"Every crowd has a silver lining" - P. T. Barnum

"Every crowd has a silver lining" - P. T. Barnum
Wonderful quote, which I found on Johnny Pugh's Facebook Page -- a sparkling midway of some great Bill Carter photos, historic videos and mementos. The spirit of the old Cole soul comes alive!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

UK Big Tops Drawing Psychiatric Attention ... US Circus Scene Under Seige from Dark Broadway Treatments: "Sideshow" a Flop, "Water" on the Way ... (It's Okay to Laugh)

Randomly round the hippodrome track, off a stack of papers, first on top down to the bottom ... dot ... dot ...dot. Brace yourself for more obtuse studies, Creepy clown crackdowns, and music theatre depictions of the dark side. 

Here comes Brit barker, Douglas McPherson, of London Town, for the defense of “Circus,” and when I henceforth say circus, take that to mean “traditional circus.”  Except I refuse to say “traditional.”  Do you say “traditional Broadway?”   “traditional cinema/”?   I say CIRCUS, thank you, and henceforth it’s up to you to know what I mean. ... Author and blogger McPherson (Circus Mania) from across the Big Pond, ruing yet more academic studies raining down like vice squads onto hapless circus lots.  Well funded — need a job Over There? — Circus Research Network (NCR) hiring  people to  “assess the positive social and psychological benefits on children from immigrant families of engaging in 6 months of circus skills training.”   ...  Another brainy study involves “applying a virtue ethics to the traditional circus community.”  Are you still with me, dot dot not?

Writes our London scribe,  “I think my favorite is the guy who got public funding to carry out a ‘community impact evaluation on a publicly funded community circus skills group’”  The finding may depress your self-esteem levels:  “Not doing circus skills training makes people less happy than doing it.”   Gosh, how emotionally stunted that makes me feel, if only I could have spent my formative years in the mud learning how to peddle peanuts  ....

What next: Scotland Yard quarantines all circus clowns, pending mandatory psychological testing?


And here comes -- no, there goes Sideshow,  the musical about Siamese twins which flopped again in revival drive to take the town on its return – with revisions.  Both runs lasted a few short months.  Chuck Burnes, who fancies geeky gory oddities back of bizarre banner lines (I cringe, in full wimp mode, over the pictures he posts in his Circus Report columns), was high on  Sideshow.  Sorry, Chuck  Seems ticket buys not willing pay a hundred bucks to watch so difficult a situation in song and dance.  “Younger than Springtime, Are Yous”?  "Tea for Three"?  Never made sense to me, though the score's lyrics (I said lyrics, not music) are richly in sync with the material.  But ... once a flop, always? ... Think Spider Man...

And who is that kid on parade toting a bucket full of water?  Why, oh yes!  He just got cast in another circus-themed  Broadway bound vehicle —  Water for Elephants!  Now, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (just kidding), this dark Gothic story might make it.   Can you hardly wait for yet another anti-circus assault?  How will they ever get an elephant onto the stage?

Books on parade! ...  The Greatest Shows on Earth, by Linda Simon, drawing raves from Brit reviewers, and Ernest Albrecht's From Barnum & Bailey to Feld, copies of both en route to local libraries, promise a relief from a recent spate of academically wrought titles, gender-studies, animal abuse, et all, strewn through sordid circus history.  I'm looking forward to taking a peak into each.   My only regret is that I had thought Albrecht was at work on a bio of Irvin Feld. Now, that might have been a study in megalomania fit for a proper Circus Research Network analyst.

Accidental journalism: Video-interviewer Lane Talburt — watch out, his camera may be coming after you! – favoring me with a DVD of his and other interviews on Kelly Miller, John Ringling North II top of the list.  Lane rarely asks indelicate questions, such as, well, how many people actually buy tickets to see your show?  But his camera does not hold back, photographing all the empty seats, which drove me to ask the camera's owner – Is what I see and have seen many times before -- few in the seats, an accurate reflection of biz trends over there?  Still no reply.  I might try e-mailing his camera.

Missing the man in the white hat when the crowds don't come:  More reason to wonder about business at Kelly Miller:  During Talburt's chat with a couple of performers (I've misplaced my DVD), we learn how North's positive spirit helps them get through periods of low attendance, and how they miss him when he is away.

Another partial-reporting tease: This from one-time Ringling clown Tim Torkelson, waxing long and thoughtful in Circus Report a while back, having taken grand kids to a big circus with all the staples, says he, but many patrons skipping out during intermission.  One of his suggestions for said show to boost its hold on the audience might be a peanut pitch, which makes me think he went to Ringling. I wish Tim would dare to disclose name of show; I'd like to know to which circus his observations apply  He’s leaving us in the dark to argue in the abstract.   I would e-mail his camera -- if he had one   

Bottom of the stack, that’s all folks!

Rest of what’s left, into the circular file.


Douglas McPherson said...

Water could be the next War Horse, perhaps with similar puppetry? I can't help thinking it's the sort of story that should be told in a circus tent. If circus has to have a storyline, why not a proper circus-related play with acting and dialogue instead of the usual abstract mime exploring abstract themes like "identity" and so on.

Lane Taburt said...

My video camera has been mostly silent as of late, David. But as you so eloquently stated, the camera does not lie, and, yes, there were plenty of empty seats at some of the Kelly Miller performances I attended last June in New Jersey. Even though it had to be disheartening for performers to play to virtually empty air, my insides were cheered by the kickers' consistent efforts to put on a good show face. To say that the 2014 circus season will not go into the books as one of the best is to understate the obvious. I'm anxious to see how this year's Kelly Miller lineup compares in the ring to last year's.

Showbiz David said...

Thanks much, Lane, for sharing.

BTW: I enjoyed your video interview with Pete Cristiani about his time on Dailey. A most revealing look into the inner workings of how most if not all circuses "fixed" city hall. I think even Ringling had to.

I loved Norma while briefly working on the Wallace Bros. Show. Such a lovely vibrant lady.