Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kenneth Feld’s Dubious Coney Gamble Could Dramatically Reverse Ringling History ...

Showbiz David Speculates

Kenneth Feld, finally, has found a tent in which he can feel at home. I am thinking the one on its way from Europe to America, to be pitched over Coney Island when Feld's smaller Gold Unit will appear during the summer at the sagging seaside resort.

Forget Kalaidoscape. As good as this Cirque du Soleil spin-off struck some as being, the man who for a moment wanted to go upscale and grab a part of the CDS market soon lost heart. Mr. Feld, I believe, simply realized how little patience or flair he has for such artfully crafted things, and how far better he is at the art of populist marketing. When recently, talking to a reporter, Feld described his operation, not without a touch of pride, as the Wall Mart of the circus world, I think the statement showed that he has come to terms with both the limitations and advantages of his native commercial instincts. He is a shrewd corporate animal, partly carved from his father’s example. Of late, he has demonstrated an interesting, if not always impressive, ability to shake things up as never he did before, and to tinker with a radical redesign of the Ringling performance format. Part of this is no doubt driven by the changing look of circuses world wide; part by shrinking crowds, arguably driven off by the constant PETA protests. Kenneth Feld's bolder moves may lead to novel excitement.

Now as for the Coney Island gig, I doubt this will work out long term. The location and time of the year strike me as wrong wrong wrong. Yes, Big Apple Circus does well each Holiday season, so perhaps Ringling can find a viable market across the hot summer months, assuming the tent is air-cooled. Somehow, I don’t see it happening. And New York may be saturated out, what with Ringling’s annual Madison Square Garden date preceded by the Big Apple and the Cirque Wintuk multi-month runs over the Holiday season. Come summer time, who is going to be in the mood to take in yet another circus?

What may happen, however, is an eventual move — are you ready? — for Big Bertha (remember her?) back to the big top.

Okay, stand up and cheer; or stay seated and jeer my naivete.

The American return to a single ring has posed problems for the producers who rent huge auditoriums. Pity the arena circus. As crowds thin out (and here I am assuming they are from what I have seen), these shows look lonelier than ever, what with so much space to fill and so little with which to fill it.

Feld’s first ringless circus, the oddball 2006 outing, was fairly pathetic, drawing valid negative notices from big city critics. But the producer listened to his patrons -- one of his reigning traits -- and continues to make audience-appealing changes.

Might Mr. Feld eventually decide that he will have to return to the tents in order to stay viable economically? I’m not sure. But I would not rule out such a dramatic reversal of Ringling circus history.

When John Ringling North, over fifty years ago, declared the tented circus as it then existed, to be “a thing of the past,” what weighted on Mr. North’s mind was being able to maintain the lavish three-ring format that he had elevated to such visual rapture. Under a hard top, he could afford what he could no longer afford under acres of costly canvas.

But that was then. Now, five decades later, we are down to one ring. Now, those huge arenas no longer seem as necessary or nearly as flattering, not when so few of the seats get taken.

Look beyond Coney to a possible new -- or older day -- for Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey.


Anonymous said...

just a small note as I haven't had the chance to view your site in months.
There's a posting outside of the fence at Coney Island's circus site. Lists all show times. Yada yada
Lively discussions all day long "should we go to this show or that show?" "Maybe we'll come back again with the other grandchildren when they visit..."
There's a constant stream of interested people.......
Don't count this show out

Anonymous said...

send me your private email again.
Computer crashed and lost it all!

Anonymous said...

BTW, we've so far had full houses