Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out of the Past: Happy Old Year! ... Highlights and Lowlights of the Season Past

First posted December 31, 2011


Tomoko Nakagawa, 1955

Let's give a toast
-- and roast a little, too -- to the season about to hit the history books. These informal impressions are drawn from my visits to most of the big tops and to Ringling. They are NOT based upon a careful evaluation of all I've seen.

Randomly speaking ...

Best News: Big Apple Circus is in fine hands, those of new artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. He has displayed both a penchant for novelty (porcupine and pig!) and a subtle flair for top-drawer staging. Will this alone turn the corner? Not exactly, but I think BAC has too much going for it to hit the skids. [comments that follow pertain to Dance On!]

Worst News: Continued media-rattling allegations of elephant abuse at Ringling: Mother Jones magazine doing a story on the issue; the show reaching a $270,000 settlement with the USDA, without admitting guilt. Jay Leno making hay of the issue on the Tonight Show. These unwelcome developments, combined with a bill being passed through congress that would curtail performing animals in circuses -- and the mere idea of the Ringling staff being taught how to handle and care for its own animals by USDA outsiders -- may mark the most embarrassing PR setback ever for "The Greatest Show on Earth." Not to mention the negative impact it will have upon public perceptions in general of all circuses. Who is ultimately responsible? Kenneth Feld.

Welcome Return: The aerial ballet, in new diverse forms, as witness wonderful incarnations of it on Cole Bros. Circus of Stars and Ringlings' Fully Charged.

Best act combing acrobatics and comedy: The African tumblers on Circus Vargas. A sly riot.

Most innovative act: The Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe on Uni-wheels at Big Apple Circus

Best old thrill turn cleverly recycled. The human fuse on Ringling's Fully Charged.

Most delightful animal act: (hope I got this one right): Jenny Vidbel's horse-riding goats.

Best ringmaster (kindly keep in mind, I do not see all shows) Kelly Miller's John Moss III.

Worst ringmaster. Shall we count the blowhards? How about Cole, Ringling (Iverson), Vargas, and Carson & Barnes.

Best band: Big Apple Circus

Best taped score: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Worst performance setting (no rings,no respect): a tie between Ringling and Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Best spectacle: The second half segments of Ringling's Fully Charged

Most Offensive spectacle: Unused ring curbs stacked in clusters on Ringling Fully Charged set. Rub your indifference in our eyes, Feld Family!

Warmest atmosphere: Kelly Miller Circus

Best little house act bordering on the amateur: The modestly delightful dogs on Carson & Barnes.

Most impressive contortion display: the solo contortionist on Carson & Barnes. [I have since learned that he was likely Franklin Solis]. He brings exciting new dynamics to an act that can all too often seem all too sloooooooooooooooooooooooow. Bravo!

Most dazzling young big top star: Adrian Poema, Jr. on Kelly-Miller.

Most hair-raising thriller: As I recall, on Circus Vargas, the separation between the two halves of the Globe of Death when the thing split open was incredibly wide, giving me a chill I rarely get at circuses these safer days.

Most vexingly uneven show: Carson & Barnes, from world class (Solis, among two or three top turns) to world crass.

Most remarkably scored big cage act: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Worst prop department: Cole Bros. klutzy forklift operations.

Biggest downer of the year: the thoroughly mean-spirited new film Water for Elephants.

Worst show-disrupting spiel: A tie between Kelly Miller's Peterson Peanut plea and Ted McCray's prolonged snake photo grind on Circus Vargas, bloating the intermission for as long as it takes.

Best performance setting: Big Apple Circus

Biggest disappointment: Cirque du Soleil's Totem. Is the world running out of talent enough to stock the CDS franchise? A thousand dry ice machines, a thousand flashing laser beams will not completely disguise threadbare goods.

Most welcome sight: A full house at Circus Vargas in Hollywood. Me wonders if the terrific CV product placement in Water for Elephants caused a minor stamped onto the lot at Sunset Boulevard -- boffo location!

The last word: To Baraboo's perennial booster, the good Doc Bob Dewel, who, like too many "visitors" to this blog, never deposits a single comment here but charms his way in through my e-mail. Bob's latest report on restoration work underway at his beloved Al Ringling Theatre: "Apparently we are never destined to have a sugar daddy with a million bucks or so, but are slowly restoring on our own, with a qualified artist. Outer lobby gleams, inner lobby is nearly done---we spent $1000 just to verify for certain the original colors (Peach and Gold, light and bright). ... All eleven dressings rooms restored, Ladies lounge partially finished ...Rapp and Rapp would be proud. So would Al. Ringling. Incidentally Al’s magnificent mansion is for sale! "

The last photos: Let's bring on Lory Lagoyda, whose mom and dad worked on Ringling 1955-56. Her mother, Tomoko Nakagawa, came over when she was just 18 with the Uyeno Troupe -- eight young ladies --from Japan, imported by John Ringling North to lend additional beauty and charm to production numbers. Lory's dad worked with the elephants. Here are some pics of Tomoko, and how happy she looks to be in the great Ringling chorus!

Tomoko Nakagawa in the Mexicanorama aerial ballet, 1956

One of the Mama's in the Park, 1955

Say it With Flowers, 1956 spec

And that's a Happy Old Year!

12.31.11

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Those Were A Few of My Favorite Things ... One Magical Christmas Many Seasons Ago ...

When I first heard the song from the original cast album of the Broadway hit, The Sound of Music, I was utterly entranced by its mystical relevance to the Christmas season -- which was, appropriately, then upon us. It's, I suppose, the rich imagery of Oscar Hammerstein's lyric-- among the gems, "snow flakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes" -- that set the song so hauntingly apart from all others. Only the Great Oscar could craft such magic.

How poignant the stretch of time that has passed, remembering the moment in my bedroom first hearing the song played on a Sunday evening radio show that featured newly released cast albums, and then, a week or so later, playing it on my "magnificent Magnavox" hi fidelity record player. As enchanting then as it remains now.

It became a legendary jazz classic. Lately, it's found its way into the Holiday cannon. Just heard Andy Williams on a Comcast music channel singing it. Wonderful rendition.

It has been sung by millions. One of life's deepest satisfactions is to observe younger generations embracing elements of popular culture that I was there to embrace when they were first introduced.

12.25.11

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pretty Pictures for the Holidays ...


Courier & Ives by Monet: From Baraboo with Charm: "Happy Holiday from Al Ringling Theatre Friends"




Out to best Cirque du Soleil? Out to trump The Once Greatest Show on Earth? That tent, under which the horse and acrobatic show, Cavalia, is holding court in Atlanta, is claimed to be the "the world's largest touring big top," its height a staggering 125 feet. Its spread -- 100,000 sq. feet. Came in from Montreal on 115 semi-trucks and a work load of 300 people. Took 'em a month to load up out of Montreal (founded by Cirque spin offs, of which there seem to be thousands), move to Atlanta, and spread their gargantuan canvas. Why not a red and silver train, please, Santa -- in three sections? Please, oh please!

Who on earth is funding this monster? Are they hoping to go broke? Show uncorked on December 7, and unless it gets extended, reports What Now Atlanta (yes, indeed), the big top will vanish from Atlanta's midtown skyline after the last show on January 8.

Cavlia is offering a new show titled Odysseo. I saw an earlier edition, ponderously impressive, several years ago and predicted it had no future. How stupidly I predicted. Or maybe it has funding from Canada, something like that. The audacious magnitude of its physical layout trumps (I did not think such a thing was possible until now) the ill-fated Gene Kelly directed Clownaround, whose set was probably heavier and more complicated than the building itself, the Oakland Coliseum Arena, in which it premiered. After moving to San Francisco's Cow Palace, it went from Clownaround to Clownaground. (Well, I did mange to get Mr. Kelly's autograph.)



Let the sunshine back in, Florida! In land of Great Fallen Irvin Feld Dreams, a much smaller dream is taking shape in Disney World's revamped Fantasyland. This new parcel to be called Storybook Circus neighborhood. They're really, it seems, recycling the Dumbo ride and a few other existing attractions, plus adding, in Disneyspeak, "select experiences."

I'd rather go back to soft dreamy Baraboo ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday in Shambles: Bandwagon Rolls Out More Historical Grit ... Grandma Rues Her Last Big Apple Season ... Tom & Suri Cruise Upstage the Show ...

Nice little kick off: Something about this photo charms me. It does not look exactly to scale and the banner lines give off a wonderfully crude (should I say simple?) technique. Maybe that's why. It's on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum's Main Street Gallery in Searsport -- wherever that is. Up there in Maine. Called Bex Bros. Circus. Sometimes the distortions and/or simplifications of an amateur's hand can reap superior results.

Bandwagon getting stormed by new subscribers, in the lucky dozens! That's the Circus Historical Society magazine, its articles now digging deep into the nitty gritty of fast money moving or dooming circuses. A neat piece in the current issue turning on the lore spun during a 1921 newspaper interview with Governor John F. Robinson, a sampling of which: "Before he got within two feet of the boy he pulled a pistol and shot his father dead. The performance was finished after that, but it wasn't a lively one." And now, THIS: In 1875, about six years before P.T. teamed up with James A. and crowned themselves the Greatest Show on Earth -- well, hold your convictions! Those four fab words were used on John Robinson's Great World's Exposition. yes they were ... Another item here passing my mind: "Children of all ages" is a term predating John Ringling North or Norman Bel Geddes, the latter in some quarters, I think, said to have originated it. I've seen it in old circus programs, for one, Sells-Floto. So now you know.

Tom Cruise Steals the Show at Big Apple Circus:
That's what it appears, from a story in the London Daily Mail by one Sarah Bull (and boy, can she dish it up) about Mr. Cruise, wife and 5-year-old daughter, Suri, she decked out in frills that suggest advanced prepping to walk the streets a few years hence for some yet-to-be sanctioned reality show. Not a peep in this flagrantly shallow, fashion-obsessed yarn about the show itself, all about the daughter's little pink dress, et all. Biggest scoop, this: Suri's Santa wish list totals $130,000. "Even though she has everything she could ever want, Suri asked for diamond earrings and beautiful dresses, like a fairy princess gown." Pardon me for throwing up ...

Grandma's Big Apple Circus Good byes:
Talking to Scott Simon on NPR, Bary Lubin talks about his career on Big Apple. This his last season. And why not a grand return to the Ringling banner? That's where Lubin developed the character. Only problem -- would he agree to perform it at every show? Perhaps the Feld of Felds would allow him to bring along his regular understudy. I doubt I've even seen Lubin do Grandma at the last few shows I've seen, none at Lincoln Center and none at night. I'm a Grandma fan, but I think its creatively healthy for both parties to part company ... When I see the show in Queens next spring, I'd like to go up to Grandma, shake her hand and in her ear whisper, "Are you my real Grandma?"

And that's dicey disrespectful rap, kids. Blame it on that index for my book, still fogging up my mind.


Wave "Hello" to Little ZaZa!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Circus Book’s World Premiere at Monte Carlo 2012; “Second” Autographed Copy to be Offered in Silent Auction at Famed Festival

MONTE OAKLAND, CA. Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic’s Guide, by David Lewis Hammarstrom (aka: Showbiz David) will make its debut on the world stage in January at Monaco during the 36th Festival International du Cirque de Monte Carlo.

‘I am gratified by this totally unexpected invitation,” said the author, who received it from the Festival’s executive director, Laura van der Meer. He noted that a previous book of his, Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus, earned a warm endorsement from the late H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, who established the annual festival in 1974. (Circus impresario Ringling North and Rainer were good friends, and North judged a few of the Monte Carlo meets.)

But why the “second” autographed copy”? Answered the author with a smile, “because I promised the first to my good friend, Boyi Yuan, without whom I would never have traveled to China last year and thus would never have experienced close up the bold artistic advances transforming leading acrobatic troupes in Beijing and Shanghai.”

Prince Rainer’s daughter, H.S.H. Princess Stephanie, now oversees the annual event, which generally draws upon the greatest circus talents and is regarded in circusdom as the international “Academy Awards” of the big top.

“The perfect setting, absolutely, to introduce my book to the world,” said Hammarstrom. “Circus is universal, and however you write about it, you are dealing with its many incarnations throughout history — from Egypt to China, London to Paris to Baraboo and Bloomington, Moscow to Montreal.”

Indeed, this author, who says that “until I can see something for myself, it is not sufficiently real,” has traveled the world rings to get the story. In 1979, he conducted independent research in the Soviet Union. And last year, it was China. In the United States, he says he has walked miles, hopped busses and flagged taxis to take in circuses off the urban trails.

“I am thrilled that my book will be a part of the festival. And I hope it appeals to a younger audience. I have done my best to discuss and illustrate not just ‘the good old days’ but the ‘good new days’”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Morning in the Ancient Land of Circus Syntax: Which Show? What Year?

Preface from SD: For a leisurely stroll down memory lane through the floridly comforting verbiage of yesteryear, I invite you to take a trip back to the ancient American circus in its prodigiously peerless prime, sans editorial restraint or spell checking challenges, this being presented to you exactly the way it came forth in, I assume, a circus program magazine.

Display No. 1 --

The Grand Tournament

A GLORIOUS ILLUMINATED PAGE FROM ANCIENT HISTORY.

UNIQUE AND MOST TRANSCENDENTALLY BEAUTIFUL INTRODUCTION TO THE REGULAR PERFORMANCES.

INTENDED SIMPLY AS A PLEASING, PASSINGLY PICTURESQUE TOURNAMENT INTRODUCTION OF THE FEAST OF ARENIC FEATURES TO FOLLOW, AND YET EMBODYING THE RARE AND RADIANT ELEMENTS OF A SUMPTUOUSLY SPECTACULAR TOURNAMENT.

A satisfying, edifying, gratifying, ennobling, superb and sublime spectacular prelude, filling and overcrowding vast areas of the racing-track, the equestrian rings, and even the acrobatic platforms with absolutely the finest, richest, costliest display ever seen. Teeming with life and color and animation, and abundantly replete with all the royal pomp and splendor, magnificence and lavish prodigality characterizing a period of the world's history unexampled for extravagance and riches. Four hundred historical characters correctly costumed, representing Egyptians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Sabaenians, Africans, Arabians, Abyssinians, and others, together with mounted guards, trumpeters, heralds, charioteers, knights, nobles, high priests, foot soldiers, archers, warriors, idol men, banner bearers, dancing girls, fan girls, swaying houris, pages, household servants, slaves, servitors, horses, sacred beasts, train animals, triumphal cars,
floats, peons, choruses, etc. The whole forming a brilliant kaleidoscopic vision of animated and irridescent splendors, with every known human and animal accompaniment in vogue with the people of that age and clime."

Your best guess? Okay, here's the answer:

Barnum & Bailey, 1909
the second season under Ringling ownership
I wonder: Did Alf T. Ringling write this?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Water For Elephants Coming My Way Again -- Tonight ... & My Quck Picks of the Best Looking Circus Blogs, Up Front ...

I'm looking forward to seeing a movie that didn't much impress me when it came out, Water for Elephants. Maybe the second time around will be a charm. I've grown accustomed, believe it or not, to Ring of Fear.

Heck, man can't live by The Greatest Show on Earth alone.

This morning, piddling around, I was struck by the appealing graphics of a blog I may never have seen before -- The Circus Blog. So I decided to take an immediate first impression look at all the blogs to see how the others measured up in visuals that instantly speak CIRCUS.

Here are my three top picks:

The Circus Blog

The Balloon Man

Crash Moreau's Circus Visits

Amazed at how many blogs out there aren't really all that visually captivating upon first glance.

I should hire a computer nerd off Craigslist to help me update mine.

Still, it's the content that counts. You've no doubt watched, maybe some of you every day, the Steve and Ryan blog. I wouldn't ring any awards around its visuality other than to say it has it's own quirky look. Ironically, I've seen Steve's very attractive website, but I've not been back since my first visit.

Sometimes, the written word still prevails.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Out of the Past: Feminist Flash! Women Now Actually "Perform" in Circuses; No Longer Just Sexy Prop Assistants, Says the Wall Street Journal

First posted December 8, 2011 


La Norma -- before Betty Friedan

"It's a new era," declared Wall Street Journal guest critic of the Big Apple Circus, Sarah East Johnson, moved by the reality of female performers demonstrating male strength and agility at a circus.

Considering a rich legacy of women who have dazzled the sawdust -- among them, Leitzel and Zerbini, Millman and Herbert and Berosini, La Norma, and Gold and so many countless others -- I was awed by the breadth and depth of Ms. Johnson's self-delusional epiphany, not to mention its breathtaking disconnect to history.

She's the artistic director for LAVA, an all-female NY based dance and theatre company. She spent some time with Circus Amok, which pushed the gender-bending envelope. "Pretty radical, queer, feminist with lefty politics," she says.

I smelled a trail leading clear across the country to the boiler room of cultural rethink by the Golden Gate. There, during the modest heyday of the Pickle Family Circus, a bold manifesto denounced, among a slate of No-Nos in modern circus art, the very thought a woman dressing up seductively to assist a male performer with his props. (Never mind that every time Pinito Del Oro swung fearlessly on the single trapeze, her husband stood below, just in case to break a fall.)

Pinito Del Oro, circa 1953

As it turns out, call me an amateur clairvoyant, yes, Ms. Johnson did spend some time out and around the San Francisco Circus Center. Around 1996. I can only imagine the extent to which she was properly apprised by post PFC people on their mythical views.

Evy Karoly

Among Ms. Johnson's comments while watching a performance of Dream Big! with the Wall Street Journal's Lizzie Simon, her "biggest complaint" about circus in general are those rigid gender roles under the big top; they are, she asserts, "really traditional." The female performer's skill is "typically masked, whereas a man's is acknowledged."


At Big Apple, she was delighted to witness the hand-balancer Melanie Chy, who, typical of other women on the show, according to Ms. Johnson, displayed "strength and skill rather than flexibility or sexuality."

Hmmm. How to rethink this. Might it be that all those great female big top divas were really men in drag? I'm now wondering when they will adapt The Vagina Monologues into a circus spec. Starring Grandma.

12.8.11

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

At Cirque du Soleil's Ploddingly Atmospheric "Totem," The Thrill is Gone -- But S.F. Critics are Wowed

Circus Review: Cirque du Soleil -- Totem
San Francisco, December 1
Tickets: $49.50 to $360.00

Roller skating in the ancient world at Cirque du Soleil

Totem will not mark a high point in Cirque du Soleil history.

This overly directed effort is so curiously weak on star turns, and so weighted down under extraneous choreography, special effects and clever scenic illusions (creamy white waves rippling across a shoreline) -- that, by the time it has worked its empty course, I was left feeling slightly puzzled by what wasn't there. For starters, a soul.

If, like the lady sitting next to me, you go to Cirque du Soliel because you like the "atmosphere," on that count, you'll get plenty of it here.

Along with all the tedious posturing, such as the prolonged entrance and exit movements of a pair of roller skaters in white, before and after actually doing something on a raised platform. And something rather average at that.

There is a chilly existential feel to this outing that reminded me of something you encounter at one of those cutting edge "performance pieces." Creative highpoint is an eccentric prop-intense display in which a juggler works balls bouncing up and down inside a large hour-glass like object, suggesting a scene from a fantasy yet to be sketched out by Pixar -- or maybe Quentin Tarantino. Odd ball characters on the edges create a brilliantly bizarre stage picture.

Talent wise, I remember exactly one act that took my breath away -- five Chinese woman on very tall unicycles tossing between themselves tin saucers. By degrees of complexity, they built to a breathtaking finish.

The athletic action is vigorous, most of it built on humdrum fundamentals. Pole vaulting here becomes plank vaulting. Perch pole work is anchored to tell-tale mechanics. Native American hoop dancing offers a pleasant cultural diversion, after which, a scene on the beach looks as if Bloody Mary is about to enter followed by the sailors belting out "there is nothing like a dame!"

Ah, there is nothing quite like Totem -- Maybe it's not all the fault of Cirque du Soleil. Maybe all the best talent in the world has already been sucked up into other shows -- by Cirque du Soleil.

Music is a variable pleasure, from lovely tinkle to pounding drums. The hard working clowns win a few laughs in their endless bickering. One of them scores charmingly while trying to fish himself a decent meal from a row boat. And here is where Totem's heart lies, not in the circus at all, but in the theatre. Problem is, stranded between the two disparate forms, it fails to achieve a memorable imprint in either category. But, for ambitiously trying -- YAWN, maybe they deserve a half star higher than what I am inclined to give them, So ...

Overall score (4 stars tops): 2-1/2 stars

End ringers: How wrong might I be? After posting this notice, I searched for S.F. reviews and was fairly shocked to see near-unanimous raves from the local critics. In fact, I hadn't seen a single review anywhere until posting mine .... No-show acts: Two acts pictured in the program magazine(one may have been merely part of an ad) did not appear in the performance I attended ... A very short stay in San Francisco? Usually, Cirque hangs out for up to about three months. This time, they're closing up the tent in mid-December, after having held court for around six weeks. When I saw the show, business was certainly good, but there were plenty of empty seats scattered throughout the tent ... From here, they go to LONDON, then BACK to the Bay Area, to hang their tent down in San Jose ... Time spent: First half: 50 minutes; Intermission: 30 minutes; Last half: 60 minutes. Sell. Sell. Sell. Example: "regular" size popcorn -- $6.26.

From Yelp! The average consumer review on Yelp! -- five stars tops -- is an impressive 4. Many of those have never seen a Cirque show before. Here is one of a number of the dissenters (to make me feel not so stupid) ...

From Hector G. in Burlingame: "Cirque is one of those amazing experiences that I can't compare to anything else. The shows I've experienced have truly blown me away. It's because of my experience with Ka that every other show feels like it doesn't stand up. I have such high expectations for the show now that I've experienced the best show they have, in my opinion.

Totem was flat, slow, boring at times and just didn't do it for me. If you have never watched a Cirque performance, I would highly recommend this show. If you are a seasoned veteran, this show may disappoint.

I found myself looking at my watch, a few different times and that is NEVER a good thing when at a performance of this caliber. I wanted to love this show. I wanted so badly to walk away impressed on all levels as I usually am, but this show was near dreadful.

A few shining moments of course, but there was way too much fluff and not enough money shots."

Due out in January: In Showbiz David's forthcoming new book, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide, one of the major topics explored is the phenomenal rise and world-wide artistic impact of Cirque du Soleil.

12.4.11

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Jay Leno Rings Jokes On Ringling's $270,000 "Animal Mistreatment" Fine ...

Two nights in a row now, late night's talk show king has made comedy hay out of Ringling's settlement with the USDA over alleged animal abuse. (The show accepted the hefty fine -- pocket change for the Felds -- without admitting guilt.)

Jay's latest barb : "They [Ringling] promise to change their ways; like, you know the bear that rides the bicycle on the tightrope? From now on he'll be wearing a helmet."

Laughter aside, this is NOT the comedy any circus would pray for.

The INDEX is DONE, and I'm Feeling High on the Price of My New Book --

What's worse in a book than no index? An index with names but no page numbers! ... I nearly brought this off, minutes before the final version of my Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide (due out Jan.) was on its way to a print vendor (the soul, I think, who recruits the best press offer, something like that). Doing an index is torturous enough without trying to proof the damn thing. Which I forgot to do. Horror of horrors! Gerard Souls back there, but all by himself, without a page number. And a spec "Old Vienna" and four guys named Dominguez, whose first names were so confusing, I nearly went crazy trying to figure out how to list them (seems three of them hail from the famed family Quiros) ...

Only a primer, that up there, on how comatose indexing can make me feel and act -- and review, read on, though I fully respects its critical usefulness to a book. Much more so than the damned annotation numbers I've been chained to in the last too many books. Not, thank God, on Inside the Changing Circus! I HATE text littered with numbers. Here, I have listed key sources in an informal section back of the book. That I value.

Another thing I love about BearManor Media, whose young publisher, Ben Ohmart, currently hangs out in Japan (he married a Japanese lady a few years back, not indexed) , is this: My book, in paperback at nearly 300 pages, is priced at only $19.95! Good going, BearManor! I've been embarrassed in some recent publishing episodes with books of mine that were priced sky high; might that be why the editors insisted on annotating? To foster a more scholarly image, thus justifying the extreme price? ... Sure, this means I will get less royalties, but so be it. I'd rather write books that people who might want to give them a chance can afford to. ...

Blame it on the index: That review down there about Cirque du Soleil was composed -- or decomposed -- during the final stages of my indexing obligations. I think it managed to be even more a bore than the show -- Tote Tote Totem, Good Bye! -- that it purports to review. So, I've chopped it down to the humdrum essentials, something like I wish Cirque would do.

I might continue this latter. Lots of big top bits backed up in e-mail. Blame it on cyber courier Don Covington for failing to send footnotes.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Top of the Book: How "Inside the Changing Circus" Was Designed ... A Pithy Primer on True Dark Chocolate ... And It's All Free!

Special impartial consultant Boyi Yuan ponders eleventh hour question: Which photo of Big Apple Circus director Guillaume Dufresnoy should I use in my book?

Really excited about the cover design for my book Inside the Changing Circus, due out around next January. The designer, Brian Pierce, sent it to me last week for comment; my publisher gives author's the rare right to approve cover designs. A FIRST for me. I love the look of the book. And then, I discovered Brian's own blog, where he talks about his thoughts behind the sudden creation of the design.

http://aweekagotuesday.blogspot.com/

Second excitements: Inside my changing frigerator now, there are tons of fabulous turkey, American to Chinese leftovers from a big haul yesterday, first as a guest at the house of my nephew, Jeff, and his lovely wife Gannimed, from the Philippines. While I was there, gobbling down, shamelessly, chocolate chip cookies (well, once a year, right? The others times, functionally delicious 85% cocoa chocolate bars ... ) I got to "skype." Oh, please, don't laugh too hard. I've heard the word, but kept the concept out there, resisting the onslaught of new technology (I am usually 7 years behind the cutting edge). Anyway, call me a Skypester now (had I known, I would have dressed up for the occasion) ... I skyped and skipped all the way across the Big Ocean to talk to Gannimed's sister and brother, and they gave me a virtual Skype tour of their lush green neighborhood in the southern region of the Philippines. Wonderful new experience. Jeff and I discussed my hankering for a smart phone, which I call a "toy," but, heck, we all deserve one of those now and then.

Great old fashioned Thanksgiving day feast, the durables -- starring thick gravy, and Chef Jeff evoked rare insight. "This is American soul food." The absolute best I've had in years ...

I might be the last person on earth to finally give up his land phone. Really, it's about economics, not trying to be eccentric (a bent that comes naturally, I fear). I'm on the verge of hitching my rotary to a droid, because the company I get dumb phone connection from at such flexible rates is now offering to help the dumb set go smart.

Back in Oakland, my friend Boyi came by with a container of more turkey, and oh so delicious, with all the sauces and seasonings his dad, a professional cook, applies so cunningly well. Back to chocolate: I tried a different form of 85% smart dark chocolate on Boyi. It's new from Trader Joe's (it tastes remarkably NOT like the other bars) and he fell for it! When he left later to drive many miles for a midnight whatever on a dark Turkey day sale blowout, he took the complete box with him.

OK, onto my book. Boyi helped me make a critical decision between the straight ahead face shot of Guillaume Dufresony that's in the page proofs, and one that I just got from Phil Thurston at Big Apple Circus, of Mr. D. sitting out in the seats watching the show at the gala opening in Gotham. After serious meditation, lifting my room into Buddhasphere, Boyi broke loose in a bolt of common sense favoring the new image and making me feel a tad off my game. "He is looking at the show!"

And the COVER! Remember the book, The Circus: Garden of Eden to Pittsburgh? (aka: The Circus: 1870-1950, among many changing names, guises and shapes) That book's original cover featured a great Braathen shot of the Ringling-Barnum marquee and ticket wagons. Well, folks, I've also got a shot at Big Book Coffee Table Overkill, too! I've got another image of the same wagons and marquee up in Canada in '53! And, no, not cause I suggested anything; it would be improper for an author to push for photos -- unless asked. Brian had just asked for suggestions from me, but before I could lurch, he jumped off his perch in a flash of creative lightning, and out came a great design. Among its many assets, the type face is NOT the usual old fashioned circus script ...

Boyi, on the subtler side, was nearly as excited as was I. My only quibble when I first saw this draft you will see, if you go there, was that four of the six images are Asian. I suggested it might be better to diversify and sent some ideas. Brian went with one of them, and design looks even stronger. I'm not telling which. Yes, you'll just have to wait and see. By the way, is anybody still reading this?

And Boyi last night rushed off to San Jose to stand in line and play with his new iPhone 4G and maybe spend not a penny, while I am mustering up the nerve to dump my land line from Ma Bell, bury my Dumb phone, and go hi tech all the way ..

After two or three more chocolate chip cookies. True dark chocolate had to wait.



11.25.11

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MIDWAY FLASH! MIDWAY FLASH! Ringling's Alleged Animal Abuse Fine Makes CNN Headlines ...

It flashed across CNN this morning -- jolting me out of my chair as I was slaving heroically over the indexing for my book, Inside the Changing Circus -- a tortuously tedious task taunting my sanity -- a task I do not relish. So, let's take a break, David, I said to myself!

I dug further, and this I struck from the Huffington Post:
"Life's no circus for the Ringling Brothers these days.
The USDA announced Monday that an agreement was reached where Feld Entertainment, Inc., doing business as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Feld), will pay a $270,000 fine for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
According to a USDA press release, Feld also agreed to "develop and implement annual AWA compliance training for all employees who work with and handle animals, including trainers, handlers, attendants and veterinarians starting March 31, 2012, and to establish an AWA compliance position on its staff by February 28, 2012."
End of the Huffington.
Am I surprised? In the wake of that horrible PETA undercover YouTube of Ringling elephants being sadistically slapped around by bull hooks and cursed at, no, I'm not.
And certainly not, considering that, as far as I know, the Felds have yet to explain to us how the film footage was, as they claimed when it hit the web, "misleadingly edited."
Mr. Feld? I still await a few peeps from you on the issue. Your explanation, sir?
Why I am so heated over this? Because this kind of news hurts ALL circuses, that's why.
And Ringling Bros. should lead the way, not down into a dark ages ditch, but up onto a higher more enlightened road.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Flying for Gold at Monte Carlo 2012


Thanks to Jack Ryan, I have a list in Italian of some 26 acts slated to compete for Gold Clowns at the next bash Over There ...

I always look for countries, seeking to confirm or revise my general impression of which nations turn out the top acts. I assume that Princess Stephanie and her crowd are generally fair about international inclusion.

Know what? I think they are, for this is reflected in the talent signed by our U.S. circuses, year after year.

This year's Monte Carlo lineup, no surprise, draws heavily from Russia and its old Communist block associate countries, and from Europe, to the tune of 14 of the acts. China checks in with only two, a real surprise -- unless the Chinese are erring on the side of underexposure. The tent will come alive with horses and ponies, contortionists and jugglers and acrobats -- the usual panoply

And, roller skaters! A good old fashioned roller skating act? No, no, this one's from the center of cerebral contortion -- France!

Now, back to Over Here. Remember, the United States of America? Large expansive sigh ... sigh ... sigh, have we here in Occupied U.S.A. not a single American performer on the bill? Technically, NO.

However, notes Jack -- Thank you Jack -- a Japanese juggler named Ty Tojo carries a strong U.S. connection to the festival. "He was born there [in Japan] but has long lived in Las Vegas with his family." Ty's stepfather, and the man who trained him, is juggler Dick Franco.

Memo to American born performers (are there any out there working still?): Change your names to French, Russian, or Chinese. Or Japanese. Apply for dual citizenships. Get thee to a plastic surgeon for an ethnicity overhaul. And do what the Russian circus wannabes had to do long before they staged their revolution back in 1917. Some changed their names to foster outside affiliations. Suddenly, the local rope walker who got no respect in his home rings, now returning to another part of the country as an "Italian import," drew cheers from the crowds.

Ah, Planet Earth is such a callow shallow place.

[I'm still charmed by my memory of the home-made dog act I saw on Carson & Barnes this last season. For them, let's see -- new wave French minimalism from outer Siberia?]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Circus Knie 2011: A YouTube Review ... Has the Old Europe Big Top Changed?

Thank you, Don Convington, for sending me this 8-minute teaser-sampler containing, I take it, the season's highlights from one of the world's most respected circuses.

The show's assets, moderate to outstanding, are pleasantly satisfying. There is, yes, a well honed artistry to much of what you will see, albeit in a rather unimaginative context. Which, once you settle in (as I did, after watching the video a second time), makes for a welcome change from the more overproduced (Ringliing jumps to mind) and over commercialized American shows.

A memorable climax here is supplied by a Chinese group (I assume) demonstrating a terrific ensemble risely. Across the upended feet of five manipulators on their backs, a very young fellow, almost a kid, maintains steady headstand posture as he is bounced from one to the next. It's a wow, but like a few other turns, in slow motion leaves something to be desired.

Three charming guys in striped shirts are mildly amusing. Impressive tricks are delivered by well-drilled horses, acrobats and aerialists.

The variable music, which sounds recorded, is only OK -- once you get used to its not casting any kind of a distinctive atmosphere. But, even given tepid direction, I'll take Knie over Feld. I think. For a while. What do I miss? A certain lack of dramatic momentum. But this is just a sampler; I saw another YouTube of Knie 2011, with the same acts except for the guys in striped shirts missing, in their place two comedians who talk a lot. Hmmmm. Nice laid back evening. Okay, summing up:

It's still old Europe: Respect for the act with little extraneous hoopla gilding the ring.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Showbiz David Gets a Sneak Peak at the Design for His Next Book, "Inside the Changing Circus"

What a high! It came couple nights ago, PDF of the interior design work in "draft" form (I call it page proofs), for my new book, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide, due out next January. Love the strong chapter headings and how the photos, a load of 77, are prominently featured.

Camera masters: I'm happy to have on my side some true shutter stars: Big Apple Circus's Bertrand Guay, who works for Agence France-Presse and photographs circuses all over Europe;" Ted Sato, Big Show photographer during Ringling's' last glory years under canvas; another late great, Sverre Braathen, the attorney-circus fan who snapped wonderful images in Kodachrome of Ringling, and whose work resides at the Milner in ISU. In my book, Braathen's images appear in black and white and yet, sometimes the conversion brings out greater clarity on the faces, which flatters Ben Davenport and daughter Norma, and a very young star who made a one-year cameo on Ringling in 1953 ...

Mister Mistin's day in the sun
: Touted to be only 5-years old when he played the xylophone for Ringling, this perky showman sports a pistol on a float in the Candyland spec. The kid's face is full of attitude.

Among others I'm happy to be giving attention to:

Louis Stern: An atypically happy image of this shamefully overlooked giant, from Tegge Circus Archives, on his feet and warmly smiling, his arms outstretched, with Valerie Antalek. He deserved to feel good about himself.

Under the Big Show big top, 1924, during spec. A great image by Charles Clark, the "white" canvas is so dirty and streaked, I can almost feel a warm damp heat in there, it feels so real. I envy everybody who got to see that show!

Ted Sato: One of his which he gave me is of the big top blossoming, surrounded by towners looking on and elephants grazing (do they graze?). A beaut.

The World of Today: Bertrand Guay's work captures the dazzling innovations that mark many of the acts that land on Big Apple Circus.

And so many more. Estelle Butler riding Roman style at the Garden ... Cliff Vargas looking handsomer than you can probably imagine, cropped out (my doing) from other owners, he getting rare placement with a few other passionate producers ... The Logan elephants under the old Al. G. Kelly and Miller Bros. tent ... wry Russian animal turns -- one a cow and a monkey appearing to be playing, well what, ground soccer? ... Asian wizards from Shanhai to Big Apple ... Leitzel and Agee in the backyard ... a young Mistilav Zapasnhy topping a family pyarmid on a trio of horses, his face aglow with the confidence of a benign god ... Tension between Art and Antoinette Concello in the backyard with Eddie Ward, Jr., staying wisely removed ... Griebling and Karandash ... and, yes, Grandma!

On and on and on, those are just a tease of the photography that reflects the ever-changing circus, going back to Circus Maximus, forward to Cirque du Soliel ... Page proofs are a safe thrill, before the thing rolls off the press and gets looked at by strange impartial eyes. But what an update in publishing. So far, only two things have moved between me and BearManor Media in snail mail: the contract and a flash drive of the images to a guy in New York state, Brian, who is designing the book with exemplary flair.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Barbaric PETA Ringling Elephant Abuse Video Makes Mother Jones Magazine Expose; Feld Claims DC Bill Would "Outlaw Circuses"

If a new bill in congress aimed at banning wild and exotic animals from circuses reaches the White House and gets signed, it would "outlaw circuses," claims a rather hysterical Ringling VP Stephen Payne to POLITICO.

Legislation is being sponsored by Virginia Democrat Rep. Jim Moran. The usual animal-rights groups are gathering around to support. Mother Jones magazine just came out with an article authored by one Deborah Nelson, claiming to detail "harrowing tales of abuse" during a year-long "investigation into Ringling Bros. Circus."

Worst of all, not just for Ringling but for all circuses, the Mother Jones article links to -- guess what? Yes, to that barbaric 2009 You Tube revealing wretchedly cruel treatment of elephants (or the imagery of it) on Ringling . Bull hooks thrash freely back and forth across the bodies of pachyderms assembled backstage and waiting to go on. Mean trainers curse out the elephants. I just watched it again, and I had forgotten how stomach-turning it is.

Memo to the Felds: If this YouTube IS deceptively edited, as you claimed when it hit the internet, WHY NOT, WILL YOU PLEASE, TELL US HOW? I AM MORE THAN READY TO HEAR YOUR SIDE OF THE STORY. Might those lashing sounds, for instance, be sound effects added to the raw footage?

The bill may, of course, bite the sawdust, as congress (whatever legislative skills these whoring hypocrites can muster) tries addressing more pressing national matters. But support in favor of the bill's intent will surely continue to gain traction as long as additional filmed evidence of animal mistreatment gets seen by disbelieving eyes and talked about.

Feld said to have spent $200,000 this year on lobbying efforts in Washington. Heck, that's chump change to Mr. Kenneth. And he, having learned well from his masterfully manipulative dad, is well versed in how to massage the media and slant the story. Whether he can buy his way out of this latest potential PR setback remains to be witnessed.

I await your explanation , Mr. Feld. I know that somebody in your Vienna office reads this blog. Whoever you are, will you kindly pass my request onto the big boss? And please, tell me just how your concern for animal welfare does not apparently have in place a more rigorous monitoring eye on the handlers who direct (polite word, that?) your pachyderms about.

Call me naive. In the end, circuses -- at least yours, sir -- must do better. A LOT better.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Slush Pile Treats & Trash: Out, Damn Items!

I have here before me a stack of papers, cumulative bits and pieces that need to be posted before a proper trip to the waste basket. Who knows, somebody out there may swoon to an item that did not grab me when it first crashed into my tent. So, here we go, in the absolute order in which these trifles appear:

"We have reached the chill winds of autumn, and there are rumors in the air that the circus will not survive many more. Are we to believe them?" That from an early draft of the chapter, "Cry, Clown, Cry" in my book, Behind the Big Top. Amazing, it made it all the way, word by word, into the final draft, and into page proofs. I think I kept it to demonstrate how we continually are predicting the Last Season, the Last Show, the Last Exit and the Last Load out for the Last Barn.

Yes, yes, at last, you are saying, move on! Okay, okay ...

A list before me of honorees at Peru's version of a Circus Ring of Fame, my notes at the top of names NOT on the list, among the insulted: Art Concello, Faye Alexander, Frank Braden (possibly the most gifted of all syntax spinners), Irving J. Polack and Louis Stern (giants who reinstated American respect for the one-ring circus). No further comment on this, Kids. You go figure. (Notice how I refrained from listing iffy honorees, I need to redeem my precariously questionable attitudes.)

What next, here: "Has Cirque lost its soul," asked one Janice Steinberg, penning a story in a periodical I failed to name. She remembering, and oh how I can relate, Cirque du Soleil's historic invastion of L.A. in 1987, of being, at the show's end, "moved to ears." Me, too.

Something about Teatro ZinZanni in San Francisco losing its lease at Pier 29, and I have little incentive to dig further. Think they are moving elsewhere in, as the locals call it, "The City." Yes, "The" in CAPS. Precious place over there, that, full of precious people the center of their own precious illusions.

Back of a page on which I wrote out scores I gave in rough notes, years gone by to the Carson & Barnes shows I saw, which won me over, some, that is. Out of 4 stars tops, here goes: 1975: 3-1/2 stars; 1978: 3 stars; 1984: 3 stars. During those years, on the few occasions when I saw Beaty-Cole (which I fondly remember for its operational professionalism, despite ...) I never gave the show more than 2-1/2 stars. Okay, go throw up if you wish. Some of the BEST circus shows I've seen in years past, before the coming of the Grand Carny Intermission Rape, were under Dorry Miller's Cracking Good Big Top, when a real live band, some of them cracking hot, played on ... I would like to sponsor a court order banning intermission over there, and requiring the Byrds, in order to get in deeper touch with their artistic sides, to wear berets and spend the off-season in Paris.

Okeedokee, or something like that: Some scribblings (I can't read my own writing, sorry) about John Ringling North II, about the risk of bringing back too much of the same year after year, but, you know what, I'm making that a Big One on this platform in the future. (Keep this note; get somebody to translate it for me)

"What do they fear" in my hand on another slice of paper. Under that, I wrote Ted Chapin (he of Rodgers and Hammerstein), Patricia Ringling Buck, about whom I will hold my testy tongue other than to say: We collided once at the Ringling Museum via letters over a wish of mine to use photos; this I will have fun detailing in book I intend to someday write about my adventures in and out of circus worlds and publishing houses.

Print outs of the fine stories about Kelly Miller and JRN II by Zoe Gorman for the Toledo Blade; no, not the trash can for these. File them in the stuffed metal draw in that old cabinet in my bedroom.

A piece about retired Russian circus bears living in "cramped, stinking cages" in a bus parked along a highway near St. Petersburg. Reprehensible!

Yeah, it's getting bleak down at the bottom here. But here's a nice handwritten note from Mr. North II, last June, sending me the program and inviting me to the show. Classy guy. He might only have seen me were he, whenever I happened to show up which I didn't, selling tickets at the front end. Unless I could risk a backyard walk up to The Jomar. I've grown so backyard shy over the years, and I don't have backyard get-even-with-that-pretentious-critic insurance.

What else, not much: Oh, this tickler. A print out I made of a comment left by Jeff Swanson (thanks, Jeff, for leaving your name, a class act) in which he said, "David, Oh no David, please do stop blogging."

Uh, well, uh, Jeff, I asked the doctor about that. He said I might need a pill if I stopped blogging.

Helplessly I'd rather not stop. I am a pill free "circus critic" freak. See that photo up to your right? That was of me on a brief break from my local nut house re-bonding with my beloved loyal Royal, circa the year Barbette told me that working on the Ringling show was like "a sex holiday."

End of slush pile. Anybody still there?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Broadwayland, Desperate for Tony Nominees, May Feign Respect for Critically Dismissed " Spiderman" ...New Tuners Fizzling Fast.


The land of blockbusters and blockbuster flops said to be hurting for viable new musicals, needed to bolster upcoming Tony nominations for the Best This and the Best That. They might have to invent a new category -- Best Salvaged Turkey. Best Script Doctor. Best Resuscitation Director.

Experts speculating that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the aerial intense tuner that was endlessly in previews until its book was gutted for a rewrite, its hazardous aerial segments made safer and blander -- yes, THAT musical may actually snag a few Tony nominations.

Show is doing decent business, slipping south a bit in recent frames. Operating costs are so huge, experts earlier predicted it would take until, well, let's say Armageddon, to turn a profit on this turnaround turkey.

Season so far not too hot. New shows slated for Gotham premieres either flopped out or nixed hitting the Big Boards. Money a problem in some quarters, talented materials in others.

So many classic hits lined up on Revival Row, among them, Evita, that producers of a planned return for Funny Girl decided against taking their chances this season.

Another problem is limited stage space, thanks partly to the long-running shows that keep real estate at a premium. Some producers hoping for the demise of new shows struggling to stay alive. When one hits the dust, there's another waiting to open and test the market.

Anonymous: You Are Such a Coward, and So Pathetic, and You Lighten My Yawn

I was going to say "laugh," then I revised down to "giggle," but heck, I did NOT giggle. What did I really really feel? Oh about something closer to a meaningful yawn, trenchantly speaking. (If you like that trenchant word, try reading the novel Death with Interruptions, I think you could really really relate.)

And, despite the absence of your victoriously vindictive, and, oh yes, scintillating presence, my traffic continues to rise.

Sorry to burst your fake balloon.

You'll have to hide out elsewhere to get even with the circus that done you wrong, or with me for not having bestowed a fake glowing review upon your secret squeeze, or, what else? Oh yes, or to trash the cats that do things yours never could do, things that even those who stole away your spotlight still can't do.

But, take some heart. You nudged me a little to shovel this lazy post onto the midway. I'm having a mini-riot of impromptu fun. Call it SELF OCCUPY SHOWBIZ DAVID.

Nice feeling, once and a while in Life, clearing the decks, chasing cobwebs into their well deserved anonymity (haha! Clever, that?) doing a little pithy purging (notice how generous I am in avoiding cliches like "spring cleaning"), opening the windows wet and letting fresh stale air inside the tent.

So, Mr. Big Little A, my suggestion is this: Get a life. Or a better Lie. Or Lay.

And if that doesn't work, perhaps a brain transplant?

11.8.11

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Amtrak, Change My NY-Bound Train to May! There's a "Singing" Rodent at Big Apple Circus I Just Must See!

This could turn into a true John Ringling North moment for new Big Apple Circus artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy,who is standing the menagerie on its head this year. North staged the spectacular, attention-grabbing "Ballet of the Elephants" back in 1942.

Well, the circus has advanced since then onto a more ethereal plane, if you will. Elephants and tigers? Old hay, those. No, bring on the pot-bellied pig from Vietnam, the African Porcupine named Percy (or Porgy, by other accounts), and, last but not least, the grand champion of crooning rodents -- Bob. Yes, Bob.

Described by an enamored New York Times reviewer as a "streamlined woodchuck," the flamboyant South American star, four feet in length, "sings" Taio Cruz's "Dynamite."

These critters are bringing fresh fun into the tent. This new Big Apple Circus outing is titled Dream Big

And it's spicing up the notices with a humor that will, I predict, infect the town. "If you can't offer big cats," noted the Times, "why not go with really big rodents?" Or, to be scientifically accurate, colossal capybaras?

That's what the circus is supposed to be all about. Novelty and surprise, and humor in equal measure. North scored big with his hooky bull ballet; I suspect the PR on Dufresnoy's aberrant barnyard has just begun.

Oh, yes, and several of the regular acts performed by humans sound really boffo, among the treats, comedy illusionists Scott Nelson and Muriel Brugman, called "hilarious" by both the Post and the Daily News. Bring it on, you Big Happy Apple!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Hush, Hush, Anonymous! You Are Now on Sawdust Sabbatical


And I don't know when you may be coming back.

And if I get less comments, so be it.

I have grown increasingly tired or your profanity, personal insults against others, etc., etc. Some of your views may be spot on, so why not identify yourself? What are you afraid of? After all, the subjects discussed here hardly rise to the level of redacted Wiki-leaks.

This is my way of trying to foster a more comfortable place, where people of ALL views may feel welcome to express themselves without fear of being personally attacked or diminished.

Yes, I realize, there is a fine line between taking issue with the opinions of others and issuing the grand insult, intended or not. To be clear: It is is OK here to counter, even challenge other views in civil discourse. It is NOT OK here to engage in sarcastic, derisive, profane, or belittling language. Remain nameless and you don't have a chance.

Let's face it: No two people see any given circus exactly the same way, which is the same as anywhere across the entertainment spectrum, be it theatre, cinema, pop music, yodeling or TV land. We all have our passions. A circus that satisfies you is your truth.

I am also feeling a respect for contributors who do have the guts to put their names next to their to their words. How daring!

Anonymous, enjoy your sabbatical.

10.30.11

Thursday, November 03, 2011

3-Minute Midway: Proposed Bill to Ban Circus Animals Getting Some Traction?

If a proposed legislative ban on lions, tigers, and elephants from circuses, proposed by House Democrat Rep. Jams. P Moran of Virginia, ever becomes law, look for a rush on dogs, horse drills and performing porcupines of the breed currently stealing the show under the Big Apple big top.

“While the 12-person super-committee holds closed-door discussions, the work of the remaining 523 members [of the] U.S. Congress should not grind to a halt,” Mr. Moran told The Washington Times on Tuesday, believing that the "mistreatment of exotic animals in traveling circuses deserves attention."

According to Animal Defncers International (ADI, a new one to me), the use of circus animals is banned in 34 cities in 17 states.

I wonder if this issue will end up either before the Supremes, in another "super-committee," or on Judge Judy?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Anonymous America: All That Freedom, So Little Courage

How ironic that in this insanely liberated, some would claim "exceptional" land of the free, a land whose press kit penned by Mr. Jefferson screams out "freedom of speech!!!", so many practicing Americans are so afraid to attach their names to what they have to say.

There was a time, when my Grandma wrote letters to New York papers, when you had to give your name and telephone number, had to be vetted. When those who had something to say were proud to be identified with what they had to say. When the discourse, as a result, was more civil and less hateful. God bless the internet? Perhaps nothing has influenced my life so much as how my grandmother ended one of her published letters, a copy of which she proudly sent to us in California: "Live and let live," she wrote before signing her name. At the age of around ten, I was mighty impressed with her open and tolerant mind. Impressed that the lady who wrote those words was my grandmother.

Whenever I see Anonymous on any blog, not just one of the circus blogs, I see a sad nameless coward. Perhaps I should be kind and consider the voice that of a nameless victim of free-speech backlash, violent in words or assault. But when I see another Little A spewing forth anger or hate, sarcasm or stupidity, I see just that, a great big Little A.

Oh, of course, I could take into account, given the incestuous little circus world in which this blog operates, that there are the professionals out there hiding behind my tent rather than taking to their own platforms, possibly trying to get even with a show or manager who fired them or refused to hire them. I can almost sometimes feel sparks of animosity flying back and forth between ring rivals. I am not totally naive.

Or they-you, yes you, might be shills flaking for one circus, or dissing another, feebly advancing your hidden agendas. I have inside information from past experience to know that I am not imaging things. Sometimes the slant in the comments is so blatant as to make me laugh.

And now, Anonymous is lining up, calling himself one day, P.T. Barnum, another day Joe Blow, and the next, well I won't name that one. Still unwilling to attach his/her name to his words. Telling me that all anybody has to do is fake a name. Well maybe, but maybe not. Too bad, because sometimes he/she has excellent points to make. But I don't care. I'm going to stand behind those who do attach their names. P.T., back to your grave, please! See if you can send up here, say Al Ringling or William Coup, Irving J. Polack or John Strong. Any of them know far more about circus than you ever did.

Somebody a while back asked me in a terse edgy comment, "Who the hell do you think you are?" Kindly, I did not turn the question on him.

Whoever the hell I am, you have my name. You have my bio. Whatever I am, I am not Anonymous.

Al Ringling, are you there yet ... Al?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kelly Miller 2012 Pushes Nerve Factor Under New, Bigger Big Top: Pirates, Knife Jugglers, Tigers & Slide for Lifers Pace Lineup


John Ringling North II takes in a performance of the show during the 2011 season. How deep might he go into creative producing?

Knife juggling, gaucho dancing, wild animals in control, pirates on the lose, the "slide for life" and unprotected single trap daring-do promise, on paper, to up the nerve factor at next year's Kelly Miller Circus. Show is now in its Hugo barns, already prepping for the 2012 tour, expected to hit the grass -- or mud -- come February. This I infer from advance information sent my way courtesy of show's general manager Jim Royal. Thank you, Jim.

John Ringling North II's pet circus will sport a brand new big top next season, with "a completely different look," says Royal -- this one designed out of San Francisco by North's designing daughter Katherine, who operates Northbrook Design. As viewed in a photo, tent looks more spacious and roomy.

If the lineup looks a little slim and somewhat redundant on paper, yet the impact might be in the attack, and Kelly Miller requires of its returning performers new routines and novel twists. For example, long-time K-M juggler Raul Oliveras will be spinning objects through a new black light segment, as well as reprising his secondary stint, wind-up dog "Pinky," a perennial favorite with sponsors, according to Royal.

Armando Loyal signed to sustain his fine hold over three elephants. Five tigers from the former Casey McCoy act will be working a revamped repertoire to be hosted by Ryan Easley, marking his second season in the big cage. Show's central production splash in which a number of turns are cast is a pirate themed romp slated to feature knife juggling from Julia and Deya Rosales (new to the show), a slide for life, ensemble dancing and the five North Starlets. Carolyn Rice has a new dog act ready to go; the dogs will enter the tent on the SS "Salty Sea Dog." Sara Greene and Delena Fusco are crafting a cradle turn.

New faces also include smooth single trap diva Rebecca Ostroff, who appeared in the film Water for Elephants, the credit a natural talking point for the show's PR attack. Also new to the North ring will be the Fusco family's seven-person gaucho act. Clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs are developing all-new entrees and walkarounds.

Production flourishes may add additional excitement. Norbert Fusco is adding dance steps to the aerial Starlets, while Carolyn Rice will choreograph for husband Mike's camel carousel, to which zebras have been added.

These various flourishes suggest a creative producer at work.

Although North's old buddie and musician from Ringling days, Captain "Lucky Eddie" Straeffer and his wife Vickie will be out next season on personal matters, the pattern of scoring which they established, tape recordings augmented by drums and percussion, will be followed, says Royal.

If there is detectable weakness here, it would seem to be a lack of acrobatic arts -- those power drives that set the human body into spinning whirling motion.

The impact of any performance, of course, rides as much on how everything is put together, fancied up in lights and costumes, packaged, scored, and paced -- as it does on a raw assemblage of performers. Exactly how John Ringling North II pulls his goodies out of the hat may well spell the difference between also-ran and take-note.

Optimistically, I consider North's personal imprint a promising work in progress.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gotham Going Gaga Over Big Apple Circus "Dream Big" ... Daily News ... NY Post ... TheatreMania Issue Affirming Kudos

Update, 10/25, 7:03 AM PST: More boffo reviews, some bordering on raves, are pouring off Gotham presses, from NY Daily News and Theatre Mania, the latter declaring it "a treasure trove of eye candy and entertainment for people of any age." Show looks to be richly stocked with top talent, captivating costumes, and inventive set pieces.

Photo by Bertrand Guay/Big Apple Circus

Here are some highlights from a socko 3- star review by Elisabeth Vincentelli in The New York Post:

Dream Big may be its most eye-popping production yet, thanks to director/choreographer Renaud Doucet and set/costume designer André Barbe, both of whom have extensive experience in opera.

The concept this time around is that an “imagination machine” allows people to dream up the show’s act. Mainly this is an excuse to have everybody cavort in colorful, downright nutty outfits. Many look straight out of a Tim Burton movie: Russian juggler Dmitry Chernov has an Edward Scissorhands vibe, and China’s Shandong Acrobats look like extras from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.'"

Even the animal routines have a twist. Horses prancing around are fairly common, but when was the last time you saw an African porcupine, a Vietnamese potbellied pig and a capybara do tricks? The last gets the show’s biggest laugh, which involves the Taio Cruz hit “Dynamite.”

End of excerpt.

I predict those quirky animals will draw lively press and word of mouth. The tent should fill up nicely.

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/theater/tent_up_creativity_jest_right_for_quxegyt5NOYKwxMN3cqQaL#ixzz1blCi6XeW

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sunday Morning with Krisnamurti: A Living Spirit Fluidly Impermanent

"The search for permanency is the ever-lasting cry of self fulfillment; but the self can never fulfill, the self is impermanent, and that in which it fulfills must also be impermanent. Self-continuity is decay; in it there is no transforming element nor the breadth of the new. The self must end for the new to be. The self is the idea, the pattern, the bundle of memories; and each fulfillment is the further continuity of idea, of experience. Experience is always conditioning; the experiencer is ever separating and differentiating himself from experience. So there must be freedom from experience, from the desire to experience. Fulfillment is the way of covering up inward poverty, emptiness, and in fulfillment there is sorrow and pain."

Sunday Morning with William C. Coup: Off the Train on a Sunday for a Feast of Food and Music

Some runs, however, were especially pleasant. For example, I recall one Sunday run, in the 1870s, of three hundred miles across an Indian reservation between a town in Kansas and another in Southern Texas. The day was beautiful ... Towards noon we halted and erected cooking tents and stables. The horses and animals were looked after and a dinner was cooked by the attaches. After dinner they formed congenial knots and strolled around while the "hash slingers" washed the dishers and the men once more loaded up. We carried at that time an excellent troupe of jubilee singers, and they burst into song, alternating their quaint camp-meeting songs with others in which the majority of the attaches could join. The band, too, caught the infection and produced their instruments and we enjoyed a vocal and instrumental feast. Just at dusk, before starting for the night's run, the Jubes sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the full accompaniment of the band and with a refrain swelled by everyone able to sing. The rolling prairie, the beautiful trees, the perfect weather, the joyous spirits of every one present, the melodious voices of the Jubilee singers, and the grand strains produced by thirty skilled musicians, combined to produce music such as man seldom hears.

-- from his book, Sawdust and Spangles, 1901. Coup was one of America's greatest big top tycoons, the man who, likely more than any other, put the circus on rails and gave it three rings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sneak Peak Inside the Changing Circus: Feld Legal Takes on Circus Claiming Not "Greatest" but "Happiest" title

Can You Be Happy Without Being Great?

Back in the year 1969, when America's sights were set on a moon landing, one U.S. circus for a spell claimed an imminent tour of the entire universe. Greatness was not its mantra; Happiness was. It declared itself "The Happiest Show on Any Earth."

Soon after, from the Greatest Show on Earth (aka Ringling-Barnum) came an icy letter to the owner of the Happiest Show on Any Earth, in essence claiming trademark infringement on its world famous slogan, and demanding the immediate removal of all such references in the happier circus's advertising materials.

The recipient of the Ringling directive, himself a hothead noted for bluster, quickly retreated from his far-flung allusions to spreading joy far beyond planet Earth alone.**

The show?


** Hint: Worlds reachable by telephone.

The journey is universal, from the dawn of Circus
to a thousand years from now in a distant galaxy.
The details are local.
The details are you.

NPR-NY Wanted Me For A Moment in Time ... A Curious Tale of Deceptive Solicitation

This is one if not for the books, for my book. One day, when I write about my adventures through circus worlds near and far, and through publishing houses, this one will deserve a good cameo.

You who may tune in this Friday to Soundcheck on W-NYC (The New York NPR affiliate) will listen to a program about circus music, but you will not hear me participate as I looked forward to, having been led to believe it would be by one of the program's associate producers, Kattie Bishop. "I'm wondering if you might be up for doing a segment on modern-day circus music with us," she wrote in an e-mail.

A few days later we talked. Her questions, though somewhat ill-founded, were stimulating. It sounded good, I said yes, and she said that the first half hour would be spent talking to some windjammers, the second with me.

It would take place fairly soon and I'd be notified. About a week later, I e-mailed her, seeking an update, in order to be around for the interview. She e-mailed back the next day. "We're only going to have time to talk to two guests, the editor of Spectacle Magazine ... and Janet Davis, a professor of American studies who specializes in the history of circus music."

How odd. Just like that? How did I feel? For one thing, led on. In all my previous experience being asked to to appear on radio and TV shows -- or being considered, and it was made clear that I was only being considered -- never has this occurred. I recall a young guy for The Learning Channel calling me several years back and wanting to film me up here as a kind of test interview. When I learned the circus doc was being partly funded by the Felds, I bowed out, not wanting to be turned into an unwitting flack for the mighty Feld Entertainment.

More recently, I I blogged about a talent scout for NBC pursuing me as a possible judge for the circus talent competition (that flopped out after the first season). Again, he made clear he was considering me, and I'd have to do a mock filmed interview. For other reasons, I declined to persue his interest. Okay. Nobody mislead. Nobody reneged on

Same thing for people I've I've also been on several radio interview shows. They were all on commercial television or radio.

But NPR and/or W-NYC. A different universe that plays much looser with common ethics, it seems.

"What do you expect when you go to a circus," Ms. Bishop asked me during our informal telephone conversation. "I expect to see what the circus has to show me," I answered, refusing to specify rigid components, for I have learned to let go and see each new ring as an empty slate, and be open to what I see and hear.

I mentioned some trends in modern circus music, most significantly, the original scores produced for several of the higher end shows, among them Big Apple Circus. Surprisingly, I got no rise from Katie Bishop. who seemed curiously dense about a great circus in her own backyard.

"So this is how an NPR affiliate operates," I wrote her in response to her unexpected and sudden dismissal. "I think Juan Williams made the right move, and NPR the wrong one by suggesting he contact his psychiatrist." Perhaps everybody at NPR and its affiliates has one. Not I. I've never needed a psychiatrist. But then again, I try to deal with people whose word has real value.

So, if you listen to the show, and I may too, think of the voice that might have been there. You may rue its absence. You may rejoice in its absence.

I'll be interested to see what a pair of academics have to see about circus music, and if the windjammers were also 86d from the lineup.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

3-Minute Midway: Once a Crack Kid Ticket Seller for RBBB Under Canvas, Now He's Walking for Walker Bros. He's Bill Taggart, He Is!


He troupes on, he does, this invincible powerhouse of big top get-it-done. A while back he was driving the big trucks for Cole Circus of Stars. Now he's in-harness (I just love that old phrase) with Walker Bros. There he is, feeling his octogenarian oats, with Timmy Loyal and Loyal's daughter. You look tip top, Bill!

The ageless trouper is 80-years-young (gosh, thanks for making me feel soooo comparatively young), trumping high and checking in. College educated Bill worked in Ringling's yellow ticket wagon through the ill-fated 1956 season. A part of his tell-all memoirs about shady ticket selling on the Big Show landed in Bandwagon, a few years back. Our eyes collectively were opened -- OK, well mine were.

I keep waiting for Bill to take us through the 1955-56 seasons. He'll be getting those notes together, promises he, this winter.

Hurry up, Bill! Talk to us some more from the deep dark "inside." And please, don't forget to recount your day in Pt. Richmond, CA, 1955, when this here kid (me) was on the lot, utterly spellbound, hopelessly sinking into this madly glorious spangle-clad addiction, no meds required. Come to think of it, is that why I take no meds?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Out of the Past: How Quickly Does Today Become Yesterday


That's the only bummer in life, you can't stop the clock. Tick tick tick. Day after day after day.

Already, the year will soon be half over, and, yes it just began -- yesterday.

Like an old railroad circus teasing a new town everyday, onto the lot and while the tents were going up you could almost feel the troupers edging in their minds toward tomorrow's town. You could almost hear a Big Circus Clock ticking away. During the evening show, after each act they'd strike the props and lug 'em out of the tent, and it felt like they were already deserting you in spirit. Packing up down there in the spangled shadows to make a fast exit back to the runs, up onto the flats and down the rails for some other place in a darkening void.

The tented city that moves by night, F. Beverly Kelly called it. A phrase that enchanted my entire boyhood. The tented city that moves by night.

Perhaps not so different from life. Go to bed we do. Dream we might. Wake up the next morning to face another day as the Big Clock keeps ticking away.

Looking back at past posts, I see people no longer with us, shows still struggling but still out there aiming to recapture lost glories. Aiming for the full houses that seem to get harder and harder to talk into tents.

I read reviews I've put out of circuses that are doing better, of circuses that are barely getting by. And the Big Clock keeps ticking. Another season comes. Another season goes.

I read about ring stars fading, ring stars rising. The comments are much less. I stopped letting anybody into the tent. Anonymous is too anonymous for me. Anonymous only enlarges a cold alien world of strangers too afraid of themselves to face each other. Was the circus ever about that? Sometimes, silence is better than a faceless coward. Sorry I said that, but I did.

Tomorrow comes too soon. Tomorrow stays too soon. They add up, one upon each other, like an oppressive pile of dueling memories, challenging us to make feel-good sense of them all. Grateful we should live to be, for "memories," said the late Beverly Dvorett, the wonderful lady from Ohio who followed the stars out to Beverly Hills and years later produced my musical Circus Kings in a small equity-waiver playhouse on Vermont north of Wilshire -- "memories are all we end up with." Such a wise outlook she shared with me one evening in Norm's restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. I often think back upon that moment. Save up as many good memories as you are lucky to collect, was Beverly's philosophy.

Here, starting tomorrow, are some out-of-the-past realities, or so they felt at the time. I'm riding the rails for a spell, following the arrows into a tent or two, to enjoy a little more of tomorrow's yesterdays.