Saturday, January 01, 2011

Circus in 2010: Same Old Same Old, Maybe ... Modest Highs, Weird Lows. You Figure

Biz up? Biz down? Kelly-Miller Circus in Brewster, NY

7:31 AM PST: First Draft Rush: High and Low Points, if Any, of 2010:

Waiting for the great Rose Parade to begin, I wonder if the year deserves a looking back?

First of all, to make the hurdle clear, we do NOT know, as we rarely have ever known, exactly what business the tents did. So I am writing blindfolded, perhaps already sinking in the quicksand of speculation. I recall something Kenneth Feld recently said to a Florida newspaper reporter, summing up his own recent ticket sales: Business was "Up a little," he said, but the take was down owing to the Great Recession. I take this to mean the Ringling-Barnum shows did not pull in as many people this year. You may add up the slippery spin of Mr. Feld a different way. Be my guest.

The others? Some where mid way in the season, something I heard or may have felt in an imagined mystic wind suggested that the Cole Bros Show, the one operated by John Pugh, was doing good biz. Something else not so mystic, unless Ben Trumble is a mystic, more than suggested that Carson & Barnes was not doing good biz, to put it politely.

Kelly Miller, shepherded in 2010 by John Ringling North reaching his senior season (Congrats, Mr. Circus Graduate!) as the new young tent tycoon on the lot? When I opined, yes, blindfolded, that from reading Steve Copeland's blog, the show appeared to be pulling in more bodies this season, Steve posted a comment to the effect that, as he saw it, the show did not seem to be luring as many bodies into the tent as it did in '09.

Did I say we are groping in a mist of speculation? How I wish there was a neutral reporting agency for circus business as exists in virtually all the other venues of entertainment, from cinema to music to, for all I know, country accordion concerts featuring Lawrence Welk alumni.

Big Apple Circus, by all accounts -- some showing up in major NY dailies --- has suffered declining ticket sales, worse yet, the absence of checks in the mail from corporate sugar daddies. Big Apple is also struggling through a transition period, with Paul Binder wandering, a free agent somewhere in the backyard in back of the backyards, while new artistic director GD is not, my best impression here, exactly savoring the frosting on top of the frosting. His first would-be opus down the track, Dance On!, appears not to have enthralled the masses; rumors alleged that drastic makeovers may be in the works. Show dropped a number of dates. It has never had a breezy time of it taking its act very far on the road beyond Gotham. A show facing a very uncertain future, given the colossal organization that Binder built up over the years, to both sustain the image of a major performing arts entity and rely more on corporate funding. A dangerous path to take

Cirque du Soleil, not an American firm but its presence a given through the US, likely suffered a semi-significant loss of ticket sales. Evidence? Some steep discounts. More evidence? Show is reaching out for more outside investors. Spreading itself too thin? I think gravely so. What happens when the public starts equating just another variation on the trampoline act with a pancake-making franchise?

Ringling-Barnum: The Felds, for those who love them, are never going away, not for a very long time if that. Papa Feld's three little daughter Felds are now all working for Papa Feld. And Papa Feld, at least during press interviews, reveals his happiness with how the girls are doing. He now presents himself as the Big Picture Man, wowed by all of his diverse properties, ice shows to sawdust spectaculars, staged vehicular collisions (did I get that wrong? cars and trucks bore me) to, if I get this right, high tech low down indoor rodeo shows. Feld Entertainment may be recession proof. They are, above or below all else, geniuses at the bottom line.

Oh, yes, and there is Circus Vargas, a splendid group of nice people wanting to please, who put out a decent show that could be oh so much better with only a little tinkering. I hope to see them in 2011, maybe down there in So Cal where that great parade is right now lining up to march off, into if not the sun, a wet haze of hope. I'd love being down there on the sidelines, watching it go by. In person, the big floats are more awesome; the small floats, littler than life.

And here, heck, I forgot to lead off with the year's most "significant' story -- how Pledge Break Society TV (PBS) captured both Cirque du Soleil and Big Apple, in two huge specials. CDS came out by far a better box office lure, though, as above, whether they will suffer a loss of interest through over-exposure (turning their acrobats into human pancakes) remains an open question.

As for Big Apple bearing its fleeting magic and prolonged sadness on public television, let me quote here from Sarasota Central: "Big Apple Circus should be ashamed. Sarasota in general (circus) really put the telecast DOWN. It was bad. Don't think I would go to Big Apple -- don't want to get CRAB'S"

I know, I would not go near those filthy backyard employee restrooms. Amazed the management or a division of it did not clean 'em up before the cameras arrived. Is BAC in that much disarray?

Maybe there is still hope for Carson and Barnes.

Live from Pasadena, California. Brought to you in high definition!

Here comes the parade! ...

I'm watching it on KTLA. Stephanie Edwards, sporting a hoarse throat, is there to announce. I LOVE YOU STEPHANIE! YOU ARE THE PARADE! The World is whole again.

Know what? I'm predicting all our circuses will be out on or slightly off the road, in one form or another, next year. They just keep slogging along.

Happy P.S. The sun rose. The sky played blue. God loves the parade.

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