Clown for a New Day

Clown for a New Day
Dagwood might make it in today's emasculated circus

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baraboo's Bob Dewel Votes for City-Wide Promotion


Whisper the name of this sleepy little town, and await the entrance of its most protective resident, retired Doc Bob Dewel, who once drilled for gold and now drills to restore the original luster to the grand Al Ringling Theatre. Not only he, but the faithful others proud of their backwoods paradise and not too amenable to the intrusive admonitions of characters like me.

Most recently, in response to my latest outburst concerning the Circus World Museum's dogged preoccupation with circus wagon restoration over other things (one being the shamefully neglected old Thimble Theatre Fun House), a new round of hurt feelings lined up to deposit comments here (okay all two or three of them). In same article, I sprinkled provisional praise upon one Steve Freese, latest exec. director of Circus World (as CWM likes to call itself these days) for fund raising exploits and a flair for promoting the museum's vast holdings. A Barnum for Baraboo, I suggested.

Now, returning to the Dewel School of proper provincial promotion, the good Doc, just having returned from a rail journey to Chicago,where he survived Million Dollar Quartet, "a very good but unbearably loud rock musical," responded with civil cheer to my urging that Baraboo itself, rather than Circus World, be The Sell. My premise being that this tiny little town packs a rather impressive array of cultural attractions into its lovely borders. Saith Bob in merry good spirits, "it seemed balanced and fair (unlike Fox News!)"

Onward to his and my in-sync campaign: "It appears we've been thinking the same thing with regard to publicity -- joint local attraction packages, etc. None of us can afford the outrageous prices to distribute brochures in "Thuh Delz" display racks."

Some time back, Bob identified ten local tourist-oriented groups that put out brochures, then designed and built a "prototype" display rack. That rack is still in use, but only at the Historical Society. I did not know there were that many possible tourist teases in the shadows of Ringlingville.

And that's as far as a good idea went. "Nothing happened," says Bob. He reached out to locals well connected; they did not return the reach.

In his opinion, his long-adopted town "is so laid back, so afraid of being cheap like the Dells, that we don't toot our own horn. Such a great place to live ... (population close to 14,000) ... Perhaps we don't want our spot in the World to become a real city."

Or another Orlando, or Sarasota. But, why not an idyllic oasis of old-fashioned amusement delights discretely arranged and ballyhooed? My central point was: the more reasons you can give out-of-towners for driving your way, the more tickets at any given event you will sell.

Meanwhile, at the Al Ringling, where Bob's fingers dance nimbly across the keyboard of a mighty pipe organ, happily he reports, "Ticket-popcorn stand is now gone from magnificently restored lobby. Use of stage is now over 100 days a year including rehearsal time ... Dressing rooms and ladies lounge are restored ... And -- I have two persons in training as guides, to replace this superannuated nonagenarian."

"Baraboo forever!" he trumpets.

I nominate Bob Dewel to take full custody of the charmingly quaint Thimble Theatre. He and It were made for each other. Forever.

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Photos from Restoration Bob: The Al Ringling lobby, before and after. Encores for a true Ringling Renaissance man!


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