Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Misc: New York Times: “It Never Was the Greatest Show on Earth.” ... And Clowns are Scary, and UniverSoul is Strange

Greatest insult on earth: The Felds must be Feldified: This, the kickoff line to a fairly good New York Times review of Illuscination “Let’s be honest. It never was the Greatest Show on Earth.” Oh, really, guy? Guy would be one Jason Zinoman, who maybe came in to the scene rather late, like say post 2006. Wonder if he’s read any books on American circus history. His daring assertion does address a valid issue: what's in a name?

There was a rare time when thousands packed huge tents to behold spectacular three-ring spectacles -- before the movies, before Star Wars and Madonna, the Beetles and American Idol.

The “Greatest,” so easy to argue, does have a rather strained, even hollow ring to it in modern times, especially since the circus retired its legendary trio of circles. But, oh, how aptly that famous slogan once applied when P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey first threw up three rings and toured under a mammoth big top, when the young Ringling brothers pitched a black tent on the midway in 1897, under which they teased circus addicts with a new invention called “moving pictures.” When the American circus assumed holiday status, thousands from farms railing into big cities for a chance to sample the magic. When long red and silver trains whistled and puffed into towns bearing long parades of gilded wonders on wheels, acres of tents and some of the most incredibly talented mortals on the face of the globe. "Greatest," I suppose, stood more for size, for the sheer logistical magnificence of it all than for anything else. And GREAT it was, Mr. Jason Zinoman!

Feld vs. The New York Times?

Okay, enough of that fun. Ringling’s Coney date drew at least three good notices, one mine, and I’m putting them up side by side here in a few furious days, for mine if nobody else’s entertainment. This is an all-sizes fits me blog.

Flaky big top? I’ve always found the curiously smug UniverSoul Circus a very strange organization, impossible to reach, all to themselves, so secretive outside they’re “it’s a black thing’ mind set. Don’t believe me? Ask their original ringmaster (a true zing master) Calvin “Casual Cal” DuPree, who left partly wanting to acknowledge white audiences, too. Here they are, flaking out tail end of Newark, NJ, date, ditching last four days and messaging to those holding tickets how to get refunded. Ditched days being played in Queens NY. But, they do wander as they wander: UniverSoul earlier pledged some of the Queens dates to East Hartford, June 23 through 27; however, that date is evidently out-inked. This is a very “in the moment” show. I might try trailing them down to L.A., that is if my tarot card reader agrees. And if my ear-drum protectors check out.

On solid sawdust: Big Apple Circus to play PBS: Touted as rare inside peek. “First time in our 32 year history that we granted this level of backstage access to anyone” says new artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. Series to air, come November, in six parts covering creation of the 2008 show, Play On! Given Paul Binder's scholarly grasp of circus history, I’m waiting to see how he may reference the rings beyond BAC. Beyond the strangely oblivious grasp of The New York Times.

Counseling for Clown-aphobs? More tremors down the Don Covington chute: Now being freely offered across the pond by the John Lawson Circus, psychiatric intervention for people scared witless by strange looking characters who wear grotesque makeup in circus shows. Here's a little backdrop: Say the know-it-all experts, horror films like Stephen Kings “It” portray joeys as sinister types, causing some to fear them in any context.

Everything about the circus these days seems cause for the jitters. Thus, aerialists are strapping themselves into lifelines, elephants equivocating down to a few baby steps. Clowns may eventually have to shuck their paint and go facially nude. A fear of painted grins is reported to rank in the “top ten phobias” of the western world. I guess that's the only phobia I don’t suffer — yet. I had better get with the program and arm myself from here on out (a good idea, anyway, after my visit to a place called Brewster), or stay secure in the top tier of seatage. On the other hand, I have a weirdly apt idea: Maybe clowns should live down to their reputations and go berserk in rings of fear? A murder in mirth? Rib-tickling robberies? Spooky weirdos on chains behind bars, let out only into big cages to terrify each other and stage mock escapes into hysterical fans to an ersatz Psycho soundtrack?

Benign escape artist elephant Sabu retired to a zoo. She won’t be splashing freely through ponds and lakes anymore. The 26-year-old Circus Knie trouper has been sent back to winter quarters in Rapperswill, Switzerland. Heck, just when she and the media were enjoying an amusing courtship.

It’s Monday. Blame it on Jade Spring tea. I know, you’re at the office, have e-mail to roll, web sites to troll. I promise not to tell your boss.

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