Sunday, March 02, 2014

Out of the Past: Circus Scramble: Pee Wee's Boffo Big Top ... S.F. Student Masters "Static Trapeze" ... Kelly-Miller in the Mud Again ... 46 Acts in 45 Minutes!

First posted March 19, 2011  

A Circus invades farmer Pee Wee's barnyard, and that's the inspired premise of one of the best circus movies I've ever seen, Big Top Pee Wee. And what a glorious delight after, the night before, slogging through one of the dumbest, most retarded "circus" flicks of all time, a slow-as-a-snail workout from France called Around a Small Mountain. The Pee Wee version of circus is ingeniously inventive, amusing, magical. And what a High Payoff ending -- the most gloriously festive parade full of folksy color and animation set to a rousingly right tune, and then a procession of four legged stars following Pee Wee across the high wire ... ' Tis a Sarasota shame that Paul Reubens, the creator of Pee Wee, allowed himself so reckless a personal encounter in that tacky movie house; it set his career back by years. Anyway, I'm glad Reubens is back, maybe on Broadway, or in a show with "Broadway" in the title about to air on HBO. If you haven't seen his movie AND if you believe in old-fashioned circus, see it now! ...

Daring Young Man on a Dead Trapeze: Sounds dead to me, but, of course, the time being the ballet-precious present, and the venue being once-again beleaguered San Francisco Circus Center-School-Post Pickles Circus Residue, etc., etc., the choreography on the "static trapeze," as it is officially called, might have a certain Balanchine bounce. Aerialist Dude is 28-year-old Grey Lux, and he is quoted in a story about money problems at the S.F. Center, talking up the quality of instruction he is getting at the school -- about $35 per class -- touting its alumni as among "some of the greatest performers in the circus world." An astonishing claim; I'd love to see some of these stars some day, somewhere. They are surely not showing up on any of the shows that come my way. And why in the world not, I wonder, considering, per claims, that the Circus School currently has 50 teachers and 500 students! ... Read on ...

They once called it The Pickle Family Circus: About the S.F. Center itself, reducing the intricacies of insolvency and reorganization down to whatever they have left in the cookie jar, which periodically gets looted by self-serving hot shots apparently making hay off of hefty student tuition fees, well, they have peanuts left to sell. And now they have yet another new board of directors and another new executive director, Ayla Agarwal. She was once herself a student of the school. Says she, to her provisional credit, she has "no intention of taking a salary." Behold the strange twisted legacy of the once vibrant Pickle Family Circus. Might this be what faces the Big Apple Circus of tomorrow?

On a recent lot, the view from Steve Copeland's door

Mud, Glorious Mud! Yes, that would be the course by default into which Kelly-Miller Circus recently slipped (it had to happen, per cosmic script) . The lot in Navasota, TX, was well watered, up to a couple of inches around the track, credit the elephants breaking a water pipe. Mother Nature is not always to blame. How do I know all this stuff? I am following Steve Copeland's deliciously detailed blog. Perhaps John Ringling North II and his wife Shirley, departing back to Ireland, got out just in time. Show appears to have prospered in its early Texas dates, these I assume promoted by front ender Jim Judkins. Lately, sans the Judkins touch, biz appears to have slumped and sputtered a bit. An ailing seat wagon is still MIA. On the soggy Navasoa lot, the ring side seats remained empty. Said Steve, "It was weird having to perform to people so far away from us." Why can't I take my eyes off of Kelly Miller? Blame the Ringling in my blood, compelling me to tag and peep along, the voyeur I am. My big question of the moment: Can a show that is virtually the same one as last season deliver? Stay tuned.

Members of the four-person CIRCA troupe

Fastest Show on Earth: From the land down under comes a troupe of four, recently reviewed at the Byham theatre in the land where Ringling under canvas went down under in '56 (Pittsburgh). These hurricane ring wizards execute 46 circus acts in 45 minutes. Wow, what pacing! What brevity! But wait, does that also include a peanut pitch??? They call themselves CIRCA. In total, the group consists of 14 performers who are dispersed into various shows around the world. Go, you Aussies! On the stage is placed a large clock, itself a big feature of the show, for audiences cheer the artists on as their minutes wind down to a precious few. "We are always trying to beat the clock, sometimes it comes down to a whisker," said the company's associate director Ben Kampton. Ringling's late late equestrian director, Fred Bradna, who demanded strict adherence to Swiss clock discipline, must be tick tick ticking with glee in his grave. “Snap is the greatest essential in American circuses,” said the pacemaster. “There must be no waits, no breaks.” Anybody out there listening?


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