Ring Number One: In the latest issue of Spectacle, there is a telling interview conducted by Ernest Albrecht with outgoing Big Apple Circus director Paul Binder and his protege in waiting, Guillaume Dufresnoy. Intentional or not, it produces a rather bland portrait of the new BAC top man. Dufresnoy, in fact, appears so determined not to bust the Binder book that I have to wonder if the power still resides with the founding ringmaster, whose exit never made sense to me. Mr. B. lends a clear impression that he is not going gently into any night. “I will be working directly with the board of directors on special projects and new projects.” Sure, Paul, and keeping your options open for a rescue return — just in case your protege buddie fails to follow your subliminal signals? Says Dufresnoy, temporizing away, “I am not here to create something else, to completely change everything ... But simply because I’m a different person, I’m going to do things slightly differently.” And should we stress “slightingly?” Sounds a tad timid to me, unless Dufresnoy has a hidden agenda to shake up the tent once his footing is firm. Binder’s comments make it sound as if he and Dufresnoy have held the power, not he and one Michael Christensen, curiously absent from this curious exit interview. It’s all about the nuances, and I’m starting to regard the new ringmaster-in-chief as only “slightly” more than a Binder clone. Of course, that could be all for the good. I mean, would you want a Circus Oz clone on the lot? Or a Hugo, Oklahoma clone? Keep it “slightly,” Mr. D.
Ring Number Three: Kenneth Feld’s concession in a court of law that investigations of animal abuse at his circus were not always reported to him left me — here comes that word again — devastated, as devastated as when I learned that John Ringling North II condones clowns pitching concessions. All along, in fantasy land again, whatever I thought about this Feld, who has a dark and devious side, I was convinced he had a firm handle on every detail about animal care. What an illusion! Or has this Feld fudged on the truth so that, if instances of actual abuse are brought to light, he can claim never having been apprised of such? Don’t ever forget that he and his late father Irvin are two of the most savvy media manipulators who ever hit the midway.
Center Ring: Here comes Kelly-Miller clown and blogger Steve Copleand with an arm full of coloring books to peddle during intermission, and a soul devoid of conviction. I have felt a tension over this intrusive issue rising from “not thrilled about" to Copeland's recent complaint, “I can't wait for Raul to get here and take over the stupid coloring books!" Now, as I’ve noted, this circus has a way of attracting tell-all bloggers. So far, Copeland gives us a pretty good account of business (night shows drawing more people than the early ones impress me -- good word of mouth, maybe?), but not one word so far about the other acts, about what he might think of them or how they are going over with the audience. Okay, here's my compromise on the Peterson Peanut front: why not rotate pitch duty among various performers? Why not one intermission the juggler? The next, the tiger man, and so on? Or do clowns not count on the same level as performers? Just wondering, if I might ...
Now, to put this all in petty perspective. Frankly, I’m not a Copeland groupie. I’m a Ringling North II groupie, and so I read on with interest, wondering what the clown-in-residence might say about the owner-in-residence, about any observations of or interactions with the top man. Were it not for a Ringling running Kelly Miller (in and out of the weeds through Texas) I’d likely not be following the adventures of Steve and Ryan, though they do put you right onto the lots. Just the same, I soldier on through the sink gags and the sore throats (with the latter I can identify, Steve), on good days and bad, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, with or without water.
[Photos, from the top: Paul Binder and Guillaume Defresnoy, Spectacle magazine photo by Maike Schulz; a photo from Ringling's Over The Top program magazine; Combs and Copeland, in Roma, Texas, from their blog]