Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wait for the White Tops – or Godot, or My Next Mood

I plead guilty. I am a circus fan, although were I a member of the official club, the Big Top Brethren might kick me out. Lack of gratitude for what’s left on the lots. Lack of backyard courtesies.

“We Pay as we go,” was at one time one of the founding slogans of the CFA, and once, while walking with my late friend Hugo Marquardt, determined to remain ticketless, onto the lot of the Carson and Barnes Circus at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, there to take in a tight little firecracker of a show, Hugo, mimicking CFA loyalty (pardon my irreverence) clapped his hands together and said, “We clap as we go!”

Like most good circus goers with a big top habit, I prided myself on getting into as many shows as I could for free. So did Hugo. Some of us were dubbed by the shows we crashed “lot lice.” Almost a badge of honor. Even when the Moscow Circus played the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1967, I managed, though with ticket in hand, to walk right in through the back door. What a coup!

In later, still opportunistic years, when I now and then free lanced for Variety, I would state that fact and usually extract a freebie, though never to my knowledge from the Ringlings. You’d have to shill ahead. Still, I’d wander into the back door of the Cow Palace before the Felds secured it, and then wander, following the example of my late friend Don Marcks, like “one of them” into the arena, and then into a pricey box seat, when biz was not very bizzy. What an affordable deal.

I plead guilty. I’ve walked miles to see what miles up the road may reaffirm my high regard for big top magic, or may uncork my nitpicking side. Last year, I did some extensive secret sleuthing and found that a certain circus I kind of wanted to see would again be playing a certain New Jersey City in June on a Thursday. Okay, then I managed to weave together a day-long itinerary from Greyhound to local bus service, so I could catch the early show and make it back to New York late that night.

But, did I really want to take that much time for so iffy a show? The name Kelly-Miller. The place, Pemberton. I was reading a blog that hangs out dirty laundry and gives you a blow by blow account of audience reaction and size, and is now addressing the issue of whether or not to tip surly prop hands (which some call extortion); it helped dampen my resolve. Then, I learned that Ringling-Barnum would be opening under canvas at Coney a week Later. I could take In Big Apple Circus in the morning, Boom A Ring that evening. What luck! So I moved my travel plans ahead by a week. Good bye, Pemberton. Sorry, Greyhound.

And now, I pride myself on paying as I go. I’ve turned myself into something of an ultra purist. Some people respect me, and so that gives me greater incentive to try being as fair as I can. My uncle kept hammering away, “be objective!” I go out of my way to avoid the subliminal effects of gratuities. How I’ve changed, from guy pushing thin Variety credentials to Mr. Anonymous. Plus, in these tense bloggy times when some people out there, it seems, would love to get their hands on me for unkind circus thoughts, it’s safer. One of them asked me if I knew anything about how circuses are run. Having worked for Sid Kellner, I learned a lot about how boiler rooms are run (no, I never personed a phone, but did the press agent thing), and how they nearly ran the circus into the ground.

I approach every circus like a blank slate, with high hopes. Sometimes you get thrown a thrill: Ringling at Coney, I suspected, would be the indoor Ringling only under a tent. How wrong I was. The best complete circus I’ve seen in years, and now I’m blasted for blasting the Felds. Sure, I never was a great Feld fan, although I’ve always stated how impressed I was with Kenneth Feld’s apparently (notice I said “apparently”) unstinting devotion to the proper care and treatment of his animals. Only trying to practice basic journalism.

Boom A Ring makes you want to return. Renews your faith in Circus 1A. Which is why I have questioned the absence of an important high wire act from the show, noting a certain weakness in the air.

Those who can’t accept the fact that life is always changing, so too the circus, will never understand me. A Feld fan? Who could have ever guessed. Well, of Boom A ring fan, anyway. Having ordered my ticket on line, I’ve since received an email to the “Hammarstrom Family,” thanking me for my patronage, signed b Mr. Feld himself. Better not swoon to soon. Zing Zang Zoom is on its way. A fresh slate.

Some know how critical I can be of the owners. I have many times said how much I respect their skill in keeping their respective shows on the road, but that doesn’t mean I have to like everything they keep on the road. Another matter altogether. Not very circus fanish of me, I know.

Every year is new year for all of the shows, which is why I enter each with renewed faith that this could be the one. And which is why I fight to stay open to all the changes that can either bring out my un-circus fan side, or set me wallowing in my own purple prose. Ugh.

Does my “Arrogance know no boundaries,” asks one rather edgy guy who, it seems, takes very personally anything critical I say about Kelly Miller, even though I have offered his act distinct praise. And I smiled. When I wrote the still-smolderng post below (somebody who called me on the phone said his PC was on fire), I amused myself being mock arrogant. Actually, I held back on my “arrogance,” for instead of issuing optional directives to circus producers, I was tempted to issue full scale mandatory commandments from on high. May I insert here: LOL. By the way, does anybody out there ever laugh? My friends laugh at a lot at the things I say. Must being a circus fan be so deadly serious? One of you said the world could do without this blog. Well, Pal Anonymous, the world does do without this blog, but you can’t seem to, nor can a few others.

I plead guilty. I’m a circus fan who is not a circus fan. Funny that way.


Casey McCoy Cainan said...

What the #^$% EDGY!!!


First, I have thanked you for the kind words about my act. Secondly, I have never attempted to defend the quality of the acts here, other then the clowns, which I feel are better then most on the road today and I would stand on Lou Jacob's coffee table and say that. My "edgyness" comes from a supposed "purist" critic having opinions on a show he hasn't seen.

I was also not very impressed with the Boom-A-Ring review. Yes you gave the show over all high marks, but somehow felt a need to personally attack Vincenta. I don't remember Siskel or Ebert saying "The movie was great over all, but we were scared to death the screen might collapse under John Candy's incredibly heavy weight. Fat guys like him should not do airplane scenes"

I have never asked "What do you know about it" because "everyone" knows more about what is wrong with the circus, then the few people who decide to own one.
Fact is, in an age where circus owners are an endangered species, JRNII has come here and bought one, with the intentions of making it great. Not to run a boiler room and get rich, not to rape the public with free tickets and $20 parking, and not to sell $15 floss and $12 snowcones, no he did it because he, like you, is a circus fan. I guess he is funny like that too.

And I laugh several times a day, whether I need to or not!

Showbiz David said...

I made very clear in my post about JRN II "After Three Years" that I was speculating, and I discussed a number of troubling matters, point by point. I stated it can take a circus producer 10 years to fully find his mark. I noted things about the K-M show that, in my opinion, for short of the "Ringling magic" JRNII said he wanted to infuse in the show. It was NOT a review, and I stated that up front. BTW: You were not the one who asked me what I know about circuses. Best of luck with your fine animal act.

B.E.Trumble said...

David, I suppose I'm a bit confused by your decision not to see Kelly Miller, when you've have written so often about the show and speculated on various issues. Wheteher you enjoyed the performance or not, the first hand insight might have been helpful.

Not sure I agree with Casey on the Coney Island review. Thought it legit, though not all circus lovers share your enthusiasm for the Gold Unit shoveled into a tent.

Let me gently take you to task. I welcome the idea of serious circus reviews, rsther than the usual fan based reviews. And its tough to do a great job on your own dime. But I question whether anyone can successfully wear the circus critic's hat without see a lot shows good and bad alike. Who are the best performers of this generation in any given act? What's the metric against which a show is measured? Comparing say a great little like Gifford's in the UK with a Cirque show can't be done. Both are excellent but they share only the vaguely defined term "circus." But an honest critic can I think love them both.

Showbiz David said...

Good points, Ben, which I may address in a full future posting. All reviews are subjective, even from those with the most extensive circus viewing record, although I agree that they are best qualified to review. Sadly, they don't. I wish somebody who does not like Boom A Ring would review and tell us why. Those people remain peepless. It did get a bad notice from a Brooklyn paper. I totally agree that each circus must be judged on its own terms. That is the primary challenge.

R said...

What a great blog!!!!

Victoria B. Cristiani Rossi