Saturday, November 08, 2014

Big Apple Circus Lays an Egg on the Big Screen, I Fear

 Update, 11/9:  This is not a review of the show, although I had hoped it would be.  I continue to believe, based upon my experience watching a tape-delay of the live performance, that it is a very tricky matter trying to review a circus in any other way than actually seeing it in person, most importantly from a fixed position.    I had hoped to feel differently, but I do not.   To its credit, the show is drawing great reviews from the New York critics. I can only hope these will translate into crowds far larger than the one on view during this particular show.


Back from a modern movie house, the seats spacious and comfy, the decor fine.  Back from watching, as it felt to me (I hate to say this) Big Apple lay an egg in hundreds of movie houses coast to coast, into which its Saturday afternoon performance was streamed live.  On the West Coast, it was tape delayed.

First part of the show felt stillborn, even the opening charivari was woefully anemic.  Talky Talky.  When will circuses learn that audiences do not really want to be treated like children being told bed time stories or taught how to be this or that?  They want to be wowed.

Even the music, oftentimes a major asset at the Big Apple Circus, here seemed decimated, perhaps just an ineffectual score – or maybe a sound system that did not carry well in theatres.

Lots of audience participation,  and here is where, I hate to say this, we may be seeing a downside to artistic director Guillaume  Dufresnoy's ultimate vision for the show.  When he was appointed, I feared he  might give into his French side and follow more precious Cirque trends, narrative interludes, ultra silly clowning as only the French can get away with, elsewhere. Evidence of that abounds at Metamorphosis. 

I don’t like writing this first draft, which may well be what I will post.  I was shocked at how many seats in that tent, rows and rows of them, were empty, silent, dead.  And in New York, of all places.  Shocked that the company would not have stuffed the tent with shills – give the show away, if you have to in order to create the ideal picture, no?  I saw the usual concentration of kiddies and parents, and very few adults in singles or couples.  And then this sobering item came to mind:

A while back, on this blog, Paul Binder himself left a comment, related to my excitement about the show going into movie houses, Paul sharing a wistful hope that licensing royalties due BAC from  the venture might stave off the end of the road.  His tone sounded dire. All those empty seats.  All that dead space between a handful of very good acts. And I no longer feel certain about the show's future, not if they can't do better than this.  And that makes me genuinely sad.

I’d hate to see that happen, what Paul implied.  This latest looks a bit threadbare.  They have cast ringmaster John Kennedy Kane (too many unflattering closeups of the man) as the magician-in-chief, and handed him way too much dialogue; the program lacks any semblance of dynamic direction, with an air of wandering aimlessly about in the dark from one item to the next.  We are in the hands of people who have talked themselves into believing that something more intimate (say, like kids being entertained at school under the guise of magic and science demonstrations) will engage the audience in a new way.  When will the circus learn that Theatre is NOT its forte, never was, and never will be.

The clown, Francesco, was a  pre-show charmer, going through the seats and being silly.  That would have been okay, but no, he was far from done with us, and would return and all too soon wear out his welcome mat with more of the same.  Ho hum. All those empty seats left me wondering if the circus is merely suffering weak word-of-mouth?

Highlights that brought a little relief here and there: Fine work on risley, on rolla bolla, up there in the air, yes.   Again, I wonder whatever happened to Slowik's band?  Sounded like fewer musicians, augmented by pre-recorded music and/or a  mogue synthesizer (do they still make those?).  Slowik can put out a terrific sound. Not this time around, or, at least, not in this movie house.  Now, get ready for the Big Let Down:

Intermission came.  In the lush movie house room, seating capacity 230, there were a total of 8 customers, four adults and four kids. After intermission, only five remained. I vaguely recall a mother of two children being talked out of staying by one or both of them.

What were they thinking when they planned this show?  You can read, on  the post below,  J Kurt Spence telling us how much he loved what he saw (and I hope the others did, too, that I am wrong).  Kurt and I share one thing in common about this show -- we both saw it in ideally uncrowded circumstances.  Kurt says he was the ONLY person in the movie house. I feel some dry tears coming on.

I never felt authentically connected to the show, given constantly shifting camera angles moving my vision too frenetically this way or that.

Damage control.  I rather like the idea that not many people will have seen the Big Apple Circus in a so lackluster a shape.  Grandma, come back!

Francesco:  The charm wears thin well before the gig is up.  


Douglas McPherson said...

What a tremendous shame. And, as you say, what were they thinking to let the show be streamed nationwide without filling every seat? Was it really so bad they literally couldn't give tickets away? At least no one went to the movies to see so few people at the circus. Was there any advertising or promotion for what should have been a ground-breaking venture? Sad day for the circus when the kids beg their mother to let them go home. As an old pantomime joke goes over here, "Thanks for coming out tonight, when you could have been at home... enjoying yourselves."

Showbiz David said...

It is a tremendous shame, I agree, a very strange and sad – worst of all, embarrassing chapter in American circus history.

I just got off the phone (last night) with my brother Dick in Utah. He and his wife Gale went to a movie house nearby, and they were the only ones in the theatre. Dick was left astounded by the sight of so many empty seats (at the BAC performance). He could not believe that they did not fill them all in some manner. Nor was he aware of any advertising or promotion. The impression it lends, he said, is damaging: “You’re watching a loser.”

We talked about his reactions, he not being a circus fan. They did enjoy some of the acts, but, overall, he had many reservations. More about my brother’s take on BAC in a future post.

On PR and advertising, I am aware of virtually nothing, other than press releases sent out to media sources. This seems to have been, beyond the small circus community, one of the best kept secrets ever for something so potentially major and revolutionary on the American circus scene.

Douglas McPherson said...

Although not a circus, but similar, just heard that the Bristol Hippodrome in the UK are doing something similar, broadcasting their pantomime live to cinemas on December 7. Given that panto relies even more than circus on audience participation and the way the stars work the crowd, it will be interesting to see how well it transfers to the big screen.