Thursday, September 22, 2011

Circus by the Slice: Grandma's Last Big Apple Tour ... Felds In a TV Soap? ... PETA Pitching to Seniors ... Bombs Over Bagdad Big Tops? ...

Barry Lubin. Photo by Kelly Shimoda for The New York Times

Swiftly, beware of muddy rhetoric down the Covington chute! Not too unexpectedly, Barry Lubin as Grandma making his last tour with Big Apple Circus, announced a big New York Times story with fine photos. Now 59 and clear of the cancer he was successfully treated for a few years ago, Lubin revealed that the experience had "deepened" his comedy and inspired him to "reassess" his life and career ... It's time for a change, says the clown, who first appeared with Big Apple in 1982 and has been seen in most of their shows since. New Big Apple Boss Guillaume Dufresnoy agrees, telling the Times in his cool-speak, "Grandma gave us a sense of continuity, and Grandma will be missed, but it's an opportunity for everyone. For the evolution of Barry, and for the evolution of the circus."

Show's new edition, Dream Big!, facing the critics tonight at the Dulles Center in DC, is not being promoted as Gradma's farewell tour, even though that's how the Times is treating it. Explains Dufresnoy, "We are presenting it as our 34th edition -- business as usual." Lubin carved out probably the most memorable modern-era American clown, bar none. And now, "Grandma" is off to my grandfather's homeland, Sweden, to take up residence with his partner, Ann Hageus, where he plans to appear in European circus festivals and work with some of the best clowns on a stage tour. Not totally gone, Lubin has signed on to teach a class in physical comedy next year for the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea ... More about this story in a future post ...

How much Feld can a TV soap take? We might get to see next year if an ABC series, now in development, goes the daunting distance. Said to be loosely based on the life of Nichole Feld growing up in a circus family. Now, if they have the nerve to dig deep, there's plenty of high and low drama to mine -- assuming Kenneth Feld does not pry himself and his attorneys into the picture. Still, it's an intriguing iffy. Notes Hollywood actor and documentary film maker Phil Weyland, no stranger to such projects inside and out, "The producers will get some money from ABC, make a presentation with episodic possibilities, budget, etc, and ABC will tell them to keep going (shoot a pilot) or forget it at a certain point. "

From here to to prime time is a long hard journey. Explains Phil, "very few shows make it through this process to even a pilot." Somehow, myself speaking here, I just can't see Kenneth Feld feeling very easy or smug, proud or boastful about a TV show that might crawl, sneak, lurch ever so close to revealing not-nice things about his family's checkered relationships and history.

Of course, PETA is smearing the series already, predicting it will be a "glamorized cog on the Ringling Bros. PR machine" unless, specifies PETA, the producers illustrate "how baby elephants used by Ringling are taken from their loving mothers, repeatedly slammed to the ground, gouged with bull hooks, and shocked with electric prods to teach them 'who's boss." Oh, is that all? Gosh, PETA, could you be a little more explicit

Feeling the pressure in Sacramento, Ringling's elephants for the first time in history did not make the public walk to the Power Balance Arena. Oh, the heat is not just on over here, no no! In Britain, the Lords defied Prime Minister Cameron in pushing to advance legislation that would ban wild animals in circus shows ... Speaking of which, here comes PETA around yet another creepy corner, this time turning its hate brigades onto seniors, seeking their moral support. They're running ads in AARP.Com They've got 85-year-old actress Cloris Leachman on board, she calling for her class to boycott any circus that features elephants. In a video, cracks the Cloris chorus: "And we thought the hoops we have to jump through for Medicare are a nightmare." That's right, Ms. Leachman, to get proper pachyderm coverage, you gotta jump up and down and all around in spangles and stand on your head ...

Little top Bits: Closer to a merger are Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus ... Ringling-Barnum pitching two-for-one tickets recently during its Bay Area stops ... Bombs over Bagdad big tops? That's what the Associated Press essentially wonders, reporting on the return of the first circus to the battle-crazed country, first since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Optimistically called the Umbrella Circus, and let's hope it's made of steel. A little lean in the lineup, most artists refuse to sign on, but, as of 9/8, a sword swallower and a sneak charmer were costumed up, ready to make opening spec. Lions and tigers awaiting permission by customs inspectors to snarl on cue. But on went the show, it did, as witness the above photo. One fan willing to risk danger in the pursuit of delight was Alawan Ghazi, who showed up with his three children. "Car bombs and weapons find their way easily to Iraq, " said he. "But bringing circus animals is a more difficult task here." Circus is planning a six month tour of duty.

And to Barry Lubin, embracing a wide-open future, goes the last word: "I've finally accepted that I'm a clown," he told the Times. "That's what I do." And please, Barry, do keep doing it!

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