Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Barkers Who Lure Us In ... the Stars Who Lure Us Back


Circuses resort to all manner of hype and discount, pr and free tix blitz to lure us into their tents. Never an easy task. What we see, once seduced, may make us want to return ... Were it not for a newspaper discount coupon that gave my mother the will, she might never have taken my sister and me to see King Bros Circus when it came to Santa Rosa, and I would never have seen the great Truzzi — although I must rely on the word of others, for I recall so little about his act, I was so young then and so much more taken with a teeterboard display (new to my eyes) and with a group of acrobats running down a long ramp and somersaulting over a mountain of elephants.

Less than a year later, fresh out of Luther Burbank elementary school one afternoon, I ran down to the fairgrounds where a circus was playing inside the Grace Pavilion. Outside it I stood, excited and anxious and without a ticket. A tall man in a red hat reached down and handed me a free coupon, and, thanks to those wonderful Shriners, I was seconds later inside a strange spangled paradise produced by Polack Bros. And who did I see? Those early years I saw Francis Brunn and the Wallendas, La Norma and Les Geraldos, the cycling Theron Family, Lou Jacobs and so many more like them -- Spangleland's all-stars, most of them lured to the States by John Ringling North (above). They spoiled me.

Coupons and freebies, “mailouts” and “laydowns,” in the words of the Savvy Insider, who elsewhere on this midway, logging a comment, reminds us of the efficacy of such workable promotions —- well, if you’re a kid on the receiving end and your mother is struggling to make ends meet, as was mine. Thank you, Mr. Crass Promoter, who thought up the brilliant idea.

Getting there and wanting to come back. In defense of his trade, our visiting promoter commented thus:

“By any measure traditional circus is a subversive art form, whether the producers know it or not. It teaches children to love live performance in a way that dragging them to the ballet does not. And if you learn to love live performance you’ll find your way to ballet on your own when your older. A mudshow is a bargain because you won’t find live professional performance in any theater for $25 with the kids getting in for free. Shows forever like to boast about the family friendly nature of circus, because by and large we are but we sell ourselves short sometimes in forgetting the artistry of the circus even beneath the most bedraggled of bigtops.”

It cost me in the gut to see Cirque Du Soleil’s latest, and it was worth it. Among the payoffs, the most gripping juggler I’ve seen since I first saw Francis Brunn over 50 years ago when a Shriner handed me a ticket. I’m so excited over the personal discovery of Anthony Gatto, about whom I knew nothing, that I’m revved up for ‘08 ... waiting to see what the other tents have up their rings: Big Apple in the spring, Little Bertha come August, Carson & Barnes if they favor California ...

Gatto made me search my muddy memories, recalling some of the jugglers who have captivated my attention and respect down through time, among them, Wally Eastwood with Carson & Barnes, the Pickle Family ensembles, foot juggler Ugo Garrido on Ringling in 1968. What style and pizazz. And boy, did Merle Evans match Garrido’s nimble rhythm with a cha cha reading of "Ramona." Terrifically on point. Another stylish charmer is Alex Chimal who graced Chimera for a number of seasons.. Not saying they are the best. Seems there are a lot of fine jugglers out and about these days. Sometimes, a mid level performer with the right attack can make you want to return.

I loved the Osmani sisters on Vargas in the mid-80s. Maybe they weren’t the greatest, but oh did they have class and a well-matched charisma ... Delivery is more than half the battle. If you only have stats in labored motion, you miss the mark. Anthony Gatto of Monte Carlo Gold has it all in my eyes. I’m afraid to watch him again for fear he might shatter my mesmerizing image of center-ring perfection.

Circus, I’m ready for another season...

[photos from top: Old side show barker, date unknown; The Osmani sisters, Circus Vargas, circa 1989; Wally Eastwood, Carson & Barnes, 1978, left; Ugo Garrido, Ringling, 1968.  When updating this post back in 2008, I lost a photo I had of Anthony Gatto]

First posted December 12, 2007

1 comment:

G.O.A.T.T. said...

Osmani sisters....oh man does that bring back memories. I worked maintenance for a shopping center that hosted Circus Vargas 2 years in a row so I got free tickets and worked with the advance man and met a few others.
The day after the first show I was talking with one of workers for the circus and I said I would like to meet the Osmani Sisters and he said "One day I'd like to meet them to"
Even a traveling circus has its hierarchy.

Thanks for the picture!