Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Top Bits: Carson & Barnes Raises Stakes ... Kelly Miller Ends Drought in TX ... Judge Lifts Atlanta Ban on Ringling Elephants ... And More!

The Ringling elephants on parade in DC, 2006

Mixing it all up, for those out there at the platform, silent and curious, voyeurs of whatever it is you can't stay away from. OK, here we go! ...

American University grad student Guy Palace (fab name), interviewing me (along with Kenneth Feld and Paul Binder, but not together -- High Company, would you not say, for them?) for a Master thesis he's undertaking about how circuses market themselves. Fun telephone chat. Got me to thinking, what a subject Guy is addressing: Once upon a season, the big tops pitched exotica, incredible feats of magic, strange animals to big crowds; Lately, it seems they've defaulted to the kid angle wrapped in the American flag, the Big Sacred Holiday, spreading free or discounted tickets for the kiddies, pulling in families into the concession pits -- in brief: from midway grift long ago, to boiler room charity rackets hitting infamy in the 1970s, to designer snow cones today.

Know what? I fear its a diminishing demographic. Even new Big Apple Circus chief Guillaume Dufresnoy recently aired his regret with a reporter that, unlike over there in Europe, where adults attend circuses, here it's mostly kids and parents. Yes, when did the single adults lose interest? Study the old photos and see if there weren't more grown ups without kids sitting in the seats.

Scholars in the spotlights: Sponsored by the Circus Historical Society will be, annually, the Stuart Thayer Prize to "encourage the highest quality of research, scholarship and writing" focused on American circus history. Nice idea and reach. I am waiting for CHS, in particular Bandwagon's new editor Fred Pfening III, to actually commit in some form of monograph or consensus among CHS historians, over a "best of" list of the top circus history books. Pfening made disappointingly clear recently that he is not high on a book I have long admired, Earl Chapin May's -- wonderful read, in my opinion --The Circus From Rome to Ringling. If not that the tome, then what the one or ones, Mr. Pfening?

Carson & Barnes very much in motion, sings new marketing man Dan Acree, e-mailing me his enthusiasm for the season ahead: "Barbara Byrd has raised the stakes and has committed C&B to keeping the family on the road." New show about to hit the dirt "has completely revamped everything from its brand to the way it market and sells tickets." A more "sophisticated approach" is promised. I am hoping this will extend to the performance itself. I would love to see a turnaround for this proud old show, under whose canvas in years gone by I've witnessed some of my most memorable circus shows, believe it or not. So there. Their revamped website has an expansively impressive look.

Atlanta Judge sides with the elephants. Despite animal control laws in the city outlawing the use of bull hooks, the pachyderms will perform. A Fulton Superior Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order lifting a ban on bull hooks issued by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners -- another victory for the Felds. They do well before judges; not nearly so in the court of public opinion.

New trendy outfit in Chicago marketing more than just frivolous average non-thinking entertainment: Organized by David and Diana Maas, it's called "The Windy City Circus: A Circus With a Purpose." It's a non profit, and did 'ya know, Circus Vargas is technically a non profit, too? A rather strangely ill-known fact.

Okay, I was just about to self-ban my cheap shots at the mud known to vex the Kelly-Miller lots (this year no exception -- so far), but then came e-mail provocation from show manager James Royal, from which I merrily quote: "The people of the Brownsville are delighted we are here in more ways than one. We ended their drought ... honestly." Perhaps North II and Royal I can market their show as the circus that lifts all crippling droughts into fertile lakes of fresh promise!

So, no more cracks about mud again -- unless the Royal of Royal asks for it.

And that's a rainy day wrap.

Put your mud away for another day: Kelly Miller the last day in Brownsville. Photo from Steve Copeland's blog.

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