Wednesday, November 10, 2010

PBS Returns to Circus Tonight: Will Binder Blow His Top Again? Can Lubin Control His Ego? Will the Bomb Kid Return? & How Will Steve Smith Cope?

Are you geared up for tonight's hours 2 and 3 of the 6-hour Big Apple Circus documentary, Circus, on PBS? I am for sure. Can't wait.

Last week's first two hours were sufficiently entertaining, mainly because the cameras rolled while familiar BAC figures revealed very-human personality traits I'd not known about. We got to see founder Paul Binder in anger meltdown. We watched Barry Lubin pushing around new clown Glen Heroy, trying to lock him into strait jacket direction. Look over there. Right hand move this way. Now turn. Pause. Look up! No, not right. Do it again!

And, in dubious retrospect, I asked myself: Hmmmm, yes, hmmmm. Let's see. Director Steve Smith ran the Ringling Clown College for ten years; in fact, he was a Ringling joey for six seasons, and on this show, he was, of record, the official "director." Of record, Lubin was a "production consultant." (says so in my copy of that year's program magazine), not the "Director of Clowning" for BAC that his Wikipedia profile claims him to be.

So I'll be watching to to see who directs Heroy the most, Smith or Lubin.

We got a prop kid getting tossed behind bars for allegedly wondering on his PC how one could plant a bomb under the big top. I saw somebody near the end of the program who looked like him, leading me to wonder if he's back.

Lots of tense plot threads that could explode into high drama. I'm taken by the premise, in which it appears the producers were given fine and full access to freely walk the lot and record whatever they found.

Last week I wondered if the unbecoming hissy fit thrown by Mr. Binder might have been staged for theatrical effect. Evidently not, comments posted here state clearly (as did a comment posted last year), that this is in fact the real Paul Binder. (For the record, Mr. Binder graciously granted me a long telephone interview five years ago; not once did this side of his personality surface.)

I'm not any where near as surprised with the Barry Lubin I am seeing for the first time. I've always had the impression that he lusted after as much power as he could grab. Among the perks he has extracted from management, getting long periods away while an understudy played his "Grandma" character, unheard of, to my knowledge, in big top history.

Binder's obvious fear of a performer so much as stubbing a toe has only added to my suspicions that he is one very cautious producer, perhaps too much so.

And then there's new artistic director G. Dufresnoy (I have HAD IT trying to spell this man's first name, and my exasperated spell checker is filing for divorce). In my first glimpses of G.D., I enjoyed yet another surprise and a favorable one. Mr. D. said almost nothing last week, but his few words struck me as strong and authoritative, and in his fleeting persona I could see an impresario in the making. I noticed him sitting a few rows above Binder & Christensen -- power play? I'm hoping to see more of him in action tomorrow night. Whether he will endure in his new post is far from a settled matter; Early luke warm reactions to his first fully controlled opus, Dance On!, do not bode so well. The show on TV is getting immense amounts of media attention, far more than it's getting for its new opus in Gotham.

So here they come -- explosive outgoing founder-artistic director. Clown Grandma who seems hungry for greater power and recognition. Bomb kid possibly just misunderstood. And the endearing director of record brimming with enthusiasm in the face of it all. I will be studying Steve Smith's subtle facial expressions, looking for deliciously telling hints he may be telegraphing our way. Oh, the fun of it all.

Big Apple Circus, bring it on!


Anonymous said...

David, sheesh ... calm down ... I think you need to switch to decaf

Alan Cabal said...

How hard can it be to spell Guillaume? I smoke pot all day and have no problem with it.

Binder's outburst was completely justified. Falling (or being thrown) off of a horse into the ring curb and/or seats would result in injuries considerably more substantial than stubbing a toe.

Showbiz David said...

I understand that this year, they have but one "aerial" act -- woman who does a cloud swing, securely strapped to a mechanic.
I rest my case.

David Carlyon said...


Replying to your criticism of Barry Lubin the other day, I pointed out that clowning requires work and specificity that’s usually not recognized by amateur clowns, audiences, and even many who write about circus.

Okay, I understand that you might not accept my perspective. But did you have to ignore it completely? Apply what you wrote about Barry and clowning to the craft of writing. Does an editor “lock [you] into strait jacket direction” when critiquing your work? Is a copy editor lusting for power when pointing out that a section of your golden prose is unclear? Of course not. Even when you disagree, you know they provide perspective. That’s what Barry was doing.

C’mon, fess up. You’re just annoyed that he’s gotten time off during his decades with Big Apple. You’re entitled to your opinion but why tilt the scale as you write? You hint that Barry only “claims” to be Director of Clowning, though Big Apple programs have listed him that way. You ignore his credentials while emphasizing Steve Smith’s. (That includes Steve’s 10 years heading Clown College but aren’t you one of those who’s criticized CC training?) You also ignore that Barry defers to fellow clown Mark at times, someone he’s built up trust with. And you suggest that the time away that Barry negotiated with his bosses is somehow different than perks other performers have gotten throughout circus history.

As for Steve’s sterling qualities, even he would probably admit that doesn’t include “subtle facial expressions,” at least not on this TV show so far.

I know both Barry Lubin and Steve Smith, and like them both. In this case, they had different roles, one directing a show, the other directing a clown, and that difference requires different approaches. Other than the needs of a reality show -- or prejudging based on an old annoyance -- I don’t see why one has to be a bad guy and the other your shining knight.

Showbiz David said...


Before posting this, I carefully checked my program magazine for Play On. I did not find "director or clowning" in Lubin's bio in the back. Nor on page two, where his credit lines reads "Production Consultant." For another show, Celebrate, his credit lines reads "Creative Consultant." If you can point me to the credit "Director of Clowning, I will be happy to correct the record.

If you can point out to me other clowns in circus history who have enjoyed extensive time off as their roles were handled by others, I'd also be glad to know and point that out. You must have been very offended by the WSJ article on "power clowns."

It's the entry on Lubin entry in Wikipedia that "claims" his title of Director of Clowning.

As for Steve "facial expressions," I'll grant you I'm probably over-reaching there. Having perhaps too much fun. Although body language is generally regarded as highly significant.

Am I miffed that Bary is so often gone? Not as much as I am at BAC, for falling to indicate on its website that the morning shows are truncated. Which is why when I went to an 11 AM show, I did not see the Grandma character, whoever played it that day, do the "Singing in the Rain" bit. I had looked forward to that. BAC is guilty of its own disingenuous acts in promotion.