Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: When Big Tops Put People in the Seats

There may have been a day.  Certainly, long ago when I took in circus shows, I recall seeing many people in the seats, usually at least more than half of the seats filled.

Here, from his letter to me dated September 19, 1965.   We’re under canvas.

“I spent this weekend with Carson and Barnes Circus and enjoyed it.   Was in Santa Cruz and Soledad, where it was rather warm in the daytime but cool at night.  Show did pretty fair business, but they still seemed to be unhappy, thinking that they should pull more, but gollys they can’t have an overflow crowd all the time.”

Looking way back, not sure if I ever saw an overflow crowd at C&B, but I do know I saw lots of people under the tent, not just a few hundred across a sea of empty chairs and planks, as I do in modern times. 

  Nice little full house (500) at the Zoppe Family Circus.

“Seems to me that they have to set up the show to break even on a half house or so and go from there.”

A half house.  If only, when I go to Vargas or Carson & Barnes today, even to Ringling at the Oakland Coliseum arena, I could see a half house, how exciting that would be.  I know it happens, I guess just not when I am around.  Maybe I bring bad vibes to the midway.  The only shows where I have always seen a three-quarter to near full tent are Big Apple and, of course, Cirque du Soleil.

3,900.  Does the number ring a bell?  Think hard.  A recent seat count for a very tragic event. Three thousand nine hundred.  Need a clue?  The number present at a performance which went very wrong.

Still not there?  Think a major circus up in a New England town, earlier this year.

Yes, Ringling, at Providence, when the aerialists fell to the floor after their rigging malfunctioned.

3,900, it was said too many times by too many different sources (maybe not by Circus Report or White Tops) not to believe. And believe it I do, for it resonates with my own recent experience of seeing Ringling-Barnum out here in the 15,00 seat plus Oakland Coliseum arena. I'd guess from three to five thousand spectators max.

And what is the point of all this? Well, what is the point.  The letter reminded me of how the times have changed, I think.

“But gollys they can’t have an overflow crowd all the time."

Right, Don. If only, they could overflow the tent just some of the time.

That’s what seems to be happening across the pond for Peter Jolly’s Circus. Today.  Not yesterday.  He’s been packing them in at some stands, possibly, opines Brit blogger Douglas McPherson,  because of anti-circus animal legislation in the winds, this inspiring the public to take in a real circus while there still is a real circus to take in.  By golly, were he still around, would Don and I have fun talking about that!

Johnny Pugh's Cole Bros. Circus packing them in at a recent date (as reported in Circus Report) was,by golly, Don, something to crow about.

Promise not to question that, the feeling is too good.

1 comment:

Harry Kingston said...

Hi David,
I saw Carson and Barnes a few years back when Judkins was there and in Baytown, Tx they had 2 shows planned and had to add an extra show as they were sell outs.
Also in McKinney, Tx they had two full houses but that does not happen all the time.
Also Circus Vargas when they played here in Texas they had many full houses as Cliff packed them in with those free kids tickets. Many many ticket boxes full and all over the area they put them out.
Vargas used a spot light to move the crowd over and they looked like a can of sardines.
Biggerstaff out in the marquee with his fishing tackle box had $14,000 plus in it alone.
Those were the days.
But Johnny Pugh with his high nut still packed them in and he has the whole package to offer the tent going circus public under his tent.
He explained to me last year his tent stripes are horizontal and a real eye catcher as the tent could be see miles down the road.
They all just need to advertise more and real posters are just about gone as the ones today are way to small.
Harry in Texas