Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Circuses Coming My Way: Desire to Dread

Location.  Location.  Location ... So, too, for where a big top billows.

When Circus Vargas posted information for its Oakland date at I-880 at Zhone Way (a bit James Bondian there?), I could not believe they would return to the circus lot from hell.  It's been tented over by Carson and Barnes, by  UniverSoul, by Chimera (I think), by Caballero and others that slip through, playing on the super cheap. And to think that Vargas is daring to return to this ominously tacky thrash of clumpy dirt between freeway off and on ramps, surly roads, and, all around, a feeling of drug-dealing riff raff and whatever, as they might say, polluting the asphalt void.

NO WAY, am I going to the end of the earth.   But then, luck offered a superior option. They are also playing, how could I possibly be so lucky, less than a mile from the BART (rail commute) station in Dublin!  An upscale place, this I can embrace with no qualms.

Then there's that show once-called Greatest Show on Earth, returning to a place I have come to detest, for a storm of trivial reasons, that altogether bring to mind something John Ringling North II was alleged to have said (he regularly recants on interview quotes, asserting never to have made them), something about Ringling these days being like a day at the mall.

The Big Show plays the Oakland Coliseum.  Think I-880 at Zhone Way, only a hundred gun shots away, with barbed wire and security.  The BART station alone gives me the creeps, as I run up the escalator and cross a vast parking lot on a cement walk way barbed wire on its edges.

Worse yet, this AM, it struck me: There is something that makes going to see Ringling in that huge cavernous cold arena that can seat up to 18,000 people even more unsettling and oddly uncomfortable.  It's the layout; that is to say, how this Ringlesss show is played at the front end, cutting off about a third of the seats for reasons that make artistic and commercial sense.   But still, who wants to sit in an arena more than half empty?

It's something about all the hoopla those fizzy busy Felds can't let go of, ringmaster overkill, and of  course, the regular fireworks. Maybe that's why they keep repeating "you are at the greatest show on earth!" as a desperate compensation for how smaller this whole show has become.

Blame it on the venue? Yes.  I'd much rather watch Ringling (and they have, let me be clear,  plenty to offer on balance), or any show, in a tent that seats say a third of what the Oakland Cavern can hold, if the tent is at least one half full. Better, say three-quarters.  Most of us in the human class,  when we invest in a ticket to a live performance of any stripe, like to see that what we like is also liked by a few others, not just a handful of circus fans or a few blocks of group sales bundled together.

So, I am not looking forward to taking in Ringling-Barnum.  The gloomy BART station.  The shady characters that lurk about. Scalpers, on parole?, who give me the shivers. Fowl Raider Nation vibes, please don't come over here and beat me up.  Probably the baseball jocks if the A's are playing that day at the next-door coliseum. No, they're not scary, they must make me envious of the crowds a ball game can attract that a circus can't - these days.  PETA, too, the drag of drags.  Built to Amaze might amaze, but going out there to see Ringling these days feels as much a duty as a desire.

JRN II helped me realize that context plays a part.   Ringling in three rings in a big arena with the chairs well occupied?  Nice feeling.  Ringling down there in the front end, thousands of not-sold seats shuttered in the shadows behind the extended performers' entrance?  Not so.

We humans, returning from a movie, a concert, a theatre show, usually, when talking it up or down to friends, address a key component in the mix:  "How was the crowd?"

Vargas may do no better in its smaller tent, but, oh, the location is so much less like a mall, so much more intimate.

It even makes the old Ringling-Barnum 8,000 big top seem human.

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