BIG APPLE CIRCUS OWES BOSTON $100,000
--- rang a headline in The Boston Globe last March. Overdue rent and other costs cited.
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, are all seven of my visitors present? Okay, let’s go. Call this post How to Run a Circus Into the Ground, Big Apple Style.
This one was pilot-lit by Don Covinton, in response to my post below, e-mailing me that the show "had to cut its staff significantly to survive." Gone, as one troubling result, are long-time publicists Joel Dien and Phil Thurston
A shock upon hearing that. And yet, I should not be so surprised. The show has apparently displayed a particular ability in recent seasons to fail in thrilling the customer. More of this as we go on. Some random thoughts:
* Declining patronage. Show continues to cut back on personnel and dates. Big Apple has long been rumored to be on the brink of don’t-say-it, one source for this dire scenario being retired founder Paul Binder himself.
* Ineffectual showmanship, two editions in a row. I saw them both — the first in New York, the latest on the big screen at a movie house near where I live, last November. Some good acts, a few terrific, but the wavering direction failed to achieve dynamic pacing and power. Some of the blame must fall on new artistic directer Guillaume Dufresnoy, whose initial offerings included the brilliant Dance On!
* Thus, this voluntary Memo to BAC: Stick to dance directors, avoid theatre types. I feared that Dufresnoy might steer the show in a more Cirque-like direction. The theatre-ness in this last season's opus seemed to slow down the show, at times, to a near standstill. Maybe in Paris. Not in Paris, Texas.
* French clowning. It may make some laugh. Most of us, beyond the obligatory giggle to show respect, grow tired of it fast.
* Bloated bureaucracy in Brooklyn. My guess: Way too large a non--performing payroll.
* A Void in the Center: Who is in charge back there? An executive-go-round that suggests a TV reality show in the making promises only never to settle upon any particular CEO. In recent years, the names of Dunning and Berger and Stirrip have, in succession, held the highest post. Now there is Will Maitland Weiss. The board of directors numbers a staggering forty people. Among them, I can imagine a million ways to peal an apple down to a dead core.
* The crutch of charity: When you overplay this hand (the Clown Care Unit, and now Autism), you risk looking like a charity case yourself. Not a pretty picture.
Death on demand?
Let’s be fair, Big Apple Circus is not the only show struggling to pull in crowds, but I can't imagine any other American circus out there needing one-fourth the Big Apple operating budget to say on the road.
Next: Where does Paul Binder fit into all this?