In a dramatic departure from its ordinary Hugo, Oklahoma March opening, Kelly-Miler Circus jumped 700 miles this week into Brownsville, Texas, where its “official” 2009 tour begins tomorrow, Thursday, for a four-day, 10 show frame.
Move was made partly to avoid expense-draining sits in Hugo and add early revenue into the coffers. Last season, total fuel bills were "up over" $100,000.00 from the previous tour, and the profit margin is slim, according to show manager James Royal in an e-mail to Showbiz David.
Circus owner John Ringling North II okayed a plan by Jim Judkins to book the early Texas dates which Judkins' shuttered Circus Chimera used to play. Judkins "knows the ‘valley’ well and we decided to have a joint venture there,” says Royal. “As you know, while in winter quarters it is all cash flowing in the wrong direction.”
North was on the lot in Brownsville, actively engaged in production meetings and rehearsals, monitoring his third-season show as it takes shape under the general direction of ringmaster and performance director John Moss.
North’s engaging enthusiasm has been something of a surprise to staff members ever since he bought the Kelly-Miller title back in 2006. Nephew of famed circus owner and producer John Ringling North, the younger North brings authentic Ringling blood back to a tent circus at a time when American shows are struggling to stay solvent over sawdust and find new ways to reinvigorate public patronage.
At one run-through that had North's creative attention, clowns Steven Copeland and Ryan Combs, booked to handle comedy chores, were asked by the boss to spot their chase pants routine while a tiger is chasing an explorer who is chasing his pants. “It is going to be very wacky!” blogged Steven.
The world of the internet promises to continue following this show in possibly day-to-day detail, which is potentially good news for fans. Steven and Ryan have up and running a diary-like account of their day to day activities on the circus. (www.steveandryan.blogspot.com). It well could become the hit big top blog of the season.
Kelly-Miller is offering this year what Ben Trumble, high on the individual performers, calls "classic circus." Trumble was in Hugo taking a look at all of its shows getting ready to hit the trails soon. North has tigers and elephants, a big group horse-ridding act (a rarity in today's market), fliers and jugglers. Music is produced electronically (act CDs pre-loaded), with live drumming enhancements added by an old college buddie of North's, Lucky. One of the most delicious rumors out of Hugo has it that a new production number is “out of The Greatest Show on Earth” (The film). One act awaiting visa clearance, and another felled by an injury, has made necessary temporary performer substitutions, according to Royal, whose pickup truck was on the fritz as of late last night, holding him back in Hugo.
A source in Hugo reported that some of the riders originally signed to work in Armando Loyal's horse number did not pan out, and so others had to be recruited at the last minute and may need the extra Texas time to perfect their equestrianship.
Kelly Miller will head back to Hugo for a March 28 date. The show is slated to pitch canvas in Milwaukee, prior to the resumption of the circus parade in July.
Added Royal in his e-mail, “John and I have strived to create a show where ALL members of the company feel valued and appreciated."
They might also feel part of a most interesting, potentially exciting Ringling story unfolding.