"But Circus Isn't Dead ... We're Coming"

"But Circus Isn't Dead ... We're Coming"
John Ringling North II, Keeping Proudly Alive the House of Ringling

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Fragments Flashing at Random: A Bio for Binder? Three Rings for Kelly Miller? ... Cirque Dogs and Favored Elephant Trainers ... Step Right Up!

It’s a smorgasbord out there, and most of it’s as tenuous as a tent show half pitched in a windstorm half matured ... You proceed at your own folly.

Paul Binder, now that’s he’s free of the life he likes the most, might think about penning his own bio. Man’s a scholar, say I, although, interviewed last week on NPR’s "On Point" by Tom Ashbrook, the Big Apple Circus man implied lack of faith in all bull men save for one named Bill Woodcock, whom you know, had his Anna May cavorting in the Big Apple Ring — until Ms. May seemed in the mood for retirement, at which time Bill told Paul, that’s it for me too. Now to NPR (national polite radio) said Binder, “He had a way with them [the bulls] that was wonderfully humane.... We felt there was nobody who was at the same wave with elephants as Bill Woodcock.” Yeah, that’s more than a fragment, and it leaves me feeling naggingly unimpressed ... One more fragment before we fly elsewhere. I can’t understand why BAC’s founder is so intent on proving that circus performers are not “super heroes’ but as average as the ticket holders, and of his desire for the public to see them as virtual next door neighbors. In this axis, we part affinities. I want mystery and mastery. Should a performer connect with the audience? Of course.

That was getting testy. Back to nice. Except that Baraboo is another not-so-nice at the moment, what with the Circus World Museum recently battered by Natzi artwork. Says the town’s default docent, Bob Dwell, who called up the police to give me an official reply, “I don’t think we have skinheads or any such thing here, but who knows, once in a while we are infected by crime fanning out from the cities.” Sleepy Baraboo is not exempt, evidently, from post-McCarthy Wisconsin ... Okay I said it ...

Walking around the midways out there in search of flashing fragments, I learn on Bill Strong’s Yesterdays Towns that Sonny Moore passed away. So did Lola Dobritch. I learn that Logan Jacot (Sawdust Nights) had a productive encounter turning the profane hostility of a circus animal hater into a convert for his side. “She actually apologized to me for being misinformed.” Logan’s patience may have paid off. Logan proposes making November “Change Somebody’s mind about circus animals month.” The kid is out there on the front lines of ignorance answering back with youthful reason ... Kudos, kid! He’s also asking, poll wise (I replied in the affirmative) should Kelly Miller go out as a three ringer? What a terrific question! Which makes me wonder if the “already buzzing” air at winter quarters that Jim Royal alludes to in an e-mail has anything to do with an expansionist minded John Ringling North II? Hey, I only promised you fragments of fact — or fiction ...

Onto other lots. I toured a few. Buckles Blog showing some neat post cards, one of Bring 'em Back Alive Frank Buck ... Wade Burck rolling forth a gorgeous photo panorama of exotics of various stripes and shapes ... Pat Cashin's Clown Alley -- love this guy’s admiration for some of the greats I glimpsed in my lucky boyhood, among them Paul Jung.... Balloon Man Dick Dykes sporting photos of Ford Bros. Circus '82 Alaska tour on his festive midway (my favorite blog for atmosphere) ... Dan the Booker touting Carson and Barnes for winning 19 votes, but for what I’m not sure ... Lots of polls going on. I should take one. Let’s see, should Carson and Barnes rename itself Cirque du Hugo Oklahoma? Cast your votes down at the runs! Well, people, they shucked aside rings, they're flirting with indoor venues. What next, the Byrds in berets?

...Oh, where else? What stunning photos under Buckles tent of Paul Kaye’s upcoming Evansville date. I ask you, does Kaye support himself merely on that one stint? What a dazzling three-ring spread clear up to the aerial heights ... Don’t count multiple rings out. Just when one tradition dies, it has a way of creeping back ... All the way over there in Italy, Raffaele De Ritis has up a great photo of the brothers Charlivels, sons of an act John Ringling North greatly admired but could never sign: Charlie Rivel.

Bits big and small for take out: Those brothers who got mauled by the San Francisco tiger going to court, and not happy about the smears against them by zoo operatives ... Here’s a random revelation: Since Cirque du Soleil is now using puppets to imitate performing dogs, does that not constitute their condoning performing animal by fostering the imagery? Just wondering as the French are known to do ... By way of Covington Connected: BAC landing Big Apple publicity galore: Grandma joining the clowns on Wall Street, trying to break the new depression jinx; Glowing notices in Gotham dailies; Visits to the Binder top by our nation’s most notorious Celebes, included but not limited to: Britney Spears (she’s out of rehab or jail again?) Tom Cruise (good guy, I suppose), David Beckman and wife-of-the-moment Victoria ... Circus-David (no, not me) talking up Carson and Barnes menegerie, and then: “I have caught PETA lying and distorting the truth in an effort to raise money to funnel to the Animal Liberation Front (a terrorist organization)” I take heart in voices like yours and the Sawdudst kid, David. When I walked the C&B lot, I noticed happy looking animals on tour. And I don’t think they were Cirque puppets...

Wrap it up, World, and have another cup of tea. And wrap it out, John Ringling North II, and show the world what your blood is made of!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday Morning, Looking Back: When Hollywood Came to Santa Rosa, I Made a Movie with Bette Davis

This originally appeared on November 25, 2008


While they cluttered the library grounds with poles and cables, platforms and light fixtures and smoke machines, I felt a rare privilege that magical October evening walking around the premises, eager and ready to be a part of it all. What chaotic excitement! Trucks loaded with costumes and props and tools along the street. People from Hollywood everywhere, walking this way and that with all sorts of things they needed to do their jobs. Ramps being laid out over which cameras would roll ...

They were shooting a film starring Bette Davis, at a time in her life when she was struggling to revive a foundering career. She had accepted a very daring role and threw herself into it full force.

“Santa Rosa library to burn for movie” headlined the Press Democrat. That’s the scene they were getting ready to shoot. About this movie then titled The Librarian, we were told very little. Nobody suspected that right under our innocent eyes the first-ever overtly anti-McCarthyism Hollywood film was being made.

My mom, my sister Kathy and I had each been given slips to appear as “extras” in a crowd scene, for which we were each to receive $3. And when finally it came time to assemble on a grassy area outside the entrance to the town’s Carnegie-endowed library, at last, my great moment was at hand!

So, okay, yes (pardon my shamefully deceptive headline up there), this was not really a film about Bette Davis and me. But hear me out, please; it was a film in which my mug, at least (I assumed), would show up when the movie came to Santa Rosa sometime in the future.

The city had dispatched three fire trucks and 12 fireman to serve as extras in the mock blaze. The towns’ residents had been warned well in advance not to mistake a movie fire for a real one and rush to their telephones in a mass panic.

A man with a bullhorn gave us some directions, none of which I can remember. Nice man, though. Then a hushed silence fell over the outdoor set, and I noticed figures in the near darkness moving about — Bette Davis in a dark brooding coat getting out of a car and walking up to the front steps, and a man, probably the tall gaunt actor Paul Kelly, meeting her and their exchanging a few words. We couldn’t hear what they said. “Cut!” shouted the man with the bullhorn.

He told us to stand by. They wanted to do another take. And then another. And then, all too soon, all of the temporary magic it had taken them so long to assemble melted suddenly away — like a circus vanishing down the tracks into a lonely stealing night.

When Storm Center(the film’s ultimate title) came to town the following year, I don’t know if I even saw it. If I did, it must not have impressed me any more than it had the critics. In hazy (or romantically self-misleading) recall, I can almost see myself with friends at the California Theatre watching the film and anxiously waiting for the library to go up in flames so that we could study the faces in the crowd, hoping to find some of our own.

In my mom’s diary for Thursday, October 6, 1955, she wrote “Kathy, David and I went down to the library where Columbia pictures is working. David got right up in front —should be seen in picture if they show that section.”

So, after all these years — hoping and waiting for Storm Center to be shown somewhere — it has never been released in VHS, is rarely shown in revival houses — Turner Classic Movies, God bless them, is at least showing it. This Friday at 4:30 AM. Okay, TCM, no problem. Not for the chance to see myself in the only movie in which I (maybe) ever appeared.

Storm Center was harshly dismissed by reviewers pounding away at overly simplistic scripting. The Legion of Decency of the Catholic church resisted the film because of what it deemed its "pro-Communist" leanings, although it did not outright condemn the film but established a separate classification for it. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1957, however, Storm Center was awarded the Prix de Chevalier da la Barre, cited as “this year’s film which best helps freedom of expression and tolerance.”

The film dramatizes the rising tension between the city council and librarian Alicia Hull, played by Davis, when she is pressed to withdraw a book titled The Communist Dream from the shelves.

Today glancing at film websites, I am surprised to discover so many positive reviews from film buffs who believe that Storm Center got a terribly unfair rap. On IMBd, the movie is treated like a misunderstood genius. “Masterpiece underestimated by everyone including Bette.” writes one. “This great film compares favorably with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, claims another.

Perhaps Senator Joe McCarthy’s HUAC hearing silenced, as well, a number of film critics who otherwise might have viewed Storm Center in a more appreciative light. Now I will get to see, at last, for myself.

My most vivid memory of those three weeks when Columbia Pictures spread its props and people, its cables and light fixtures across town, was an afternoon when I was walking down Fourth Street in the direction of the library. Quiet afternoon. Up the street passing me very slowly came a black Cadillac inside which I saw Bette Davis sitting in the back seat all to herself, looking regally ahead, as if she could hear and see a cheering Grumman’s Chinese Theatre opening night crowd.

Except that, on that quiet afternoon five hundred miles north of the shadowland of illusions, the entire crowd of gawking spectators consisted of only -- me. I have never forgotten that majestically revealing moment. It helps one stay humble.

[Photos, from top down: A scene from the film; Bette Davis confers with Santa Rosa's actual librarian Ruth Hall; Davis being interviewed by Santa Rosa Press Democrat Women's Editor Roby Gemmell; Davis being handed the first honorary membership card into the Sonoma County Humane Society by Michele Lahtinen]

A review of the movie, which I saw recently on TCM:


Perhaps all that Storm Center lacked was a more openly supportive press. Fifty two years later, I was finally able to watch the movie when TCM aired it early one morning. And what an impressive revelation if is. Although maybe far from the “masterpiece” that some contemporary movie buffs believe it to be, I was struck by Storm Center’s courageous if theatrically rough treatment of its central issue. Bette Davis turns in one of her most controlled and sympathetic performances — ever. This is a far better film than critics gave it credit for, full of intelligence and insight, even if Freddy’s reaction to the librarian he idolizes getting fired for her Red-tainted background is a bit over the top. But what an over-the-top-moment it is when he lashes out angrily at Hull during a children’s wing dedication ceremony, calling her a communist and telling her to get out. An unforgettably powerful scene, and what follows is a harrowing climax through the imagery of shelf after shelf of great books going up in flames. This civic disaster brings the community to its senses. The city fathers rehire the librarian they so shamefully disgraced, and she resolves to rebuild the library.

11.25.08

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Flip Flops to New York: “Birdhouse Factory” Sends Critics Flying High; Variety Cools to Return of Wintuk


It’s all about how to cast circus skills in a newer context, that’s what’s up in the Big Apple at the moment, and where New Yorkers can examine two alternate forms — circus theatre and circus ballet.

Chris Lashua’s intricately clever Birdhouse Factory, which premiered in San Francisco in 2005, has grabbed the favor of a few adoring scribes, reaping flat-out raves. “Engrossingly entertaining,” sighs the unequivocal Lawrence Van Gelder in The New York Times, finding this one worthy of a parade of adjectives from “evocative” to “excellent.” Birdhouse performs a limited six-week run at the 499 seat New Victory Theatre in an intermissionless 90 minute package. Like a typical reviewer tossing praise at the nouveau troupes, Van Gelder spends most of his shine on standard circus tricks (what would these break-out shows ever do without them?). I’ve glanced at a couple of other similarly cheering assessments, one in TheatreMania.

Cirque du Soleil’s first bid for the moppet market with rich parents, Wintuk, is in its second season at the theatre at Madison Square Garden, where it opened last year to a chorus of boos from most critics and consumers, although it’s not certain what the kids thought. Here, bottom line, might tell us what the kids thought: Best seats this year sell for a whopping $220 — up from last year’s charitable $99.00. That tells me that either King Laliberte is doing another something very right — or he is out of his marketing mind. Variety’s man, Steven Suskin, about the only reviewer last year to give Wintuk a solid thumbs up (“happily for all, it’s a good one”) is not nearly so confident this time around. In particular, Suskin is bothered the most by a different, less enchanting young boy who is supposed to be about 12-years-old "but appears to be more than twice that" playing the lead. That’s the boy who longs to see snow. Thus, regrets Suskin, "the illusion of a young Alex in Wonderland has vanished." And the frail storyline line is what another ambivalent critic, the Times Jason Zinoman, terms a “rickety narrative.”

Zinoman, curiously, has lots to say in favor of the show, but then shifts suddenly into reverse, making me wonder if he really liked it but just couldn’t bring himself to embrace an extravagantly mounted work ($7 million to produce) from the Montreal monster. “Retains a cold corporate sheen that comes off as oddly downbeat and humorless; there are very few laughs, and none from the belly.”

What to think, believe? I’ve already seen Birdhouse, which I found theoretically brilliant though strangely morose — perhaps they’ve added more levity to the mix. Wintuk does greatly intrigue me, but would I hawk my modest little one-bedroom rental to pay for a ticket? I doubt it. I suspect that the engagingly good circus turns alluded to can be seen at far less pricier venues. And, frankly, the idea of a ducat topping two hundred dollars feels, well, like a cold corporate insult — especially in these bleak times ... Shame on you, Guy Ebenezer Scrooge!

Which brings us back to the beginning. And to a question we may be asking of both these arty alternatives a few years ahead: Whatever happened to the Circus of Soul put on last December at the Apollo theatre, which if I am correct was largely ignored by the critics but seemed to have left a few customers raving? Almost like asking, whatever happened to the Pickles of San Francisco? I don’t see any evidence they are presenting anything this Holiday, nor did they last Holiday. I'd go pay for a ticket.

These fringers certainly have some sort of an affect on the mainstream , but they tend to come and go rather than last and grow. I do think Chris Lashua is a very gifted guy, and I wish CDS would give him a chance to direct one of its future efforts.

Since I’m addressing the higher realms of circus art, I’m reaching back to honor my all-time favorite circus program magazine cover illustrator, a man named Walter Bomar, who designed prolifically for many major magazines, and for, now and then, John Ringling North, turning out my all-time favorite cover, seen here. It’s a fitting tribute, I believe, to Lashua and his younger colleagues seeking new modes of direction for timeless tricks on aerial bars and off springboards, with clubs in hand or partners in motion. Perhaps the guy who conceived Birdhouse, patterning its visuals after the work of Diego Rivera, will enjoy this image, created by, of all mortals, an Ardmore, Oklahoma native.

Bravo, Chris, to your wonderful New York Welcome!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Antonioni’s “The Passenger” Dignifies a Question: Is Cinema Superior to Stage?

The Passenger, whose compelling naturalistic score consists entirely of the sounds of life itself, places us in the restlessly unsettled mind of Jack Nicholson, nearly lost in the Saharan desert — lost spiritually. He is David Locke, a television reporter questioning his work and the meaning of it all. He has little will to go on, and so, seeking a new destiny, he fakes his demise by assuming the identity of a chance fellow traveler following the latter’s untimely death.

That precarious act, perhaps Locke knows, will lead to his end, and he seems no longer to care — even given the attention paid him by a beautiful woman, played by Maria Schneider, whom he meets along the way and with whom he falls in love. She offers to help him escape his otherwise indifferent wife from London. The wife and Locke's colleagues, having figured out what he is up to, set out to find and rescue their “deceased” journalist. The moment Locke exchanges his passport for that of a dead arms dealer is the moment that seals his ultimate fate.


In this film, director Michelangelo Antonioni knows, as most of us have experienced, how much meaning occurs when nothing seems to be happening at all. Those are the insightful — the sometimes dangerous — moments in spare stark silence when we face the terrible beauty of the world and of our own solitary relationship to it. Here, those moments of contemplation abound like silent poetry shimmering with an eerie peacefulness. There is a rare comforting quality to this film, as if Antonioni is embracing the human condition with wise compassion.

So flawlessly realized, The Passenger to my believing eyes seems about as perfect as a movie can be, and while watching it again (and thinking of other films I’ve recently seen, like Death in Venice and last year’s Children of Men), I was struck by the thought that film may have reached a status superior to the “living theatre.”

Screen directors frame each scene so that we, the audience, altogether view exactly what they wish us to see, angle by angle. And a film can faithfully endure, intact, like a painting or a great piece of architecture. Finding the art in fatalism, Antonioni has given us a sweeping glimpse of a perilous world through which succeeding generations pass without ever really changing it at all.

Here is the young Nicholson when he acted rather than, in later years, hammed it up for an idolatrous fan base ready to applaud his every stupid grimace. Here was what Nicholson was before the Hollywood machine subverted his talents into stand up comedy shtick.

In The Passenger, he is its living soul. I am in awe of this cinematic masterpiece.


A note to anybody familiar with Jack Nicholson's work: Both a friend and I seem to recall having seen Nicholson in a film in which he was a passenger on a train — we expected that scene to appear in this film, which it did not. Can anybody out there enlighten me?

11/19/08

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Midweek Midway L’Amyx ... Pachyderms to Porcupines for the Savvy Feld? ... John Ringling North II Rides the Jomar His Way ... Step Right In! ...


Hold your horse (or nose) -- Here Comes the Porcupine! Kenneth Feld may be prepping Backup Plan A in case the elephant abuse charge against his circus ever goes to trial and he is found legally insensitive. Right now on his Over The Top unit, he’s got this show-off porcupine that rocked one Windy City critic. “Granted, the oversize rodent didn’t actually do a great deal,” reported Chris Jones in a very fav Chicago Tribune notice. “He stood there. A clown showed up with a balloon and, well, you can guess the rest. But it worked for me ... I’ve seen dogs, cats and parakeets do circus shtick. The porcupine bettered them all.” ... Wonder if the critter is a runaway from Cirque du Soleil’s long-discarded early-day menagerie, which once harbored a duck that waddled back and forth to the music? So impressed was the amused Jones with Over the Top’s show-stealing rodent who goes by the name of Percy, he believes the prima porc “is seeking representation.”

Heart-felt Hugo Happenings: They form an exclusive little privileged club whose membership changes glacially, it’s so hard for a newcomer to keep a tent show on the road. I’m talking that rare breed of American circus owner-producer. New kid on the lot John Ringling North II, now heading into his junior year as the real thing, rides and resides in “The Jomar” whenever he tours with the show, which he seems to enjoy (I see a lot of Charles Ringling in JRN II). The Jomar, you ask? Okay, I’m told this version is a motor home. Show manager Jim Royal, noting the bookend visits of Charles Ringling (son of Robert, himself son of Charles) and his wife Sarah at the opening and closing days (how poetically symmetrical), thinks that maybe their motor home, which they, pulling rank, park next to “the Jomar,” should be named "the Caledonia" — that’s what Charles Ringling named his own private car back when he and John Ringling were caught up in a brotherly war of egos ... Back in Hugo, the town bustles with pride over its big toppers and awaits a report from each at season end on how it fared or didn’t. This is the annual Circus Homecoming hosted by the Hugo Chamber of Commerce. Royal and North II, along with the Byrds, et all, are treated with respect as “Ambassadors of Hugo.” And for their candor (or feel-good reports in return), these invincible tanbark moguls are feted with “cake and coffee,” per Royal’s inside scoop. You read it here.

End Ringers: Some visitors to this blog express difficulty in leaving comments, which befuddles me. Promise I’ve not done anything to bar or discourage a soul from speaking her or his mind, and all opinions are welcome under this trembling little tent. I can only suggest you slip in under “anonymous” and leave your name at the end of your message, if you like ... Now over one-fourth of my traffic arrives from foreign shores, and I wonder what they are thinking ... A young Kelly-Miler patron allowed to shoot selected footage of the performance failed to produce much of a tease on You Tube, other than this: Two tigers side by side on their hind legs hopping forward in smooth creamy unison, under the impressive direction of cage master Casey McCoy. If that's the act, an act worth seeing it is ... For a far better, in fact powerful impression on the Kelly-Miller show, take a look at the sizzling still photos posted on Logan Jacot's Sawdust Nights blog ... Baraboo’s redoubtable man for all seasons, Bob Dewel, reminding us of how the town’s late native star Mark David was “a smash hit at the CWM with his heel-only trapeze act.” Boy oh boy, what pro praise from the otherwise mild mannered Doc, who might consider going out as an advance man. That is, after his long winter gig donning Wee Willie Dewel attire and sauntering off through frosty Ringling nights, tapping on windows and exhorting children to brush and floss and get into their wee little beds. Beware of a swaggering porcupine on the loose, Bob. And don’t dare offend the thing with a dental discount come-on; it may have an agent by now — or a lawyer. Blame it on PETA.

And that’s a prickly wrap ... Yuck! Gotta wash my hands, send my safari hat off to the dry cleaners, and fumigate this tent. Bring back those perfumed pachyderms!

[photo: Tom Dougherty; "Percy" and Jenny Vidbel]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Circus in Real Time: The Greatness of Gatto, the Pitfalls of You Tube


When I witnessed a juggler I had never heard of, during a performance last November in San Francisco at Cirque du Soleil’s memorable Kooza, my breath was taken away as it was when I was around 10-years-old and saw another legendary manipulator in his heyday, and instantly developed impossibly high expectations of circus performers.

The juggler to whom I allude proceeded from out of the most magical Cirque mist to mesmerize me with an exhilarating display of impeccable dynamism and craft, with a routine of non-stop mastery and power that built club by club by ball by ball to a fiery transcendent finish. This, World, is circus through and through. Seated next to me was an elderly woman, evidently just as awed as myself, who sighed, “that’s the best act in the show!” And to her I replied, dumbfounded with joy, “that’s the greatest juggler I’ve seen since Francis Brunn.”

I don’t know if the lady knew the name Brunn. She and I shared a genuine thrill over a triumphant exhibition — compelling control and power and speed molded tautly into something superhuman — a sort of momentary revelation from a planet of perfection visiting earth. After I wrote a review suggesting that Monte Carolo should send this guy the gold, no questions asked, no auditions necessary, I read that he — Anthony Gatto — in fact is the only juggler in the world ever to have captured the Gold from Monte Carlo. That was a very correct year.

Today surfing the net, I discovered a recent Boston Globe article on Gatto, against which the ambitions of a younger juggler from Russia of technically towering achievements, Vova Galchenko, are given equal attention. Seems that Galchenko has become a media darling on American TV, and he longs to equal or top Gatto. Perhaps he can, but he never will if, as I think I understand it, Galchenko approaches the craft as a sporting meet and tends to freeze under the spotlights. (I've not seen his work.) The two disciplines are so different. Circus sometimes can mold an athlete into a star. Usually not.

Gatto is quoted as stating something every aspiring circus artist needs to sear into his or her soul: “Juggling is and should remain performance art.” I take it he views his younger competitor as a technician rather than a performer. Karl Wallenda once told me that the figure who wishes to light up a tent must be an actor too. Perhaps the word “actor” was ill chosen, but I think that what Wallenda meant was that you merge your skills into a carefully defined persona, as an actor does going into a part and sustaining it every moment of the way.

In You Tube land, as noted in the Globe piece, a juggler can film his rare moments and merge them into an impressive though abstract claim, items isolated or disconnected one to another. Which is a bald cinematic illusion, and not a matter of true human accomplishment in the living moment. And circus excels in the living moment — we are witnessing a human being having to prove once again his total mastery — which is why this form of entertainment has never done well on television, which is maybe why the Felds have finally discarded those insultingly gratuitous video replay screens. And which is why, if the likes of Galchenko and his sports-minded cohorts rely too heavily on edited high points strung together for the You Tube crowd, they will remain a statistical fascination unto themselves without ever conquering the big top.

The Globe story by Billy Baker quotes economics professor Arthur Lewbel, who founded MIT Juggling Club, as conceding the obvious: “Up until the You Tube era, you would only work on a trick if it were possible to get it solid for performance. Now you can go for a 1-in-1-1,000 trick because as long as you get it on camera, you’ve done it.”

But what have you done? Juggling as a competitive sport? Let the mindless masses cheer fleeting moments in an artifical void. I want the guts refined into the act defined — the attack, the design, the continuous total performance reaching for the indisputably earned climax. I want the circus.

[photo of Vova Galchenko and Anthony Gatto, by Boston Globe]

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Flip Flops: Endangered Elephant Rides ... Banned from White Tops Land? ... Cirque du Soleil Might Be Soaring Over Tokyo ...

As one after another U.S. business or banking entity tumbles or stumbles, circuses are likely to suffer even more. A Wall Street statistic, Lehman Brothers, into bankruptcy courts September, has not the $50,000 to spare that it so easily handed Big Apple Circus last season to spring for youth groups getting in free ... Turns out BAC relies on a whopping $7 million per year from private funding to produce a $22 million annual budget. .. No more hiring for a while and no salary raises, says BAC ... The times they are a hurting ...

New York bars the elephant rides that seem to be keeping some shows clinging to life support. And who stronger to the defense than the CFA, which spells Circus Fans Association of America. Since when was the CFA a defender of the carny aspects of a midway? Since at least now. This is what I read in the July-August issue of The White Tops. Struck me as sadly odd or oddly sad that the CFA should be concerned about the ring-intrusive commerce that has both prolonged the careers of some under performing tent shows while further tarnishing the art of circus. But then again, as I have learned to see it, anything with the world “Circus” on it is guaranteed CFA adulation -- well, almost everything. Read on for my personal reverse payoff. I’m not sure if they are still striving to publish serious “reviews. In this issue at hand, every show mentioned seems to be featuring great acts, if not the greatest. I also read that “nearly all the time” all three Carson & Barnes rings were occupied. Funny, that’s not what I saw when the show played S.F.

What inspired me to purchase that particular issue of The White Tops? It was a momentary illusion (stress illusion), that, having heard they were covering circus books published in 2007-2008, my latest might be given at least a wee mention. So I wanted to get my hands on a copy. They are, indeed, covering circus books, in list form that recognizes 134 tomes, and many of them far afield of the big top. And, guess what? Surprise! Mine did not even make the list ... Have I been banned from white tops land?

My checkered history dealing with WT editors has gone from courageous acceptance to total indifference. Started on a high note when, barely in my teens, I got published by the late Walter H. Hohenadel to whom my Fall of the Big Top is gratefully dedicated. Sad irony here, isn’t it. After Mr. H came his son, who also put some of my efforts into print. Mel Olsen, who edited later, was a great guy. Then came Jim Foster, who puzzled me, putting it politely. Around 1990 I submitted to him a big article "Circus in America; The New Golden Age." He called me with word that the overly long piece would need to be cut by one third and how would I feel about that? I said, sure, I was used to dealing with editors, so go ahead and let me see. A week or so later, article returned with not even a note. Cold.

But cold can be the nourishing hand of fate, thank you, Mr. Foster. I vowed never again. Since The White Tops was both the first magazine to publish me and the last to reject me (such symbiotic symmetry), that would be it. Now I felt a total liberation to spread my creative energies elsewhere. I went out and penned three non-circus tomes. One about roller skating sold like clamp-on skates in a disco rink. But a couple about musical theatre have done very well. Now back under the big top, I know who the current WT editors are -- that is, by their names. And that’s about all. Seems they don’t answer pres release submissions or follow-up e-mails; not mine, anyway.

Big Top Bits: Disney reports a 10 percent drop in reservations and plunging profits ... Cirque du Soleil’s Zed, set up at Disneyland Tokyo, might restore the faith of embittered disbelieving cirque fans, if we are to believe Richard Oozounian, Canadian theatre critic for The Toronto Star, terming Zed a masterpiece and summing up “they manage to astonish us once again” (more, I hope, than this photo). Only problem, you’ll need to book flight to Japan ... What next -- Cirque Du Soleil Presents Disney Under Water? Or Feld Entertainment Presents Cirque du Soleil? ... And what’s happening with the touring tent show planned by cirque founding genius Franco Dragon, Circus McGurkus? Suddenly, cyberspace is vacant of buzz ... BAC’s clever ad copy promising “Debt-Defying Prices!" ... World ambitious jugglers convening in Vegas this December 17 to compete for top honors at their 2008 World Juggling Federation Convention ... Maybe Guy Laliberte will snag a few of them to help Criss Angel survive Believe ... E mails come from far and wide: Here’s one from a Circus Mongolia Khadgaa , photos from which featured here ...

I’m not sure whether to send The White Tops back or not. On principle that is. Call it ego if you wish. When I look at that extravagantly long list of current circus books, I think more of the late editor Hohenadel than myself. We share a mutual snub, and I feel even closer to the man whom I never met. Had he not published me, in effect validating the critical instincts of a brash 14-year old rather than suppressing them, who knows. Just as likely I would not be here at L’Amyx blogging away. Indeed, just as likely I would never have written Behind the Big Top, Circus Rings Around Russia, and Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus, not to mention my latest literary pretension that dares not show its face in The White Tops. Oh, heck, if only it had come out with an elephant ride ...