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Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Wake-Ups: Clown Face on Brit Billboard Freaks out Londoner; Circus Owner, Ordered to Remove, Offers Psychiatric Intervention ... Bob (that you-know-what critter) returns to Big Apple Circus ... AND More!

You’re half way in the tent.  Leave or SIT DOWN!   The show is now on, so ... if you suffer from any of the big top-induced anxieties, take your pills, pray or leave NOW ...

 
Edgy!  In the wobbly world, across the  pond, of sawdust, spangles, and psychotherapy, latest to amaze is a report of circus owner and ringmaster John Larson being ordered by City of Leighton Buzzard (no, I did not make up that name) to remove posters  alleged to have driven a  motorist  suffering from coulrophobia (FEAR of CLOWNS)  into a "terrified" panic.  To the BBC, said Larson, reassuring a reporter,  "most people were cheered by the clown posters."  But to Mirror Online, he let go:  “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s about 28,000 people in Leighton Buzzard, and our posters get taken down because of one person ... The battered big top boss (and we thought they have it hard over here) offered free therapy to the whacked-out motorist, hoping to help her  "overcome her phobia."   I have a question, World: Is there a phobia called FEAR OF LIVING ON PLANET EARTH? ...


You don't like clowns?  Well, then, how about a rodent or a rat, neither lurking behind greasepaint?  My demented circus heart cheered by news that Big Apple Circus is bringing back Jenny Vidbel’s half-way-performing live “chubby” South American capybara, said to be related to the guinea pig (shhhh! - really means "rodent"), good old, Bob, who drew smashing  Gotham reviews a couple years back, ho ho.  Also in the act will be "one trained rat."  Jenny’s a wow of a trainer, an American original, helping Big Apple show the world you can go on without wild animals and still pack the tent now and then ...

This year's opus, Luminocity, under wide-reaching creative aegis of artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy,  took specific direction by Michele Barette, from up there in Cirque du Soleil land, who co-crafted back in 2004,. with Paul Binder and Michael Christensen,  one stunning near-masterpiece, Picturesque.  First frame on this year's outing,  which uncorked over the weekend in NY, goes to 15-year-young juggling  wonder boy champ Ty Tojo.  Says director Barette (who, by the way, was Cirque's first ringmaster),  “he performs as the first act in the show because he gives it the whip of energy that we need.”   Ty is high on my list of Big Apple Must-Sees, along with sly audience teaser, Bob, and the nameless rat.  Photo, above, is of Duo Guerrero.

Discovered by cypberditipy (a word I thought I’d invented - until I found out that I hadn’t): A younger, newer circus-inclined Brit blogger named Katharine Kavanagh,  issuing a nicely affirmative review of my book, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide. She, somewhat on the fence, rues most of all my lack of on-site European research, resulting, believes she, in my slighting Euro contributions to the new circus movement routinely linked to Circus du Soleil's global impact ... Am I guilty?  Truth is, while I’ve been to Russian, and lately to China (which Katharine fairly acknowledges ), yes, I haven’t hit the streets of Paris, the lots of London in many years, and there’s a real reason why, trust me here: fear of flying.  Before flying to China in 2010, it had been 31 years since I lifted off for space flight.  Last time was 1979, when the Old Soviet Circus granted me access for interviews In Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev and Odessa ... But I do harbor a wish to go over there and take in a few circuses.  How fun that would be, if only ... Nothing, absolutely nothing like seeing them for myself, in person, from a seat, first fanfare to final blast. Old World, are you still a Bold World?

Anyway, among the gratifying credit Katharine grants me, there is this:   “a breadth of knowledge to the world that is hard to come by elsewhere ... " Ah, thanks, Katharine ...  BTW: on E-bay, Inside sells for from $25.37 up to $60.28.  Who ever buys a book for that ridiculously high-end  price?  I don’t know how these pipe-dreaming vendors do it...

End Ringers: From DC, Guy Palace sending  me news of  new Circus Conservatory of America, getting ready to open in Portland, Maine next year.   Academic arc promising  “higher education with a primary mission to provide the highest caliber artistic education available  in the United State to circus artists.”  I’d suggest trimming that sentence a bit.  They’re calling themselves “the first US-based circus college.” Now there, I liked that sentence a lot more ...  Jack Ryan, on Monte Carlo Circus Festival's failing to land TV coverage over here, “I noted the jury of the recent festival did not include a single member from the US, UK, Canada, Mexico, or Australia.  Good noting Jack.  “I’m not sure that a commercial network or PBS sees the value of running the festival.  Neither does the BBC.” Still, thinks Jack, “it would work well if well promoted.  A French network records and broadcasts it annually." 

 Big top as high art: from Circus Conservatory of America website.

CFA turns a blundering blind eye: Take a look at the Circus Fans Association website posting in tepid response to the Los Angeles city council ban on bull hooks.  The press release, as candy-cotton spun as a Feld handout, extends unequivocal  support for the Ringling elephants being perfectly trained, treated, put through their tricks.  I wonder what the CFA thinks of damming visual evidence to the contrary - not a comment about that.  But then, CFA was born to "fight anything that fights the circus."  At least, they might explain to us how the footage of Ringling elephants being whipped and cursed at backstage was somehow "edited" to foster the negative impression it clearly conveys.  No, this is what they officially state:  "These magnificent creatures are beloved and protected by the circus professionals who care for them 24/7."  Nothing, Kids, is as simple or as black and white as that, period.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Fearng a Rival Paper Might Steal Away His Subscribers: "I might end up with none."

He lived in a paranoid fear of somebody putting out a competitive alternative to his Circus Report.   He dreaded every new attempt that came along. 

It wasn't easy just hanging on to his subscribers.  There was a troubling turnover as, when renewal time came around, many subscribers did not renew.  In order to sustain subscriptions, Don would each week send out free samples to prospective new subscribers, drawing from the rosters of the various circus clubs.  This arduous effort never ended. 

This he shared with me in his letter dated June 21, 1987:

"That guy from San Bernadino who is gong to put out a circus paper sent me some ads, requesting subscribers, etc. He calls it Circus Week and it will come out each week, costs $30 a year, or two years for $55.  I sent the stuff back to him and told him I wasn't going to help push his paper at the expense of my own.

"It's about time that I got off the idea of always being a good guy helping the other guy. He can advertise I guess in White Tops and such, but no point in sending my subscribers off to him.  I might end up with none - who knows."

A month later, on July 25, he wrote:

"His ad rates are all $5.00 less than what I am charging.  Also, he wrote to everyone who has an ad in CR and offered them a free ad in his paper to help him get started.... He had a total of 8 [8-1/2 x11"] pages, with only one story ... I could pay someone the money to subscribe for me I guess, but on the other hand I am not sure if I want to pay him $30.  By this time, he should have two or three issues out, depending on how he schedules them, unless he has folded already?"

As I recall, Circus Week did not last very long.  There were others, too, that came and went. 

In Don's corner, his work ethic was A+.  He reveled in getting Circus Report out each and every week, and on time. He stuck to it and eventually  amassed a total of, I am guessing, around 2,500 paid subscribers, but the peak years did not last long, from what I recall.  His average was likely closer to around 1,700.  He used the pricier first class mail, one big reason being  that he did not want to have to annually list his subscription totals.  That would be kept a secret.  Imagery, you know.

Circus Report became his first love, his obsession.  In the end, when he was plagued with poor health and we were no longer in contact, I'd heard he resented the paper but could not let go.  

Remembering our telephone conversations leading up to the launch of Circus Report, when he would call me to discuss his ideas and seek feedback, those were exciting and happy times, indeed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ringling Kicked Out of L.A.: Feld’s Millions For Legal Maneuvers and PR Spin May Not Be Enough to Overturn Bull Hook Ban

Kenneth Feld has a PR disaster on his hands.  He has been virtually kicked out of the City of Los Angeles, by a unanimous city council vote of 13-0.  Bull hooks have been outlawed, meaning that, come 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will no longer be allowed to parade its performing pachyderms into Staples Center.

Location.  Location.  Location.  The ban could not have taken place in a more glamorously conspicuous, incessantly watched city.  L.A. is the epi-center of popular entertainment. The world watches L.A.'s every move.  So, this major setback for Feld Entertainment will have a far greater and potentially more lasting impact on the future of not just Ringling, but of all other circuses -- than it would have had the city council been that of say, Denver, where such a similar ban was considered but voted down. 

There was a reason that Cirque du Soleil, when first venturing beyond Canada, went to Los Angeles, gambling its fragile assets on a make-or- break date there in 1987.   Overnight, raving local tinsel town acclaim put the show on the world map.   Just as now, Ringling’s eviction from LA. amounts to the worst kind of imagery. 

Kenneth Feld is used to having his way.  His father, Irvin, no doubt taught him how to work the media with cunning and force, how to buy the best legal  advice money can buy, how to market the circus.   But, in the end, what the Felds could not market away was damning filmed evidence of apparent animal abuse on their own premises; I'm thinking four years ago, when a PETA operative filmed a line of elephants backstage being lined up and readied to go on.  Hardly a match for the horrific Tim Frisco Carson and Barnes You Tube made over a dozen years earlier; but, together, both unflattering videos serve a complimentary purpose, advancing through time a lingering narrative that is, Kids, not pretty.

Feld claimed  the You Tube was "deceptively edited," and then proceeded to never explain how. Call it hubris.   In a packed L.A. City Hall last week, with a number of celebrities lending their weight to the vote, according to one report,  "there were tears in the audience over graphic undercover video reportedly showing elephants being trained."   

That our nation’s most honored circus institution stands to end up on a cutting room floor will only hasten a long-running movement in this country to ban all wild animal acts from circuses, which is a pity.   Make that a provisional pity.   The jury is still out, as collectively the public makes up its mind about the kinds of performing animals it can comfortably accept and enjoy.

When I think of what it would be like, had I children of my own, to take them to Ringling Bros. Circus these days, the thought of having to explain to them the enlarged photos held by animal activists on our way out -- I don't think I'd want to go.  Why?  Because, there is sufficient evidence for me to consider anything that Mr. Feld may say as pure spin. And that's putting it politely.

Fifty years ago, the public was not armed with concealed cameras, such that, fifty years ago, brutal training tactics could not be secretively captured on film for subsequent posting on an Internet yet to be. 

Kenneth Feld may have to make contingency plans for a new version of his greatest show on earth.  He may have to retire the sad pandering spectacle of an elephant draped in the American flag being dragged out for a pandering rendition of the national anthem.  Of course, he may have no problem skipping Los Angeles. But, how many other cities, yet to take up such bans, will it take before he does have a problem?

This is a huge story, the reporting of which brought to this blog an unprecedented storm of traffic. Nothing like I have ever seen before.  A fluke of blogger stats? Or a reflection of the magnitude of the story?

I’d guess the latter. 

Next: How much pain, really, do circus animals experience?  How telling -- or misleading -- is the evidence?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... Los Angeles Bans Elephant Bull-hooks; Ringling Threatens to Dump Date

 L.A. to Jumbo:  Not in Our Backyard!

City council  "swayed by graphic undercover video."


Into a concrete world they go, on their way to Staples Center, L.A., 2009. AP photo.

Come 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, if they wish to continue playing in Los Angeles, will be forced to leave the elephants back in the train, unless by that time they can figure out a way to handle and present the performing behemoths without the use of bull-hooks (or any other similar tools), to the satisfaction of the Los Angeles City Council.

The council today voted unanimously on the ban.  Repeat:  Unanimously.

Feld Entertainment:  L.A. is  "kicking us out of Los Angeles."

Ringling, of course, is already warning it won't return without the menagerie stars. Said Stephen Payne, a Ringling VIP PR operative to the Los Angeles Times, the ordinance will have the effect of  "kicking us out of Los Angeles.” 

The issue has been long debated in Tinsel Town, where the Ringling show  is now reported to be the only circus that comes to town with pachyderms on the bill.

This move will only embolden other city and state governments from coast to coast, who have also addressed the issue, to act likewise.

Said Payne, "Sadly, this ordinance before the City Council we feel is just being driven by a small, vocal group of animal rights activists who are against animals and entertainment whether they’re elephants or any other animal,”

To a degree, he may be correct. But, increasingly, the public is becoming more uneasy about crossing PETA picket lines, about exposing children to elephant acts, particularly given damaging You Tube evidence circulating 24/7.  And there can be no doubt that many young people watch the You Tubes and ask questions, too.

Time for the Felds to explain what "deceptively edited" means

Nor have the Felds helped their cause any by coming out to refute film footage that shows a degree of abusive back stage.  "Deceptively edited," they claimed, never, to my knowledge, ever coming forward with evidence of their own to refute the You Tubes.

This I came across in the Los Angeles Daily News  after posting this story: "Swayed by graphic undercover video showing elephants being prodded with the tools, City Council members unanimously backed a ban on the steel-pointed rod resembling a fireplace poker."  I assume this to be the You Tube to which I refer and have referred in past posts on the subject.

According to Council member Paul Koretz, as quoted on CBSLA.Com, "the hook has a sharp spike attached to it that activists believe is dangerous to the animals and say there are more humane means for controlling elephants available."

Thanks to Don Covington for sending me this news.

Johnny Carson, Facebook, and Loneliness

Update, 10-23-2013:  I invite you to go into comments at the end of this posting.  A most insightful experience with Johnny Carson has been shared with us by John Searing. 

photo from Carson Entertainment

Last night, I watched an excellent new documentary on Johnny Carson's life put out by American Master's on PBS. If there really is a deep mystery about the man (that's how some like to view him), this two-hour program, a crystal clear account of the entertainer's life, should put such idol speculation to rest. He was one very shy, very private person who was a great actor before the cameras. Away from the set, he was a chronic loner obsessed with his television career and with a series of easy affairs offered him by many beautiful women, some of whom he married.

Said Carson once during an interview, explaining why he was so shy and ill-at ease at public gatherings, he simply did not enjoy the same comfortable control of situation as he did when hosting the Tonight Show. That's why.

Carson craved a certain love that he evidently could only get from an audience. He was unable or unwilling to try getting it from either his wives (for very long) or from his three sons by his first marriage, to whom he displayed a cool distant indifference. The culprit seems to have been Carson's very own mother, Ruth, a strange heartless Mommy Dearest character who nastily discouraged her son in his theatrical ambitious, even ridiculed him during his most successful days as king of late night. Carson was born in Iowa and grew up in Nebraska. Yes, that's where Mommy Dearest came from. So much for those lionized mid-west "family values."

During his 14-year retirement away from the spotlights, Carson privately and without fanfare wrote out millions of dollars in checks to charitable causes. How sadly ironic are those mortals like Carson who can give so lavishly to strangers but can't give hardly a shred of affection and support to their own kin. The man may have been just plain selfish. In the end, sharing space with his fourth wife Alexis Maas, he spent most of his time reading books, lobbing tennis balls back and forth, and sitting alone out overlooking the edge of the Pacific Ocean, savoring the waves of Malibu and beyond.

Onto the waves of Facebook, and to the hyperventilating media blitz over its first day on the stock market. Experts called the event a virtual flop. And I am smiling. Having watched and believed the searing film, The Social Network, I view Mark Zuckerberg as an opportunistic scoundrel who stole the idea from some college classmates, and then betrayed a few who considered him friends and helped him on the upswing. Zuckerbeg was something of a loner himself, who couldn't get a date and is now setting out to bring the world closer together in the facebook universe.

With every new electronic gadget (make that "toy" if you wish) that comes down the iPike, the average human being may be turning more insular and isolated, and -- worse still -- not pausing to consider the long term consequences to the spirit. The Facebook phenomena arguably combines personal isolation with the illusion of intimacy, and I wonder if there is a danger in a "virtual reality" that may encourage people to settle for safe easy fantasies of the mind over actual social realities lived out in the flesh. Perhaps this rapidly expanding electronic world will redefine the very essence of human life on the planet.

Back to Johnny Carson. The American Masters profile, masterfully assembled and formed, in the end rendered the man not a mystery at all. And I have no desire to learn anything more about his private life, for I think there isn't much more to learn. I'd much prefer experiencing the king of late night in the manner of, as Norma Desmond puts it in Sunset Boulevard, "all those wonderful people out there in the dark," waiting to see the curtain part and to hear Ed shout, "Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's ............... Johnny!"

originally posted May 19, 2012

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Morning with Charles Dickens: The Circus in His Day


I think I have read myself up to the God of letters.  His name is Charles Dickens

Yes, I've been well aware of his A Christmas Carol, which, when we played the recorded version on old 78 records during my boyhood in a darkened room, nearly scared us to death.

Recently, I took on, at last, a sampling of the man's prose.  First, A Tale of Two Cities, by far the most powerful book I have ever read; and now Hard Times.   Mr. Dickens has inspired me to contemplate that a novel may be superior to a work of "history" in evoking place, character, culture, and conflict.  The man's sweeping compassion, his grasp of historical detail, his deft story-telling skills and unflinching nod to the darker side of human nature, making him a searing social critic as well -- what more need I say?

Circus in the Day of Dickens

A minor plot thread in Hard Times emerges from inside a little circus, which the author uses, in two brief sections of the book, to describe ring action during his day. The book was written in 1854.  Here, for your amusement, if you will, are a few excerpts. I've not used quotes, all of the text is from the book.


The circus is coming!
.
...his ears were invaded by the sound of music.  The clashing and banging and attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion, was in full bray.  A flag, floating from the summit of the temple, proclaimed to making that was 'Sleary's Horse-riding ... his 'highly trained performing dog  Merrylegs.'  He was also to exhibit 'his astounding feat of throwing seventy-five hundred-weight in rapid succession backhanded over his head, thus forming a fountain of solid iron in mid-air, a feat never before attempted in this or any other country, and which having elicited such rapturous plaudits from enthusiastic throngs it cannot be withdrawn.

Breathtaking feats



The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on the top of a great pole; the father of a third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers, with Master Kidderminster for the apex, and himself for the base; all the fathers could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, and stick at nothing.  All the mothers could (and did) dance upon the slack wire and the tight rope, and perform rapid acts on barebacked steeds ...
Comedy from the Stage

The same Signor Jupe was to 'enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his chaste Shakespearean quips and retorts.'

Intense acrobatics, father to son

.. a diminutive boy with an old face ... assisted his infant son: being carried upside down over his father's shoulder, by one foot, and held by the crown of his head, heels upwards, in the palm of his father's hand, according to the violent paternal manner in which wild huntsmen may be observed to fondle their offspring.

Bad grades

He didn't do what he ought to. Was short in his leaps and bad in his tumbling.

The horse-rider


The Emperor of Japan,on a steady old white horse stenciled with black spots, was twirling five wash-hand basins at once, as it was the favorite recreation of that monarch to do

[what follows, have patience, was written in an older English dialect] 

The Fame of Astley and his Amphitheater

The Little Wonder of Thcolatic Equitation, and if you don't hear of that boy at  Athley'th, you'll hear of him at Parith.

Pachyderms on parade

We wath throw'd a heavy back-fall off an elephant in a thort of a Pagoda

And, finally -- how some things never change -- cherry pie, too!

... in the capacity of a man who made himself generally useful, presided on this occasion over the exchequer - having also a drum in reserve, on which to expend his leisure moments and superfluous forces.

They Read Me, They Bleed Me ... They Hate Me ... They Hate Me Not!

Showbiz David Out of the past: First posted  on July 18, 2010


As an update to this re-posting, let me add that I hold in the highest regard John Ringling North II and James Royal, who have never assaulted me in the fashion described below. They have remained most congenial, responding to my request for photos for my last book, Inside the Changing Circus, sending me annually, unsolicited, a copy of their program magazine with a bag of peanuts.

In the Circus Report that he founded and slaved over for most of his later life, the late Don Marcks once pointed me to a small space on the back cover that sometimes hosted adds. other times went blank. Said he, “How about your column there?”

I was very touched by the unexpected offer from someone who was my direct opposite, but resisted his polite invitation, telling him “eventually, I will write something that will cause you problems, and that will be it.” Don dreaded the discontent of circus owners and as a rule edited on the super safe don’t-rock-the big top side.

I knew Don well, as I knew the small insulated circus world well. They, most of them, are sheltered from criticism by the fans and by media indifference. Indeed, many a performer could last a lifetime under small tops, even in Ringing rings, and never face a legitimate review.

Before we fell into a kind of soft unspoken estrangement, Don once complained to me over the phone (we talked often) about circus fans who sent in glowing notices of Circus Vargas. He was growing tired of it. He printed their predictably rosy notices nonetheless.

Another time, Don told me, “I got a review of Circus Vargas. The guy was pretty critical, so I didn’t print it.”

That was Don, and that is how the circus world would like it to be.

Which brings us to the thorn in your side, that nagging customer who can inject unsettling opinions into your beautiful backyard paradise where every circus is the best it’s ever been, and better than all the others.

It was in Don’s paper that a piece I wrote looking back at Irvin Feld’s career, sometime after Mr. Feld passed away, caused probably a more vicious reaction than had ever greeted anything penned about the circus. Feld employees took out venomous attack ads in Circus Report. About a dozen or more. Some full pagers. Not a soul came to my defense. They bled me yes, and I did not die. And I still will not die. Bleeding is a part of my bizarre mission. When you get away with mouthing off in national print at age 14, it tends to go to your head, especially when, many years later, Variety signs on.

My most recent encounter with a hurricane of hostility arrived upon my posting a review here of Kelly Miller Circus. Some of you have no doubt seen it. Maybe you were amused. Maybe you half way agreed. Or considered me a number of things not fit for print — in more ways the one. In the eyes of the offended, I’d made a total fool of myself. That's the risk you take for daring to reveal your feelings, for you risk going against the grain. But how else?

One of the comments slung at my posting by that ever-ubiquitous contributor “Anonymous," whose profanity I did not allow onto the lot, found irony in my “legendary expertise” (a compliment, Anonymous?) being unaware that the names “Nellie” with “Hanneford go together. No, what I really failed to link were the names “Poema” and “Hanneford.”

I looked elsewhere, to one of the three Kelly Miller blogs, this being Steve and Ryan’s. Amidst some controversy, Steve, a classy guy, posted his own comment, “everybody is entitled to their own opinion.” Among other comments, Jon turned what he doubtlessly considered a negative into what I consider rare validation. You see, Jon lumped me together with the snobby New York critics’ crowd. May I take a bow please!? “Mr. Pompous ‘I live and die in New York’” he called me. (Mr. Pompous lives in Oakland, CA.) Well, it beats beings bland. And since I no longer disco into nights of senseless danger, gotta do something for cheap thrills.

Jon described my review as “a homework project.” Now to that, Jon, I can relate. For years, even after landing bylines in Variety and getting published in book form, I still felt like I were trying be a writer; lately, I’ve promoted my self-regard to writer trying to be a writer.

I'll grant that Jon might be on to some prickly things about me, but he goes totally off the rails when he accuses me of a mind set that was “formed before the presentation was presented.” If only he knew what was actually in my mind when I sat down to take in a performance of Kelly-Miller in Brewster, NY — and how what I thought I might find was significantly altered by what I actually found.

As for my carrying on like a know-it-all New Yorker, that tickles me pink lemonade. Why? Because, for starters, I think the NY critics are the toughest, and they think for themselves. Growing up, I admired how, following another opening night, they were forced to form their opinions in hours or less, rushing back to newsroom typewriters or to telephones to call in their notices. No time to stick their fingers in the wind or equivocate their immediate gut reactions down to intellectual mush. I read and treasured Walter Kerr almost every Sunday in The New York Times. And when I landed my first byline in Variety, that only emboldened my stubbornly independent ways. Whatever I am, it's me that you get. I just wish, trust me, that you'd get a lot more voices and a lot more opinions -- in declarative review form.

"Pompous" if you please. English class room deficient if you must. But bias in advance? That I fight all the time, admitting that, yes, I too am human, but I think the conscious struggle to fight bias has made me a better, fairer reporter. Two things that remain uppermost in my thinking and approach: Number 1. Keep your mind an open slate, and let the arists in the ring paint their pictures on it. Number 2. The circus, ever since jugglers began in Egypt ,acrobats in China, is forever changing. It is not a fixed form. So, by all means adhere to a golden cliche: judge each show on its own terms.

Which can be a shock to my system as well.

And sometimes, a thrill. Never know what awaits me when, pompously, I embark on another homework review project. Considering how quaintly irrelevant I am obviously viewed by my dissenters, I'm thinking of making my entrances on to the lot in cape and carriage, but the Witness Protection Program refused me that guise.

[photo, many years ago at Carson & Barnes Circus in Half Moon Bay, CA, by my nephew Jeffrey Hoffman]

7.18.10

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Poignancy in Death at the Cinema: Fruitvale Station

Oscar Grant, who was killed by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale Station during a melee, is the subject of a gritty film that paints an unsparing picture of the lives of too many young black men with little future, much of it owing to their own tragic plight.  We must keep in mind that most were raised without a father, and for many, their mothers hooked

Grant is far from a likable character in the first frames.  After assuring his girlfriend that he is not fooling around on her, shortly after, at his work place on a day off, he goes out of his way to "help" a customer in the meat department, the customer a good looker, making it clear he is and may always be on the make.

Then we learn that, in fact, he no longer works at the store, but was fired two weeks prior for his inability to show up for the job.

He deals drugs to get by.  He has already served time in prison, so you get the portrait.

the director has gone out of his way to build up sympathy based upon the assertion that Grant spent ample time with his daughter out of wedlock to show her affection, and for this, we are suppose to like the guy.

Fast forward to the tragic New Years Eve when, his girlfriend and fellow revelers, retuning tom San Francisco on BART, were hustled off the train after a fight.

Fast forward to the shot that killed Grant.  The police officer maintained he thought he had pulled his taser.  He served less than two years time for the "mistake."

Here in Oakland, though far from the world of Oscar Grants, it was an outrage.  And yet, who knows, maybe this BART policeman was telling the truth.

Having observed, whenever another strike is staged, how all of BART'S employees virtually run the system, holding a Unionized power to shut down the trains and leave half a million people stranded, I have little feeling or sympathy for this greedy lot, and that would include a police force that does not come off as totally professional. 

The end sequence of the film gives us a poignancy that makes even more tragic these Oscar Grants.

Had he lived, this Oscar ,might well have ended up back in prison.  He might have lived out his days selling more drugs and ending up on welfare.

So, in his death, there is a symbolic tragedy that falls over an entire class of people.

Unfortunately, the life of Oscar Grant would never have lived up to the dreams of his mother, who draws the sympathy of outraged citizens.

It's a tale that sheds more light on the vicious cycle of violence in which too many African American men are trapped.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Flip Flops: Kelly-Miller Cookhouse, a Sizzler ... Octogenarian Student of Trapeze, a Dazzler ... The Kingdom of Feld, Why a Yawner?

Out of the past, randomly on parade ...


Kelly Miller grillmaster, Jeremiah Cook, posts upcoming menus
Cookhouse photos by Carol Guensburg/AFR

Have a seat, no, make that -- get in line at a cookhouse-to-remember,  it being Johnny North II’s designer meals for his Kelly-Miller Circus family.  As reported  a while back when the show was boating up to Kelly's Island, one Jeremiah Cook (perfect name for the job), having been hired to work the big grill in the backyard, was quoted,  “Mr. John Ringling North himself has told me he wants everyone to be fed — pleasantly.” And on this haute cuisine lot, pleasant means delicious — with a touch of nutritious ...


Rebecca Ostroff, with meals for her family, back to the RV

Chef Cook posts upcoming menus, great way to keep the staff happy and on the move, I’d venture ...”It’s my show time,” said he to the news scribe, who witnessed clown Steve Copeland waking off with “a plate of chicken, rice, mixed vegetables and an extra piece of cornbread.” ....

Story touted local edible delights favored by the troupe annually, from Texas tacos to, up Baltimore way, “Berger Cookies,” the beef adorned with a thick chocolate fudge frosting ... Mmmm, yes! .... Might a VIP ticket to the show get me into the cookhouse?   I want more than a bag of peanuts, Mr. North II  ... Cook is a modern guy, too, opting for the healthy stuff, “lean meats and sometimes fish,” produce at every meal.  Always for the taking, watermelon and popsicles ... And there's Stevie boy, accepting another great meal ...mmm, looks yummmy good, I'm jealous! ...

She’s not young and she’s not retired, no where near ... She’s an octogenarian with oomph to go,  now taking classes at Circus Harmony in St. Louis.   Cheers to the ungroundable Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring, who once appeared as a showgirl in Ringling  rings, but never, per her parents release orders, in the air. She rode elephants, high stepped in fancy frills, smiled a lot (I assume), waved and added luster to the 3-ring spectacles ...

You CAN go back:  Years later, make it six back, came Bunny’s 80th Big Day.  She appealed to Circus Harmony’s Jessica Hentoff. “I promised my parents I wouldn’t do aerial, but they are gone now ... do you think it is too late?”  No, of course not, said the Harmony mentor, and up went Bunny, at last, to grasp a trapeze bar and swing out.  ...


She continues honing her skills, learning more --- only problem being a hearing aid that keeps wanting to run away, can’t stand heights. ... Since then, our La Norma-come- lately has taught Shakespeare to men behind bars, penned a bio now on Amazon, Still Swinging In Wonderland, and wears a tattoo, the message in Latin reading: “To be rather than to seem” ... Ah, there, yes there, the true essence of circus! .. Bravo, Bunny,, Bravo! ... 
   
In the Kingdom of Feld, why am I yawning?  Promise, I respect and am abstractly fascinated by the  man’s genius, he could end up having run Ringling-Barnum a longer time than any of the lords who preceded him onto the lot.  Then why, when I read more about his ever-expanding empire of “shows,” do I feel, how to put this, so underwhelmed? Maybe it's  Monster Jam Truck Show division that fails to excite.

I’m an anti-vehicular nerd, you see, who, ironically, once throttled a Ford Bronco clear across the country and back, flacking for Sid Kellner’s James Bros. Circus.  Those Feldlings are now up to  something called Nuclear Cowboyz, another auto-maniac thrill show.   Now, here's maybe a real thriller for the Circus Division, which these days seems to favor asphalt over sawdust. 

Back down in average ordinary mud, but beautiful mud!  Let’s give John Ringling North II the last word -- assuming he actually spoke the Last Word.   Said he (promise, I am quoting somebody quoting him) “I didn’t really care so much about whether I owned it [Kelly Miller, which he bought in 2006], but I wanted there to be a circus like this — the kind that I remembered as a kid.  And that was pretty much the only way to make sure there was.”   Now, that one line merits an encore, so ...

“In the day and age where everybody watches screens all day long, this is real.”

Real, yes, like Medicare maverick Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring, for whom I have an idea:  Why not apply to Mr. North II for an "honorary"  place in next year's show, rumored to be populated with a number of new faces. You can make "old" "new" again.  Sounds good?  You would surely reaffirm the real magic of what the circus is and, let's hope, always will be.  They could ballyhoo your entrance, "Ladies and gentlemn, children of allllll ages --- A return to the House of Ringling! ..."


Here's a photo, only a week old, of Ms. Herring at her latest lesson with Circus Harmony.  Looks like she's prepping for an audition -- and "just a decent chance, Sir!" -- I can almost hear her saying.

First posted October 18, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sunday Morning Off-Script Scramble ... Society is Now the Side Show

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen (if I may), that is -- all of you silent voyeurs crowded around my little platform out there, don't be shy! I know you have no patience for the philosopher I once quoted. So, here's this, a new slant with a little rant, I'm about to tease you unexpectedly with some randomly risque reportings. Now, have I got your ear? Hey, what have we to lose? I don't know you. You don't know me, right?

Latest lifestyle trend may steer marriage, what's left of it, closer to the Old West pay-as-you-go model. Couples, some of them, bargaining up front before they say "I do" for frequency of love-making, by the day, week, month, maybe down to the hour. A sexy pre-nuptial would spell it all out, thus giving the male a kind of carnal package he can count on; of course, I'm assuming the she-male to be the passive party; not necessarily so. Some men actually enjoy stress-free intimacy, it's been lately noted. Call it the new digital boudoir, pre-scripted for on-demand performance. Happy endings presumably guaranteed. Whatever happened to romance? ... Credit card by the night stand? A monthly print-out of contractual hook-ups? ... So cold and callous. Yes, maybe there is a fine line between the world's oldest profession and the veiled version.

Everything about sex links back to Big Pharma. And what a boon to thrill pills such a new form of negotiated marital pleasure would be! There's that awkward commercial aimed at medicated dudes wishing a jump-start at the front end of passion's selfish call when the perfect moment strikes and they lack the steel. A warning, as you know, about cupid's magic pill overstaying by hours its intended effect, leaving its users walking lopsidedly in a state of prolonged readiness. I'm not going there, ever.

Say it isn't so ... My heart goes out to Judy Dench, the incomparably gifted actress. "I can't see the person I'm having dinner with," says she, stricken, as was her mother, with macular degeneration (I rarely utter scary medical terms, but out of respect to Dame Judy, here I will). If you haven't seen her in Mrs. Henderson Presents, give yourself a great cinema treat. It's a marvel. "I love my job she says," with no intent to retire. In order to memorize lines, scripts are now read to her by others, among them, her daughter. She's 77, and still on top of her mark.

I'm a friend of losers, it seems. Craig Killborn, whose late night TV show I saw taped on several occasions at CBS, walked away from a promising gig that might have put him in line to replace Dave Letterman. Killborn got full of himself and got bored, and wanted to be a movie star. Hollywood did not cooperate. Last year, he returned to the talking desk on a Cable net, failed to gather an audience and was TV toast in mere months. Tis a pity; he had so much natural talent for late night stardom ...

Onto my next ill-fated fixation: Two young movie critics, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a contributor to the Chicago Reader, and AP film judge Christy Lemire, put up on Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, an effort to bring back the chemistry that Ebert and the late Gene Siskel enjoyed. Already history is the one-season old program, an odd and sometimes irritating mixture of the two new bright lights reviewing new films, andtoo much time listening to Ebert have his say, too, and watching replays of old Ebert and Siskel shows. I've never bought the Ebert image, he is about as overrated a critic in my opinion as was the virtuoso of vacuous verbosity, sainted Pauline Kael ... I'm hoping that Christy and Ignatvy find another platform. They are refreshing, says me, a lover of losers ...

Bette Davis, far from a loser, continues to compel and amaze me as I watch and discover her old movies (no, I don't like them all). Last night, Old Maid, a great film, thanks to Davis and to a terrifically shaped script, gripping as it builds around the terrible issue of a young woman being protected from the truth of her out-of-wedlock birth to Davis. Another Warner Bros. classic; what a tough gritty studio! ...

Stay tuned: As I read The New York Times this morning, I may have more. Strictly trivial, I promise. Mr. Krishnamurti is on high hiatus. And I know you don't want brain food.

10.16/13

New York Weary

NEW YORK, library at the Gershwin Hotel. Tables and chairs now buzzing with the ambitiously young, aswim in conversation and filtration, I assume. And me, not too ambitious but vaguely having fun at the back of a near full room on a long narrow table, pecking this one out.

Downstairs in the suave red lobby, they are performing Handel’s first opera. The place is packed. Gershwin clientele shimmer in the hues of sophistication, which makes me not so embarrassed holing up in a place whose frugally appointed rooms are anything but sophisticated. Respectful hardwood floors, I guess; over each bed a huge reproduction, heavily framed, of a master. Picasso, the usual master, missing this time. In his place a fetching modern abstract. I ask room service to remove these monster threats to my sleep (I come from earthquake country) fearing a dangerously short stay should the city shake and rattle or worse ...

Today darkened down into a little party of thunder and lightening, with teasing splashes, and then all was gone. When you get wet in a Gotham summer drench, in an hour or two you are dry all over again, ready to continue apace. I retired to my plain not very well lighted room, to rest, rather than force my haggard body, a pedestrian workhorse, into half price Broadway ticket land. The lure of that Great White Way has finally lost its grip on my soul, as even these discount ducats grow outrageously higher with each passing season. As I have come to appreciate even more that you can see great-enough theater back in your own backyard, yes, Dorothy, back in places like the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Ca, where, a season or so ago, I was finally introduced to the brilliant stage version of Cabaret ...

City is reliably full of proud New Yorkers, ready to point you in the right direction. The Big Apple has an almost womb like quality. Walking Lexington, after returning from the Big Apple Circus on the F Line and looking for a place called Food Emporium, whilst glancing upon my opened MTA map, a couple of local residents -- man and wife team, it appeared -- asked me if they could help and they did. New York! New York! I shouted. They smiled, proud. I should have broken into song. Where is that old bad attitude town? Somewhere, somehow, the place buckled under to the collective coddling of tourists. One day, they will erect a statue to honor Rudy G.

Typing this out up against a wall, I need only pull a red curtain aside to peer down through a large window upon the lobby, itself transformed into a small theatre of gratefully engaged patrons, honoring an ancient composer. The zeal of opera lovers to me is more impressive than opera itself, I once observed during my only trip ever to an opera, sponsored by a friend hopelessly hoping to convert me, which he did not ... Tomorrow, I’m free of pre-slated things to do. Free to walk and look. On past visits, I’ve strolled all the way to the top of central park on both its East and West sides. What next ...

This time, I might crack a trek right up the middle. And then rattle back down on a subway ride, mostly to take in the screeching opera of wheels against tracks banging it out in loud shouting matches that refuse to be subdued by modern technology. Amazing to feel like you’ve bolted across half of Manhattan when you’ve only covered seven or 10 blocks ... The illusion forever works ... Is this filler or what? To my right, resting on a book shelf is a copy of Crimes Against Nature by Robert F Kennedy, Jr., and sadly I wonder, is he, too, a tragic Kennedy statistic? Hard to keep up on them all. The Kennedy family -- now there's the stuff of grand opera crying out for a composer ...

My sister, niece Lisa and her six-year-old son, Mister McFiddle (my nickname for the kid, his real name Noah) due in on Monday to share a little of the town with me. Am I glad I stayed down this evening. A mild headache is now gone.

Weary of my morosely illuminated room, whilst dabbling on foot into the Chelsea district. I inquired at a very modern hotel as to rates (I could live without Picasso hanging over my bed), thinking how nice it would be to have a cool room not reminding me of the old cheap spaces I rented chasing after circuses and flacking for them on the advance, the kind of rooms I am reminded of when I look at the old austere steam heater in my semi-affordable Gershwin suite (a non-functioning antique, I suppose). How nice would be upscale accommodations, sure, but for $250.00- plus a night? By NY rates, the trendy Gershwin is a miracle.

Library is now closing. They are asking us to leave. End of discretely consumed chocolate chip cookie. End of blog. Not much, I know, but gotta keep up on my typing practice in the city that never sleeps, or stops typing ...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Saturday Slide-Bys: Big Apple in Gotham ... Covington in San Diego ... Stencell in Paris ... Zapashny in Moscow ... And Where Are You?

Down -- or up -- the Hippodrome Track, Away we Go! ...

Big Apple Circus due to hit Gotham October 25, with its latest, Luminocity, its acts costuming up, twirling and whirling about to create New York imagery. This is a tribute to the Great City.  Some sample ring pictures promised from the show's first PR blast (thank you, Don): ..."The food cart vendor, juggling his produce! Construction workers assembling athletic poses of incredible strength!"

And there's juggling sensation Ty  Tojo, generating big buzz aound the big tops. Love that name ...

BTW: A video tease on Big Apple's website, which denied me its charm while rating circus websites, is now up and running on  my PC-lame computer, a slate of winning images from years past, and it WOWS ... Queens, I'm coming!   AMTRAK, hold that sleeper for me! ...

Oscars for Hula Hoops?  Zapasny to produce.  Dateline, Moscow, remember Moscow, center of circus art?   Without the lush funding they once received, yet those fiercely determined Russians are rebounding, now with their own festivals.  Latest to lure the greats to Bolshevik Boards:  World Festival of Circus Art "IDOL," to be powered by the brothers Zapasny,  purpose being to land major media coverage of the sort that rarely if ever visits your typical circus festival ...

Say they to  Planet Circus magazine, "Unfortunately, all the festivals are mainly oriented towards professional circus producers and performers."  But they are pulling in judges from outside same old-same old, to cast fresh faces on the beef.  Thirty acts from some 20 countries will be per-auditioned and invited to appear.  Festival now in progress, until Oct. 20.  I'll be looking for it on C-Span ... Monte Carlo, rigorous regrets here, has never done much to land major TV coverage outside the little realm.  In the beginning, American TV took a few looks, gave a little time, then vanished.

 The Brothers Zapashny:  Seeking Populist Attention to Circus Arts.
Photo from Planet Circus

Guesses  Brit author and give-em-more-than-puff critic Douglas McPherson, whose country is among the ignored or indifferent:

"Tragic, too, that Monaco has never been broadcast by the BBC, either.  I treasure my certificate, signed by Princess Stephanie, confirming that I participated in the first World Circus Day .  So, to the Brothers Zapasnny, I send provisional Kudos. 

Tumbling to Tchaikovsky. San Diego based cyber courier supreme Don Covington, reviewing the new symphony and circus combo called Circus Musica for Fanfare, liking some of it, sharing his knowing insights.  Sample share:  

"Even more impressive was the interpretation given to Aaron Copland’s  Hoedown from Rodeo by
Western artist LoopRawlins. This routine, choreographed by the legendary Angelo Iodice, fit the music to a  T. The familiar frontier melodies of Rodeo were ideal for rope spinning and whip cracking and Rawlins had the crowd on its feet with his charisma and showmanship" ...  Don took tactful issue with aud-partipate-or-die clown Ambrose Martos  (filling in for David Larible, originally named here in error), wondering if Martos' act might have been effective in less time.  Speaking for myself here, to pep up these languorous audience-in-the-act interludes,  I'd suggest, musically speaking, something from the Spike Jones cannon

Stencelling in from Paris, and that would be Paris over There, not down Longhorn way, is Al, as in Al Stencell, man of the midway from rides to rings ... He's keyboarding across his wife Shirley's new iPad, and what a tickled iPadder is he.  Listen here to our visiting Hemingway ...

"It is a real joy,especially at an early morning hour sitting in Paris ... Several circuses in town but the onslaught is a month or so away when the place is crawling with shows of all kinds, that is the traditional, the  new age, and everything in between or further along."  Makes me want to go Over.  Read on, World:

"These little theatre-circus-burlesque shows are a delight. Last Thursday we saw the Le Maxi Monster Music Show at the Alhambra theatre. it closed this week but has been there all summer nod what. Delight. Freak show meets hip orchestra!!"   I'm wondering, Al, was that "monster" thing produced by one of the Feldlings?  

Out for my Monster Morning Walk, thank you.  More maybe later ...  Later:  All day, a packed crowd in here, one of my biggest ever.. Yeah, I do have fun three dotting away ... and you're a great three-dot crowd!

10.12.13

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks and Douglas McPherson: Facing Big Top Lords Telling You How to Review Their Circus. Yes, They Try



 Big top boss to circus critics:Rewrite your idiot reviews or face my lions den!

To review a circus as movies and stage shows are reviewed is to risk the wrath of somebody in power.  In this instance we are talking Over There (aka: the UK).  In other times, it's applied to Over Here.  (My face at the moment does not bear  the tossed mud of aggrieved recipients to my picky shout outs).

Folks, cutting to the chase.  Don't you need to listen to somebody besides your best friend, kin, lover or ex?  My dear late mother was a wonderful source of unstinting support, but without the reviews I have received over the years for my various efforts from people I did not know, I would not be where I am now.  All creative people need honest feedback in order to grow.  Listen only to the fans and you risk stunting your full potential.  To create is to make demands on yourself, and who better to help you than those willing to point out areas for improvement?  Reviews can sting.  I guess some of mine do.  So do some of those I have received either for my books or stage musicals.  Some really hurt, but I did not allow myself to 86 the negatives, unless I deemed the entire notice a hit piece.  Only two times has that happened.

London-land stage, music  and circus critic, yes "circus critic,"  Douglas McPherson, author of the very fine book Circus Mania, took it on the chin from at least one angry lord of a big top.  McPherson had dared to issue a real review, not a puff piece, and in it, along with much good, he aired some acute reservations.  The owner went ballistic.  Here is a link to the full account and more, well argued.

http://www.circusmania.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/banned-from-big-top-why-circuses-dont.html

As for here in the U.S., I believe that circus owners are ill-served, maybe not by the fans, who themselves have every right to support circuses as they wish, but by their own refusal to look and read and seek beyond the fans.  Circus owners only stand to gain by objective feedback, itself more likely to reflect what the masses sitting out there in the seats are thinking.  

McPherson came to learn what I have known for years:  To criticize a circus is, in some quarters, tantamount to snatching Santa's sleigh away, to smearing Mona Lisa with greasepaint, throwing darts at Sleeping Beauty.

"My crime was to single out the boss' son."

Writes McPherson,   "In the second instance I described above, the one where the showman really blew his top, I’d actually given the show a broadly positive review. My ‘crime’ had been to single out the boss’ son who had been promoted to a major role he was neither ready for nor particularly suited to. I’d obviously hit a raw nerve by attacking the showman’s kin. But the nepotism was hurting the show and surely by pointing that out I was helping him."

More about McPherson's story and views, at a later date.

And now, fast backward to 1986.  I have in hand Don's letter to me dated July 7 of that year.  He had published an article in his Circus Report about Matthew J. Gatti's American Continental Circus, titled "Circus On the Move."  Don, who regularly turned out affirmative notices on virtually all shows, was taken aback to receive a phone call from the Gatti office complaining about the write up and demanding practically a retraction. Yes, try to picture that.  Well, Don was easily rattled, so I can see a hot-headed circus owner trying to intimidate and manipulate him.   "I thought it was a nice article and said nice things about the show" wrote Don to me.  "Now they want me to run a bit that the show is much better than described. etc."

I doubt he moved on the request.

"I know Gatti's don't like publicity, and I always seem to get into a spot when I run something about their show, so in the most I try to skip them.  But now and then it seems like there ought to be something about the show - so folks know it is out there on the road."

"Lucky Gatti isn't' in the east where there a lot of fans writing things up - boy they'd go crazy for sure."

Since I do put out critical reviews myself, I should fairly note that I have never experienced these intimidating actions -- except for on one hysterical occasion, which may have been partly engineered by Feld Central.  When I wrote a looking-back piece on Irvin Feld after he died, which Don Marcks published, Don was harassed with an avalanche of hate mail and phone calls -- and ads.  He took over a dozen ads, some full pagers, mostly from Feld employees, condemning my piece, some in vile terms.  I was made to look like, well, lets skip that, may we?  Don did tell me of a few phone calls and notes received in praise of the article, which offered him and myself a degree of relief.

Reviews: Many say they "hate" them, but they can't lived without them.  "What were the reviews?" is often said by one person to another discussing a new film, a new record, a new Broadway show.  Why?  We seek a degree of honesty beyond PR, beyond hype.  Call it the "What did Simon Cowell  say?" syndrome.  Have I made my point?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: A three Dotter from 1963

Here, for the dot dot dot fun of it, is my adaptation featuring excerpts from Don’s letter to me dated June 8, 1963.  I was living abroad at the time.


Sid Kellner and Son, On the Rise in the 1960s

Ringling show was forming a permanent European unit, it will be called Ringling-Barnm & Bailey.  All acts will be those which are now or have appeared with the Ringling show in this country ... [Holiday on Ice] fellow has now successfully arranged to get a Russian circus to come over here.  Russia in exchanged wanted an American show, and so Ringling will provide ...Guess that things were ironed out with the unions, for it was the AGVA that halted the Russian show from coming into this country when they were in Canada last yer ...

Was able to see James Bros. Circus, and I think they are about ready to equal anything that might appear here on the coast ... Still carried that Christiansen riding act, which also give them the whip and gun act as well. as the aerial duo number.  Then they have Ron Henon, Chester Cable, Henry’s Chimps, Toni Madison and her dogs, a girl working horses, 4 clowns, table rock, Dwight More and his dogs, Flying Hartzells, 7 Tangier Bros. tumblers.  In Oakland when I caught them, a 17 piece band ...

James Conquers Oakland: “In Oakland auditorium, they pulled a turnaway in the afternoon, not once did the lines ever get shorter than completely around the building.  In fact it was like Polack used to do in the old days.  They did that twice a day then.... James Bros. beat Polack into most of the local spots. ...might prove to take the edge off attendance for the Polack show

I’m sure that Kelly Miller isn’t going to be here for they have chartered a freighter and will play the Canadian ports along the sea edge.  They’ll move like a train show in that everything will be on the ship.  No one seems to know where Carson & Barnes is going to go, they are in the Midwest ...

Heard that Roy Bible has sold his small show to a fellow who was partly partners with him.  Now I have just heard that Stan Kramien has bought the show

Come next month, the model builders in Los Angeles are to put on a weekend show.I would like to take along say my dressing room tent, but I need many more figures, etc., to make it complete..

Oh, oh. Got to get over to the store and so I’d best wind this up.  Hope all is well with you and hope that I’ve not confused you too much this time.

Next Time with Don:: Angry circus owner demands a better review.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Showbiz by the Slice, Rough, Real, Ready to Go! ... Are You Up to It? Hang On!

From top to bottom down a stack of papers, tear sheets, notes: First off: First circus act from Vietnam to appear at Monte Carlo, the Giang Brothers, head to headers, hand to handers, Don Stacey in Circus Report, while back, giving them a golden salute:  “simply stunning.” Ah, now that’s a nice send-off for this ramble ...

Monte Carlo Refreshing: It’s annual festival of the World's Best bring people out of their I-do-not-criticize-circuses shells, to dare say what they feel! ...  How novel.

Sir James Royal a while back tickling me with this: “You will be pleased to learn that after weeks of dry lots [oh, how they must have suffered for the lack of slush] we have had a few muddy ones (I believe it would be appropriate to place ‘LOL’ here). Whilst on the Kelly Miller lot, me wonders (shhhh, don’t tell Shirley North!) how excitingly different next year’s program might be? The operative word being "different."  If,  in fact, John Ringling North II will go out and hire some new acts ... Gone will be Copeland and Combs, clowns and PR kings of high note.  They leave a void that  that tradition-bound Johnny Come Lately may have to fill.  Have I said enough here?  I’m waiting for them to tent out to the golden state, that's all. . Heck, North & Royal, I'll buy FIVE bags of your designer peanuts, I will!.

Twas thrilled this last year to get a fine review of a  semi-recent book of mine, Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals, by a respected critic in D.C. Theatre Scene.  Why am I  talking this up? To offset an Amazon review that treats my work as rubbish. Ouch!  I think I can spot a legit review from a nasty hit piece.  You be the judge:

  http://dctheatrescene.com/2012/08/21/flower-drum-songs-the-story-of-two-musicals/

You see, I’m going down a stack of things I have long harbored a faint wish to do something with before doing nothing with.  It's now or the waste basket. 

Baraboooooo, they love you!  Sounds like a song in the making.  That’s what Smithsonian.Com proclaimed in a list “America’s Best Small Towns.”  Ringlingville came in at Number 4. Tis a charmy little burg, it is. I love going there, but you gotta have a car or a horse and carriage .. .Here’s what they said, in part  “On the lawn of the historic court house, folks gather on summer nights, kids in jammies, for concerts and movies.”  Love that spot. I sat there atop a bench few years back, feeling my future, if you of a certain age know what I mean.  Actually, I was feeling fine, as still I am, just imagining.

Planet Circus is a marvelous magazine, maybe the best of its kind in the world.  It makes big top people and their ways look glamorous. Gives circus the certain aura of a booming art form. Old World, we're counting on you!  And to that, I say, Kudos to editor Dirk Kuik and prime contributor, Helmut Grosscurth (forget it, spell checker, go onto the next word) ... Speaking of which, not sure why here, but next on my pile are some questions I intend to ask of a well liked comedy duo, once their seasons over, hoping they might answer. If they do, be prepared for hyper reporting form yours unruly ...

Here’s way off course, into rock land, guitars long retired getting lured back into recording studios by one determined agent, Reed Seerman of Beverly Hills.  Read about it in WSJ. Some of the old names, not known to me: Stickmen, Lost Beat Heroes and others.  Dozens of songs, sayz Seerman, that deserve a second chance.  Same applies to music theatre, to all the shows written that never reached Gotham. All those lonely neglected ditties out there, doomed to obscurity. Sad, isn’t it. Well, another tear sheet onto the exit heap.

A letter from new Circus World boss, Scott O’Donnell, thanking me, yes, ME,  for my support. this season.  Well, okay, if you insist ..  Did somebody see me back there? Handicapping the O’Donnell tenure at Circus World, let's take a look.  He has been around in a lot of places, so ...

Remember Anonymous who dissed  Thomas Chipperfield as being no different from any other abusive animal trainer, and my, in turn, asking A for some evidence and a name for A?  Anonymous did try crawling back to slip thru a rather innocuous new comment..  And wasn't my mentioning this a waste?  Sorry.

Oh, no, is this how I gotta end -- Another big article in a local SF Bay Area rag about Oakland being the next center of a new circus movement hitting the universe, this one called  “Tech Circus.” Its proponents are looking “back to days of old.”and finding earlier troupes more or less like them, sans animals, sans multiple rings, etc. etc.  Lovely fairy tale.  I just hadn’t the willpower to push my eyes through it. Ambitious jugglers, etc., hanging out in warehouses in Oakland, resolved to craft the next cutting edge big top.  Now that I admire, ruing in advance the likelihood that they will go nowhere but end up selling derivatives and/or waiting on Starbucks addicts.  Nice?  No matter what you may be up to these days, just call yourself a "circus" and you'll  get a little free publicity.  

Gotta give you an exit laugh: Ooops, it sounded funny back then.  Chinese state workers putting in maybe an hour of hard or soft labor a day, the rest spent chatting, reading the paper, drinking tea.  Might that also characterize the U.S. worker?   Why does it no longer seem funny to me.  Maybe that’s why I tossed it on my Maybe Stack ...

Oh, wait!  Here's a cheap laugh.  Did  you hear about the Berkeley acrobat-clown, among the Snot Bombs, who performed ad lib, in the nude near an San Francisco  BART Station. Not to funny? No, I guess not, but the slip bearing this and other information I can barely read (my handwriting) may now be added to my paper outcasts .. Oh, what a relief to see the pile gone gone gone...

Now, to an evening flick from Netflix, Hitchcock's Frenzy.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Circus Websites 2013 Ranked: Showbiz David Takes a Look, Surprises Himself: Visuals, Routes and Ticketing Take Center Ring

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza

How could I have guessed they would stack up like this?  You can be surprised.  Not always do the Big Players with Big Bucks come in First.

I’ve looked at regularly touring U.S. circuses (foreign based, as well), that are out at least six months every season. Three elements turned out to seem the most critical, so to these I paid particular attention:  1.  Making a case in photos or videos for seeing the show;  2  Routing information; and 3. ticketing.

I ranked six categories, assigning to each up to 5 points.  So the highest possible total score is 30 points

1.  Immediate visual impact of the home page — how much did it make me want to go farther
2.  Ease of seeing all options for easy access to any.
3.  Routing information
4   ticketing options, ease of using the software.  I went only as far as reaching the point where credit information is required.  I did not mock check beyond this point.
5   photos and/or videos of the acts. 
6   last impression, looking back, how enthused the website make me feel about seeing the show

Worth noting:  There may be a case to make for the overall navigational fluidity of a website fostering a more impressive experience for the viewer.  For example, the acts that are featured in a streaming Carson and Barnes' photo slideshow might not register as strong an impact were they each to be pulled up individually.

ABOUT THE PHOTOS:  All of these images were downloaded from the their respective websites.

In a Word:  To each website, I have assigned a one word summation of its principal appeal, or lack of.

So, here goes ... Drum rolls! ... Trumpets! ... First on parade -- The Best Circus Website!


1  CARSON AND BARNES  

total score: 26

In a Word: Ticketing.  A magnificent makeover from the last time ranked.  This socially savvy website is so warm and welcoming, it grabbed my attention and pulled me in and then charmed me with a lavish though well organized spread of lovely flaring circus colors,subtly rendered, and all of the necessary information right there.  The immediate towns are listed, and there's a strong compelling photo slideshow of featured acts. Best of, this one offers perhaps the easiest ticketing system of any of the websites.  Kudos to the Byrds!


Circo Hermanos

2  Circo Hermonos Vasquez

total score: 25

In a Word: Glamor.  A lovely embracing home page which spells class. The vital information is clearly placed for easy linking to.  Routing and ticketing are top notch.  I found the photos good though not great, despite which, it's a show I would much like to see.

3  Cirque du Soleil  

total score: 24

In a Word: Brilliance.  Even with its opening page taking centuries to appear and the sprawling website's state-of-the-art videos a challenge in patience to surf, all of which suppressed the score some (blame it partly, I suppose, on my average PC), Cirque’s stunning imagery shines deep and high and  wide. There are so many shows, but if you know the one coming your way and want to look it up and get tickets, those two essentials are well presented and super easy to navigate.  I tested the Kooza video and was blown away.  Cirque's reigning brilliance animates an otherwise unwieldy landscape.



Hip Hop dancers at UniverSoul Circus

4  UniverSoul Circus 

Total score: 22

In a Word: Splashy.  A jazzy captivating splash of action and promo footage featuring customer feedback on the lot.  A bit of a jumble, yes, but the route is clear to find and study, ticketing seems a tad cumbersome but surely doable, photos are strong enough.  And yet, I was left fairly dazzled but with a nagging sense of overall act content being maybe less than the sum total of what initially comes into flattering view.

Okay, in polite alphabetical order here ...


Magic at Circus Vargas

5.  Circus Vargas (tie)  

total score: 21

In a Word: Appealing.  They do a generally good job, focusing heavily on illusion acts, creating a fairly strong impression. It’s just a little disjointed.  The images were quite impressive, but up front, there were too few of them, lending the sense of incompleteness.  Latter images of talent rectify that fairly impressively..   Route and ticketing work fairly fine.


Tabares at Cole Bros.

5  Cole Bros Circus (tie)

total score: 21

In a Word:  Vibrant.  Johnny Pugh’s cyber pitch opens with a terrific big top interior composite glorified with circus action.  Opening page is graced with an ingratiating photo of the man himself, one of the nicest guys who ever ran a circus -- so far as I know. This website has a modern sparkle similar to Carson & Barnes.  Average photos of perhaps too many standard acts flow by slowly and somewhat stiltedly, casting, overall, the impression of a good show, though perhaps a little too predictable.


6  Ringling-Barnum 

[website images not downloadable]

total score: 20

In a Word: Impressive. A strange experience from the Big One —  home page stands there with the imperial grandeur of China’s Forbidden City at the gates.  But getting into it and moving around can feel like crow-barring your way against doors that refuse to open, or opening doors that lead nowhere: Examples: I could not view the "About the Show" teaser videos, and, looking for information on the double wheel act in Built to Amaze -- the room remains empty, all except for a sign that reads Stars of the Steel Vortex.  Who they?  These setbacks are score suppressors.   Knock knock, Feld Entertainment!  Is anybody there?   Still, all in all Ringling does a fine, if somewhat stodgy, job, of organizing its various shows, and it offers, for each, a wealth of stills to pull up and view.  Not so welcome are the  tiny spaces accorded for information about the artists, which can test one's patience.  Routing is the best of any website, you open up a brilliant pictorial map of the country and find an arrow closest to where you live. From there, it’s a fair breeze.  Ticketing takes you to Ticket master, and you know all about that.  Even then, I left with a feeling of strong sustained confidence in our nation's longest running entertainment phenomenon.


On fire at Kelly Miller

7  Kelly Miller   

total score: 19

In a Word: Promising.  Spectacular opening, weak finish.   A dazzling array of large mesmerizing photography up front creates the sure image of a major circus. These opening frames are breathtaking.   From there, it’s somewhat downhill.  The route is clear to study, but, worst of all, this is one of only two websites under review here that do not offer on-line ticketing, the other being Zoppe.  This deprived the total of score of up to 5 additional points.  Giving them even just 3 more for ticketing would have tied Kelly Miller with UniverSoul, for a 4th place ranking.  The site ends up showing off too many smaller photos, many redundancies and some from previous seasons, shrinking the overall impression from spectacular down to average. 


No photos yet from Big Apple, but rich artistic renderings: The Dusov Troupe

8  Big Apple Circus  

total score:  17

In a Word:  Muddled.  Opening page does not exactly scream "Circus!"  How ironic that arguably our nations finest big top should put out a website so fraught with cumbersome options, not all that easy to get through and around.  Institutional gridlock? Maybe I’m being unfair, but they open in a few days, and then onto the all-important Big Apple date next month, for which tickets are now actively on sale, so you’d’ think there would be a slate of flattering photos on line.  I could not find a single one. Went back a second time. Same result.  Going into the website is a bit slow, there are numerous items organized into square shapes, with little immediate circus imagery to catch the eye.  Route and ticketing are technically fine, but during seat selection, I ran into a stumbling block that took time to outwit, reminding me of the on-site box office computer glitches in times past that made waiting in line an infuriating ordeal.  I could have marked them down for this, but I gave them some slack.  And still ... here they are. 


At the Zoppe Family Circus

9.  Zoppe Family Circus

total score:  14

In a Word:  Friendly.  They don't have many dates and don't offer ticketing, but they perform the year around, and they are a likable bunch.  The big plus here is a short but charming video made in 2010, which fairly sparkles with homespun magic and a big heart. 

10  Walker Bros Circus

[website images not downloadable]

total score:12
In a Word:  Obscure.  Home page in rich reds pulls you right in, and that's about all there is, Peggy.  You can see their route if you try, and you can even buy tickets in a reasonably easy way.  Photos leave something to be desired.

11  Culpepper & Merriweather Circus

Total score: N/A  The website,such as it is, refers you to their face book page, and that's as far as I got

And that's a ranking wrap!

Your comments are, of course, welcome

9.21.13