Friday, May 18, 2012

Shrine Clowns Bring More Harm Than Laughter to the American Circus

I'm about at my wits end over the mere thought of Shriners in greasepaint pretending to be clowns, provoked to put out this post after being reminded of how unwanted and unwelcome they are by two reviews in the current issue of Circus Report of two different Shrine circuses -- one by Chuck Burnes on Circus Hollywood working for the Tampa Egypt Shrine; the other by Herbert Ueckert of the Osman Shrine offering at St. Paul.

Quipped Burnes, "The Shriners returned with what they thought was a funny safe-cracking routine ... the Coronas show was very good. The Shrine clowns were not."

Observed Ueckert: "The Osman Shrine clowns in a painfully long baseball gag provided an interlude of which nothing more needs to be said as readers probably are aware of this reporter's views on Shrine clowns."

Most of us would wholeheartedly agree. Considering the history of Shrine Circuses in this country, it is a shame that so many temples, by virtue of pulling the strings and using the "producers" more as booking agent whores than producers, continue to subject the public to the slipshod, half-baked programs they themselves produce.

How does Shrine clowning hurt the circus business? Assuming for a moment that by "business," I am referring to "entertainment," let us count some of the ways:

* Audiences are not fooled. Audiences sympathetic to worthy Shrine causes may refrain from expressing discontent, but the embarrassing spectacle of a Shrine "clown alley" may resonate for years in their collective memories.

* Less opportunities for professional clowns -- what's left of them. Feld Entertainment, to its credit, trains many young jesters; then, where next for them? I can't recall in my youth ever going to a Shrine circus that did not include some of the best clowning in the country. The mere thought of a bunch of Shriners giving themselves free reign, coupled with obscenely long concession-revenue-producing intermissions, leaves me with virtually no desire ever to step into a Shrine circus again. And to think, the first truly great circus performances I witnessed were produced by Polack Brothers for Shrine temples from coast to coast.

* Less incentive for younger clowns to stick with it. If an aspiring clown sees fewer circuses actually hiring professional fun makers, what will that do for his/her motivation? Self-esteem? Pride of profession? Imagine how this must affect the ambitiously creative team of Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs at moments when they, as well they will during the course of their careers, contemplate opportunities away from Kelly Miller Circus? Where, indeed, would they go? The tent shows, thankfully, are still open to hiring clowns. Indoors for the Shriners? I cry picturing those guys having to share the rings with a bunch of self-deluded amateurs.

* Deprives the public of a key element in a good circus program: Clowns who make people laugh in clever unexpected ways.

* Denigrates nearly to zero the once-great, once respected "Shrine Circus" name.

What can be done? Bottom line, nothing can be done -- unless and until the producers themselves were to refuse allowing into the programs they allegedly "produce" these clunsy overblown bores.

As Chuck Burnes noted, "But there's nothing anyone can do if they want to keep their contract."

A vicious cycle. Contract kept. Another mucked up mediocre performance the result.

Need any of us wonder why fewer and fewer Shrine temples are even trying to put out a circus anymore? I feel no sympathy whatsoever for their diminishing number, considering the harm they are visiting upon the image of circus art in America.

Cry, clown, cry.