their friend is in. Then there is the Aficionado who only goes to the Bolshoi and a few others, and truly knows the difference between good and bad. The ticket buying public is the hard one. They have no friends in the rings, they don't understand what they are seeing, but they do understand whether they like it or not. They are the ones who support it, not the fans or the aficionados. They are the one's who have left to look for things they do like.
USA/Europe Raffaele? I think there is no greater illusion in all of Circusdom/Cirquedom. The transient nature of the business and the distance is perfect for "self serving grandeur/greatness" but modern communication has hampered that greatly. I hear reports of "business is great" yet I look at photos of half empty Circus building/chapiteaus. Again a "straw house" of 1500, is the first two rows of seats at the Garden. USA/Europe are as different as night and day for the Circus/Cirque. The constant standing ovations with the "milking" and the rhythmic clapping, borders on the clown running from side to side of the auditorium to get boys to cheer louder then girls. I've stood through a number of them with pity, and couldn't understand why we have stood up, except they kept clapping and wouldn't leave. You don't know how many European performers arriving on Ringling, want to get their two years over with, so they can work at all the "other Big Giant Shows" in America. That is the illusion caused by distance and jackpots, as is the illusion of greatness in Europe with every thing put in a small chapiteau/cirque building. There are exceptions and I think we are in agreement on the exceptions. It was easier 100 years ago to go to some city in Europe and convince many people you were the President of the United States. It is impossible to come to America today and convince anybody you are the Queen of England. If is wasn't for the self serving fan/friend base many of those acts/people would fade into obscurity when asked "prove it."