Clown for a New Day

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At Last! A Little Respect for the Ringling Museum of ART -- Yes, I Said "Art" ... Also: Circus Wages & Risks; Enter the Chinese Daredevils

How pure it felt to hear the words, "The Ringling Museum of Art" unmolested by the grasping inclusion of "circus." No, I am not an anti-circus fan, but I am a respecter of the lovey grounds and the architectural wonders, however garish, willed to the State of Florida by John Ringling, whose vision it was to build and promote a real art museum.

It's been a long time since the "art" part seems to have gone it alone, which was what, in the beginning, Mr. Ringling intended. Just as his brother, Albert, intended would be the exclusive fate of the marvelous grand opera house he built in Baraboo, known to most of you as the Al Ringling Theatre (Are you there, Doc Bob?).

Pledge Break Society (PBS) cameras recently visited the courtyard of Ringling's horseshoe shaped gallery on a lovely summer evening, there to take in a soft performance by the very young opera star, 10-year-old phenom Jackie Evancho, though perhaps not yet a strong enough voice to sustain an entire evening on Great Performances, so I did not stay fully tuned.

But my spirit floated back to a time when I'd enter through the art museum itself, rather than take the tour, as is now the case, past the Tibbals tents and the Tibbals tributes -- perhaps because that's where a Sarasota bus dropped me off. After an obligatory amble through the Rubens, I'd of course wander across the grounds to my favorite spot, a little round French-looking building so discretely tucked amidst the trees -- a little circus museum of refined ambiance -- as if to say, yes, this too was a part of Mr. Ringling's life, just in case you might want to take a little look while you're here. It contained in the back the inspired backyard scene of old Ringling wagons resting on a lot under a simulated early evening sky, by far the most enchanting circus exhibit I will probably ever experience in my life. Credit, silence please, the great curator Mel Miller and his trusted assistant, Joe McKennon -- the man who fessed up to his own role in the land grabbing campaign when he penned Rape of an Estate.

No longer, of course, is it there, for the bureaucrats whose destiny it is to end up running such monumental gifts of death must forever tinker, gut and rethink and rebuild, expand and glorify in order to keep their jobs and add to their powers.

OK: the fun stuff (I know, I've said all that stuff enough already!!!): People who talk freely about circus pay scales (yes, vaguely) sometimes say things that surprise us. Here is clown Steve Copeland, telling the Aurora Advocate how he enjoys the tenting life, compared to those huge arenas, and the comforts it brings him, and then THIS: "The pay is better here than at RB&BB" Now, should we be impressed? Or just happy that, at Kelly Miller Circus, perhaps Steve is getting a decent pay check as opposed to a starvation stipend from the Felds, those "saviors" of the circus who saved it on the backs of countless young Clown College grads eager, for a few moments in the Ringling sun, to entertain the world for peanuts ...

Danger, Be Gone! I only ask, you only decide.... About peril above the ring, from which circus owners are sheepishly retreating, and why? Seems there's a new generation of "aerialsits" willing to go it cold (sans mechanics) only if the pay is right. To Zoe Gorman, who scripted the insightful account of her days traveling with and interviewing K-M staffers, came this sarcastic snap from her Aussie tutor, the "enthusiastic and brusque" Nikki Ogle when the subject of the safety harness worn by Ogle came up: "They don't pay you enough" for the fanciest risks, explained Nikki. ... That's a new angle. Me wonders what the going rate is for a single trap artist to shuck lifelines aside. READ ON!

UPDATE, 9/2, 12:00 PST: Nikki Ogle responds: According to her comment that I have posted, during her interview with Zoe Gorman, the following statement of hers did not make it into the story: "there is not enough pay in the world for me to take that risk." I have reread the Toledo Blade story; in fact, what I quoted her as stating on the issue is exactly all that was printed.

Enter the daring young Chinse man on the high wire: Some guy I saw on a TV news clip scaling a cable 300 feet above the ground, slipping and sparing his life by grasping the wire, etc. Those acrobats are flexing their muscles and magic in so many new directions, pushing daringly skyward while inside the U.S., the "static trapeze" is tepidly on the rise.

Enter Life. Yes, that's who visited me here recently, not the Big A, but Life, a few chic steps above Sir anonymous, who speaks sparely, "I like your site to see." Hmmmm, not a commercial for some other site. Not a rant. Just Life. In reply to a post back there about the hazzards of illustrating a circus book ... Thank you, Like. Sounds like you enjoy exercising your vision ... Do drop by again, tepidly, if you still please ...

4 comments:

Nikki Ogle said...

Show biz journalist license means the remainder what I have been said was not printed. The rest of the quote that was not printed says 'there is not enough pay in the world for me to take that risk' But you can run with the first part of the quote if you wish.

Nikki Ogle said...

I apologise for not being clear in my last response. It was not you (the journalist) that left off the last part of my quote but Zoe Gorman, the journalist.

Showbiz David said...

Yes, Nikki, I understood what you meant, but wanted to make clear to my readers that your statement did not get into the Toledo Blade story. I wish it had, for it helps us better understand your philosophy.
But thanks for bringing this to my and our attention.

Anonymous said...

I have read a few entries of your blog and wonder why you have such an aversion to the safety line/mechanic. Surely something that prolongs the performing life of an entertainer can only be a good thing. I think the tricks undertaken by aerialists who utilise a mechanic are usually more daring than those who don't.

Who is paying the lifetime of medical bills of those that do get injured? Probably not the circus.