Friday, July 10, 2009

Brooklyn is For Big Tops, People or Not: Boom A Ring Biz Only OK; Cole Bros. Comes Next

Might you need a surgical belt?  Welcome to my grandma's sewing machine in Brooklyn ... 
  My long suffering and good-humored grandmother at work

Below:  Grandma was once young and fashionable, too!  Here she is with my wonderful mom, Mary Byrd Lewis, the belle of Brooklyn, if you ask me.  And, oh look hard, there's Mom's little sister, Virginia (Aunt Ginny), trying to squeeze into the frame.

I’d nearly forgotten how many major circus events this New York burg has hosted, reaching clear back to the premiere in 1871 of the Barnum, Coup and Costello affair that within a couple of years was spreading two rings rather than one, in effect kicking off the great American three ring circus to follow.

Ringling-Barnum played Brooklyn almost every year from 1919, when those two titles were joined, until 1938, when labor problems may have soured the Ringlings to ever again risking the town. Until then, the canvas tour always began after the Garden dates in the Big B.

I saw the Big Apple Circus in this town in 1986, when it played Prospect Park. Neat location; now UniverSoul Circus, claimed by a local Brooklyn Paper reporter to have grown up here, plays the Wollman Rink at the park in April. And other shows and peopled configurations, among them the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, also toss clubs and somersaults over Brooklyn turf — or asphalt.

Did anyone stop to consider, and maybe be thrilled by the advent of Ringling Boom A Ring, which marks the very first U.S. tent show with the name Ringling on top of it since John Ringling North said good bye, big top, back in Pittsburgh in 1956? I’d call this typically historic for Brooklyn, a place where my grandmother once turned out corsets (surgical belts) for women needing to prune their figures. Maybe hoping for a date to some circus about to hit town.

Next comes New Cole, due in on July 27 for a seven day splash.

As for that Boom A Ring thing, which I consider perhaps the best American circus in years, reliable sources in the area report that night shows are near full, not so the poorly attended matinees, drawing maybe half houses. Another source believes that Brooklyn types don’t go for the afternoon programs, which strikes me as odd, considering the tent is on Coney, and isn’t/wasn’t Coney island a daytime thing? But then again, as I’ve stated here, it’s hard to imagine a nearly three month stay as reaping turnaway crowds. Still, I’m hoping, for I want to see this show again. Brooklyn is the new Manhattan — if you are big top mad.

The revived Great Circus Parade, on the move this very Sunday, has already been unrevived the next two season likely, say the officials in Milwaukee, citing economic conditions as the culprit. Kelly-Miller Circus, whatever it is they are offering four times a day, is offering it under a gold and purple tent. Is John Ringling North II showing a more flamboyant side, or is this merely a rent-a-tent?

End Ringers, I have: Big Apple Circus manager Don Covington telling a reporter up in Westerly, Rhode Island, that it takes em a full day (8AM to midnight) just to get all 1,700 seats secured. Remember when they could throw ten times that many up in a couple or three hours? Of course, today we enjoy superior seating, each individual chair clearly more comfortable than those on the old Concello seat wagons, Sorry, Art...

UniverSoul, by the way, landed a downbeat review by The Brooklyn Paper critic, Thurston Dooley III. ... Russia, how lucky we are that your political system fell all to pieces: Of Boom A Ring’s 24 performers, 16 are from Russia, and what they seem to miss the most is "banya" -- the Rusisan bath house. But oh, what a show that produce! ... A Milwaukee Journal Sentinal feature story talking up the great cuisine on the old Ringling cook house tent, and how envious I feel. I ate on Wallace Bros., not with embracing affection. Some of it I ejected in the sleeper into a bucket, while the poor band men in other bunks politely stomached my reaction to the gut foundry's latest offering ..

We mustn’t end on such a sour note. What else is there here? Oh, there is this: In L.A., where they just wound up the Jacko wake, there is a show “not your family circus,” called Cirque Berzek. I thought that odd ball troupe had died and gone to a porno wax museum. But they are back at it, seems. “Sexy, scandalous, and whole unsuitable for children."

ok. But how is their cookhouse? No, no, I won’t go there ...

Grandmother at 186 Irving Avenue; where I visited her in the early 1960s in her "railroad flat."

first posted July 10, 2009


Alan Cabal said...

Uhh, hello: remember Ringling's Kaleidescape? That was under a tent.

And back when David LeBlanc was the lot boss, the entire BAC set-up was 28 hours, from the first stake driven to the sound check. Tear-down then was about 6 hours.

Showbiz David said...

No, I don't seem to recall a show named "Ringling's Kaleidescape." I do remember one called "Barnum's Kaleidescape."
What's in a name? Plenty.

Logan Jacot said...

The tent is rented from the Anastasini family. I would imagine they probably make up a large portion of the show as well, but that's just a guess.

Anonymous said...

The Ringling show did perform in a tent in Japan for at least a season or two in the late 80's. The tent was owned by the Japanses sponsor, but it was a three ring version of the Ringling show specially produced by Feld & co.

-Charlie Tuna

Showbiz David said...

Right you are. I thought about that, and let sentiment rule.

Showbiz David said...

Another Ringling tent went up for the NY World's Fair, circa 1964; I think it was one ring and was not much of a show, and did not draw notable crowds. This was proably during the lowest artistic point in JRN's career.

Anonymous said...


Oh, how I loved seeing the picture of our dear grandma at the sewing maching there in Brooklyn, and the picture of you in her flat. It's so hard to even know what to say anymore about "where we're at today, in so many ways". I LONG FOR THE "GOOD OLD DAYS". DOES ANYBODY ELSE LONG FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS?"

So Sincerely,

Alan Cabal said...

In 1960, the USA was 90% white. We might have been able to heal the race issue here, had we not opened the floodgates on immigration in 1965. But it did help a certain tiny group of "victims" to attain dominion over us. There went the "Good Old Days"...

Here's a cute report on the Milwaukee Circus Parade:

Anonymous said...

Kaleidescape wasn't under the Ringling Brothers name/trademark