Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Out of the Past:: Wintuk’s Growing Charm ... A Feld Press Flack Kindly Recalls the Fun ... Fabric Flyers Keep Falling ...

First posted December 16, 2009

on the Rise?
I took a look at some recent reviews of Cirque du Soleil’s third season at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, where Wintuk, a show designed for holiday-happy moppets, seems to be growing in luster and charm. That kindly supporter of all things circus, The New York Times, offered a more affirmative review of this latest return visit. “Though the plot is little more than an excuse to move from act to act, the performances are invariably impressive,” wrote Ken Jaworowski. Okay, I am falling too; were I back there, I would love to give Wintuk a chance. Seems it has a simple yet doable “story” premise, good-sounding acts and the big snowfall payoff ... Talking Cirque, the pre-Broadway shakedown in the Windy City of its oddball stagecoction, Banana Shpeel, was met with a downbeat notice from the Chicago Tribune’s respected theatre-circus critic, Chris Jones, basically echoing a slew of angry consumer reviews. “cold, chaotic , clipped and cacophonous” is what Jones found. “There is a great deal to fix before this show opens in New York.” ... BTW: Did you know that the Montreal monster flopped out in the distant past with another try at going legit, a “musical” presented in arenas called Delirium?

Flacking the Feld Way: To ask a good circus press agent for a critical take on his boss, well, when his boss was the late Irvin Feld, is probably asking too much. Jack Ryan, who came on in 1968 when the Feld family took over for the Ringlings, has penned a lively looking-back piece, “Bards of the Big Top,” the last of two installments now on display in the new issue of Spectacle. I felt a strange sadness at the end of the story, because Jack (seen here in his youth with Clyde Beatty) no doubt has the goods on so many things he will likely never reveal. Not that he should. He only hints at dissatisfaction, says he quit after five years, feeling “burnt out.” He did return now and then over the years free lancing for the Felds. I suppose a good press man is by nature too upbeat to feel very good about producing a tell-all tome. In his amiably entertaining book, This Way to the Big Show, the great Dexter Fellows wrote a chapter “The Customer Is Always Wrong,” full of candor concerning all manner of circus rackets against customers.

Is That All There Is, My Friend? As for Mr. Irvin, I’d love to know, for example, whether it was Jack who dropped Feld's name dozens of times in some of the program magazine articles, or if he was under orders from a driven megalomaniac out to upstage even Barnum's legacy? It’s not a nice question to ask, but oh-so-intriguing a story yet to be uncovered, and, judging by the enormously successful press campaign that built up Irvin Feld as the ultimate great hands-on circus boss (based on historical fictions landing in the pages of Variety), Jack on this count alone must at least share high honors with Feld colleagues as a master spinmaster. This does not however diminish my my grave misgivings over the rearrangement of circus history (doing great harm to, among others, Art Concello), likely ordered by the Felds, forever insecure under their own skins ... On the upshine, we can thank Jack for the creation in 1969 of the stirring Ringling sign off, "May all your days be circus days!" which director Richard Barstow set to music and ringmaster Harold Ronk sang. Jack calls this contribution his "fifteen minutes of circus fame." Now, there's a crack flackmaster at the top of his game ...

Danger in the bed sheets: Another sad tale of fabric aerialists (or aerial dancers) falling to the ground. This from Moscow, where Yulia Volkova and her husband-partner Alexander during Nulikin Old Circus rehearsals (sans mechanics) took a terrible fall while "wrapping their limbs in long swaths of cloth." Both were hospitalized with serious injuries ... In recent years, why so many other such mishaps on the fabrics? My guess is that some of these artists are too much into their “choreography,” too much into ballet, and thus lose practical contact with the inherent danger of aerial work ...

End Ring Chills: Trainer Christian Walliser, 28, at Pagel’s Dinner Circus in Germany close to death after being mauled by three tigers ... Reality remains the circus’s reigning feature. I wish a fine and full recovery for all of these fearless, very real, performers ...

MM: 12.16.09


Jack Ryan said...


Thanks for the comments on my Spectacle story.

Sure. I know things about the Ringling show that I will never write about.

I signed no confidentiality agreement but feel that I was taken into confidences, did my job and was paid well for doing it. And, I may add, I saw nothing illegal or immoral.

The way I look at it, writing a "tell all" would be a breech of trust. In sort of the same way an attorney works, a good publicist should know all but work to put the very best light on his clients' activities. That's why they hire us and pay us every week.

Perhaps you and your readers disagree. Your privilege, of course!

Kindest regards,


Showbiz David said...

I respect your positions, Jack, though slightly beg to differ. When I worked as "national press representative" for Sid Kellner, I did my best to put the best light on his James Bros Circus, season of 1969. Although subsequently, no longer working for Kellner but free lancing for Variety, I issued at least one negative review of his renamed George Matthews Great London Circus. And I have since truthfully disclosed some insights into his ruthless phone room activities and his variable temperament in general, at the same time stating what promise I saw in the man to be the great circus producer he never became, blame partly his phone room addictions. Right or wrong? I guess my choice. I will only say this, perhaps my phrase "tell all" was ill chosen. I mostly rue what a person like you could tell us -- someday maybe a big important book will be written about the Felds, but maybe not until Kenneth too has departed this world. It could be a page turner. Could be.

arlee bird said...


Hope you and your readers will check out my memoir piece about my mother on my Today's (Wed. 12/16) blog post-- she was a juggler and made a few circus appearances in her life.


Wade G. Burck said...

What's up? Do we need to start posting your "censors" on circusNOspin so folks get the whole story. Do you know how many rebuttals to your "heros" have been axed in the past?
Damn Jack, don't say they paid you well. Don't you know "Ringling doesn't pay anything, and they are cheap????" That is why so many folk's, who have never been asked, would never work there. LOL
Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

Wade, how many rebuttals to my heroes have been axed in the past? that's a new one to me. I only axe profanity or comments that go way way off point into gratuitous rants. "Ringling doesn't pay anything"??? According to you, commenting here long ago, YOU were highly paid in the mid 1980s. Ringling of course is known for generally paying a lot less than some others. It's also known for meeting payday. Who knows how true it is. Please, when you tell us the whole story on your blog, let me know so I can educate myself. When I go over there, I see the most beautiful photos. Where is the text? I would like to read your declarations or rebuttals.

Showbiz David said...

Wade, your recent comment has been rejected, as it was the first time, and I can only suggest that you address your strong and bitter feelings about ungrateful circus executives on your own blog if you already haven’t. My posting about circus employees who blog was about just that, not about salaries, a subject that seems to perpetually bother you. I covered the subject from many points of view, pointing out that bloggers can and do serve history. You seem not to realize or accept, as most of us have to, that the arts in general have never paid much except to a precious few mortals (such as I understand you to have been, from what you told us about Irvin Feld once stating that you were very highly paid). I am a published writer who receives royalties, but I could NEVER have made a living at it. I am one of about 95% of published writers who could never have made a living at it. Circus is not a place for people wanting to get rich quick. It is a passion that some make sacrifices to follow.

Wade G. Burck said...

Show biz,
I rest my case. I never even saw the blog deal you mention. I shall look for it now. The mention of monies by Irvin Feld, was in a front page interview in the Wall Street Journal. I shall look for the date if you are interested.
Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

Wade, I need no proof of your Ringling pay; I merely pointed it out to remind you of as fact of life, that you for a time enjoyed the rare status of a highly paid performer, something most people in various arts never enjoy. My post about bloggers that I referenced is not that far down the page, just keeping scrolling.

Showbiz David said...

p.s. you will find my post about bloggers after you reach the end of this page and click onto "older posts" -- it is the first one.