Thursday, March 12, 2009

Three-Ring Speculator: Has Binder Cloned Himself? Is Feld Telling the Truth? Can Copeland Survive Coloring Book Duty?

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]


Anonymous said...

Really dude? The blog IS called 'The Adventures of Steve and Ryan', not the acts of the Kelly Miller show. IF you want to know gossip join the show. This is for friends and family of Steve and Ryan, not for your critiques.
And as far as the coloring books-Obviously you've never been on the road- wether you like something or not- you get the job done, especially if it's part of the contract. It's dirty, it's hard work, and it IS about money. We try to keep the art strong- but money keeps the art going- especially in the mud shows. No one in the audience thinks any less of the boys talent because they come out at intermission to sell books. They are small town folk and understand it's just business.
So GET over yourself. Please!

Wade G. Burck said...

It is in the contract!!!!!! That is an incredible twist that has apparently occurred in the circus. It is a shame a salary of value could not be offered instead of "extras". I don't even think McDonalds offers the chance to clean toilets, as a motivator to take the gig. No, until we see professional athletes, and/or artists walking through the seats, hawking the wares, it will just be a tawdry bit of mud show history, and nothing that anybody has to find acceptable.
Wade Burck

Anonymous said...

Cherry Pie has been around as long as the order to earn more money you must do more jobs...whether it be another turn in the ring, or pitching the books, or even packing up the backdoor at the end of the's unfortunate but a mudshow can't pay for just talent alone...I'm surprised the dynamic duo haven't had to go and get their CDL's yet in order to be more generally useful...but alas enough of this rant...just get out there and be with it, for it, and can't get enough of it.....or stop the b@tchin!!!!


Chase said...

I've seen a fair amount of mudshows. I don't remember one where the clowns didn't sell coloring books or other junk. It's part of the show. Ideally they wouldn't do it, but they all do.

B.E.Trumble said...

It's kind of funny, last night Jim "BJ" Hebert the concessions manager on Culpepper & Merriweather was telling my son Robin about his days at Ringling Clown College, in the early 1980's. At least once a day somebody would tell the would be clowns that if they didn't get hired by RBBB they would be "forced to work on a tent show and sell coloring books." Only Otto Griebling said that in his opinion the tent shows were actually better -- cleaner -- as he put it. In those days the newly minted clowns who were signed by RBBB earned $135 a week. As it happens BJ went to a tent show, for $125 a week, and sold a particular novelty. The novelty earned him nearly as much as his salary -- so the pitches essentially meant that he made nearly doub le what his RBBB classmates did. He clowned for nine years and stayed in the circus business. Only two other members of that clown college class are still in the business. Worth remembering,. many of the great clowns of the past were also pitchmen, even if they didn't sell "books" on Ringling or Cole. In the off-season they worked in Department stores in places like Chicago. Selling didn't seem to demean them as artists or make them any less funny.