Saturday, February 14, 2009

Under Big Top Blogs, Beware the Minefields of Hidden Agendas, Veiled Work Offers, Get-Even Comments, Hype and Hope and Hypocrisy ...

Post Post Update, Sunday, 12:30 PM: I encourage you to read the comments, very diversified and offering a number of takes on the concession pitching issue you may find of great value. And thank you, Steven, for your nice message to me on your blog.

It's a swampland of half-truths and spin, of misinformation and veiled get-even messages out there when you try navigating your way through circus blogs. What is so interesting is that most of them are hosted by inside professionals, and they no doubt harbor all sorts of hidden agendas. Sometimes I feel like an innocent in the middle of it all, watching comments fly this way and that and wondering who has a grudge to bear or a friend to puff. Spurned? Fired? Told your act is over the hill?

But, how else to get information. The White Tops? Circus Report? In this country, aside from the old Billboard that once tried to impart objective news, we have had to rely on fans and press agents. Good luck.

Jim Royal, who manages Kelly Miller Circus, has commented to me about the problem he has with bloggers who pass along rumors he feels compelled to quell. How ironic that Kelly Miller, at least since John Ringling North II purchased the show, seems to attract to its staff bloggers who just can’t stop blogging — about Kelly Miller.

Last season we were feted for a time by media relations man Ben Trumble’s almost daily accounts of business, much of it not good, and of his second guessing the advance. The same Trumble who now, before even seeing the new Kelly Miller show, will declare it practically the greatest tent show since, well, what was the last show that Trumble trumbled for? One day soon, circus owners may stipulate in contracts what bloggers who work for them may and may not say.

Where’s the laughter, there’s truth? Now comes, for the 2009 tour, a new touring-with-it blog of Steven Copeland, who is clowning this year on Kelly Miller with his partner, Ryan Combs. His detailed postings promise a daily dose of rich insider information, which is why I believe it could become the hit blog of the season. So far, two days into the tour, we learn of packed and turnaway houses. (What say ye to that, Mr. Trumble?) When the crowds don’t come, will Copeland complain? When nasty arguments suddenly break out in the backward, will delicious dirty laundry make it into Copeland's daily open-book diary?

I too am the victim of misinformation that I stunmble onto when now and then touring the blogs, such that I have become very leery. One of them, for example, gave me a solid impression that Copeland and Combs were in a relationship of the kind that is now legal in Massachussets. The information was delivered in a warm celebratory air. So, when about to mention their names in connection with a Kelly Miller story, I gave a lot of respectful thought to how I might identify the two. I decided on the term “life domestic partners.” How royally wrong I was.

Within an hour or so of my posting going up and the multitudes rushing on line to read it (well, all three of you out there), came a stinging rebuttal complete with lecture on proper research etiquette from Steve, informing me in an e-mail that “We are friends and we work together, but that is it.” Moreover, added he tersely, “Please check your sources before you post things in the future.”

Now either Steve, while working for media master Kenneth Feld, picked up a tip or two on how to manipulate a writer, or the source from which I derived my information is itself full of buffonic baloney. I sent Steve and apology, disclosing the source, immediately deleted it from my own posting (thus nullifying a marriage that never was), and returned to re-check the source, feeling like a careless kid whose hand had just been slaped. How could I get something like this so so wrong?

How? By simply spending some fun time a while back inside Pat Cashin’s well regarded (I assume) Clown Alley. After finding not just one but two postings alluding to a full-scale relationship between the two partners, I e-mailed Steve, suggesting that since he is so bothered by the false impression lent, that he make the same remove-it request to Pat that he made to me. So far, those two postings remain.

Perhaps there is a double standard at work, or maybe I’m clueless on some inside joke. Wrote Steve to Showbiz David, “No hard feelings. Pat is always kidding us, I figured at some point that comment would be misconstrued.”

That “comment”??? There are two postings replete with many comments, and by others too, all of them in a very upbeat mode.

Under these bloggy big tops, the rules change from performance to performance.

I wish friends Copeland and Combs no harm, only luck on the tour ahead. And I cry for these clowns, having learned to my alarm that they too, are pitching coloring books, which I regard as a supreme insult to any self-respecting artist. John Ringling North II: Is this the sort of a circus owner he intends to be? What a devastating clue to his showmanship. To be a real Ringling, he has yet a far distance to travel.

I’m going back to Pat's Clown Alley for a little inspirational relief from the Dali Lama. But, please, don’t tell me that he too is now flacking for Peterson Peanuts.

First posed February 14, 2009


B.E.Trumble said...

David, isn't the real question, what's the nature of a blog? It isn't a press release, by and large it isn't journalism, and it isn't really an entirely candid diary. It's a slice of life, albeit well seasoned with intent. Why shouldn't the guys on KM cheer at sold out houses for the opening dates? Clearly there will be bad days here and there as well. Personally I feel like reporting on the bad days only contributes to circus discussion if it's a trend. I'm not afraid to criticize a circus, but sometimes a bad day is about of very well meaning local people who hosted the show and for one reason or another had difficulties. I have no interest in criticizing them. Of course I'm going to try to say as many good things as possible about any show where I work. I like circuses. I think even the smallest show carries on a worthwhile tradition. An important tradition, because it's live performance. I'm not going to say anything good about a dishonest show, because a dishonest show discourages a love for circus. But KM is the real deal. For that matter the Hugo based shows in gneral have been honest circus with hard working talented performers.

David, I remember the awe I used to feel when I first saw the Big Apple shows when I lived in NYC in the 80's. The intimacy, the production values, the talent, the music -- blew me away. But BAC is never going to raise a tent in Avon, NY and part of the wonder of American circus is that it's always played the crossroads and brought entertainment to places where other live performance will never venture. Isn't that worthy of applause even if the show could use paint or a new tent?

I think Kelly Miller under Mr North and Mr Royal does more to recreate that magical atmosphere of the tented mudshow circus than any show in a long time. And that's deserving of ballyhoo. I think it's amazing that the Miller/Byrd family has kept a circus on the road for almost 75 years now. Think of the millions of people that have seen Carson & Barnes. I'm amazed that three guys in a campground created the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus and 25 seasons later it's still on the road. Call me a shill, but I'm delighted by those milestones. Part of the allure of circus is it's humanity -- something mudshows have a weath of and corporate cirques for all their production values sadly lack.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

A mans ability as a showman is being judged by having clowns sell color books. I will point out Mr. Showbiz, Kelly Miller will be the only tent show this season sporting a riding act, elephant act, cat act, flying act, and clown alley (meaning more then a lone Payaso) in the same tent at the same show. So you tell me Mr Biz,,,,whats your agenda???

Showbiz David said...

My very unhidden agenda? Other than to give you an adrenalin rush -): please report to point 3 in the post that follows this one. I would love nothing more than to see a high quality performance uninterrupted by such tawdry spiels, thank you. How would you feel were your tiger act interrupted by such a pitch? That’s how I feel sitting in the seats (as a paying customer, by the way) when any part of a performance is stopped. I guess I’m funny that way. Hope I answered your question.

Susabelle said...

Get over yourself, David. You have shut down a blog that I was thoroughly enjoying because, why? You're jealous or something? That's what I'm seeing, right or not. That's the overwhelming emotion that emanates from your latest post. So, someone is talking good about Kelly Miller. On their opening week. And they might say some more good things about them on the way. So what? I will not see KM this year unless they get within 50 miles of my big metropolitan city. I won't know one way or the other, nor will I be able to spend any money to see the show and judge for myself.

Get over it, you're being a nag. Blogs aren't governed by "fair reporting" and are often just interesting looks into people's lives. With circus being such a cloistered group, there are always going to be rumors and assumptions and even downright fights. It's the way it works.

For me, you've just turned off the tap of an incredible resource for me, as I continue to work on chronicling the life of mudshows for my book, Without a Net. I'm a prolific blogger as well, not about circus, but about my mundane life on a college campus (my day job) and my work as a tech/geek. Are my blogs biased? You bet they are, and I shouldn't have to apologize for that. Neither should Steve.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

So while sloughing said cage for cage act,,,or net for said flying act,,, using the Peterson Peanut company to throw a couple quarters in the kitty is obviously outrageous,,,lol

Ben Trumble said...

David, I tried to make Casey's point early in the week when we exchanged emails. The notion that sometimes a pitch (and historically peanut pitches in particular) are really a cover for resetting props. With an Army of Clowns maybe the same thing can be accomplished with walk arounds, or with multiple rings and stages the audience can focus on performance elsewhere. But you can only do so many walk arounds, and with a single ring under a tent working another act isn't in the cards. I can understand that from the point of view of pure performance, anything that isn't a part of the performance takes away from it. (Though Bobby Gibbs doing a peanut pitch could be worth the price of a ticket in an of itself.) But that's where a mudshow has to compromise just a little bit, lacking the automation that can be built into a building, or erected under a tent that only moves infrequently. You'll recall from our emails that I disagreed strongly with the notion that a book pitch or a peanut reflected badly on Mr. North, Mr. Royal and company. I know that removing the pitches is a plank in what you believe is required to revive circus. And I think we would all agree that some shows have nickel and dimed audiences to death with rings filled with blow-up aliens. But we all grew up with television and we aren't entirely turned off by a performance that is broken up by an effort to sell us soap. At least a coloring book pitch and peanut pitch are purely circus. (Unlike those damned aliens!)

Wade G. Burck said...

Show Biz,
Do you have the links for some of those blogs you mention in your header, or at least the names? I wasn't aware of them and have apparently missed out on the good stuff.
Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

I've added a link to Steven and Ryan's blog to the right, though, he has brought down the curtain. Sorry, for I was looking forward to his daily accounts, as I've already mentioned.

Margaret said...

I don't agree that it's Dave's fault that Steve shut down his blog..I guess maybe I'm not reading the same post as the rest of you..If you want to see spin and half truths about the blog your talking about,check out the picture Mr. Burck posted about Kelly Millers Clown Alley..
I to (and as I read in this post,so did Dave) looked forward to the daily writings about the in and outs of this show..Maybe Mr. Copeland will change his mind about shutting down his blog,but lets not put blame where it doesn't belong..

Paul H. said...

This is an interesting debate to say the least (and so early in the season!)

Blogs (and for that matter the entire Internet revolution) are yet another communications tool. Thanks to this tool, we now have the ability for instantaneous two-way communication, which leads to community. In my mind, that's a good thing.

I must side with Ben and Casey on pitches during a mud show performance. I've attended - and loved - mud shows all my life. The pitches, concert announcements, banners (remember those?) are all part of the ambience. And yes, they also contribute to a show's bottom line.

Let's remember something, Showbiz David. BAC survives and thrives, in part, because of corporate underwriting. If said underwriting were to disappear, that show would either cease to exist or adopt a different business model that might include selling programs/coloring books in the stands.

Wade G. Burck said...

Show Biz,
I was asking about these ones?

"Sometimes I feel like an innocent in the middle of it all, watching comments fly this way and that and wondering who has a grudge to bear or a friend to puff. Spurned? Fired? Told your act is over the hill?"

I do agree with you 100% about concessions in the seat's. I don't want it in a theater either. That's what an intermission is for.
Wade Burck

henry edgar said...

i don't think any one of us objects to pitches in themselves. even ringling uses a coloring book pitch, though it is at intermission. almost every show has to come up with something to cover prop changes. a pitch can adapt itself to that situation if it is kept under control and not stretched out forever. i personally don't mind clowns making coloring book pitches. recording stars sell cds and photos at concerts, adding the bait of personally autographed, and more than one broadway show has announced that a particular star will be available to autograph programs after the show -- without adding that the star gets a cut of the programs, which can help the star maintain a high standard of living vs help a mudshow buy gas. one of my best friends complained many, many years ago that one of our legendary stars entered atop a convertible as part of an auto dealer pitch and i have never heard anyone begrudge this star the chance to make a little extra money. it's all in the way it's done. one of the last mud shows i attended introduced a new pitch almost between each act. that's when pitches draw heat. not when used occasionally to bring in a little extra money, but when the show looks like you booked a couple of acts to sell color books, peanuts, pictures with snakes, blow-up toys, star wars swords, etc. all shows don't do it but some do and it makes everyone look bad.

but i think the point david was trying to make is that often some very vocal people contribute to the blogs with their own agenda trying to pass as facts, thus rewriting history or adding another chapter. or slightly trying to discredit someone or build up someone else. to a point this is human nature, but some people have takemn it to extremes.

i will do everything i can within my health limits to visit kelly-miller because it sounds like a show i would love. but other shows are frequently praised on the blogs that have numbers of performers in their favor but they are often performers who don't realy do anything. other shows -- such as cole -- might have fewer performers but the acts are far superior. i'd much rather see one good act in a display than 3 mediocre ones. ringling may not be what it used to be but the performers are generally pretty good at whatever they do. a small show has to rely on filler acts butsome need to try to find at least one or two feature caliber acts -- some people in the audience know the difference.

i have not always agreed with david but i have listened to him and in many cases have realized he made vaid points and maybe he was right after all and surprise of surprises, i might hav ebeen wrong.

johnny said...

iF BAC and does put on a performance without having to resort to a pitch in a one ring show, why can't KM? and KM does have a hippodrome track that can be used whereby BAC does not. Pitches are part of the circus, unfortunately, but some showguys have been ingenius in making the pill easier to swallow. I, among others came up with the contest in the seats as part of the light pitch an etc.

Very successful and recognized in the old Billboard was the column "dressing room gossip" and it has provided some circus history in review. I believe the thin skin of some of the KM bigshots caused the doom of the two clowns endeavor and most likely because of the Trumble thing, where he did go beyond the line in his self proclaimed suggestions in what was wrong. As I stated when it was going on. Any show owner would have red lighted him and am surprised that he stills has commentary, right or wrong.

From Ringling on down the "dressing room gossip" was in every week and enjoyed by all, but the scribes did not suggest show policy and were not "first of Mays" like Trumble and the two clowns. I felt uncomfortable reading some of their stuff.

Casey, just because you proclaim the variety of circus type acts really is immaterial if they are not at least above average in act, wardrobe and overall presentation.That remains to be seen. Generally quality comes at a price but is necessary when dealing with the public. For the most part it is obviously another Hugo Show with Hisponic acts, good bad or indifferent with maybe a little different twist. I doubt if the production numbers would have much wardrobe or choreographed professional content. I am all for the success of this and all shows without unscupulous practices, but blowing to big of a horn can cause some sour notes.

Anonymous said...

I am completety against clowns in particular, but really any performer in general, having to work pitches as part of their art. I understand the pitch is an important aspect to the bottom line in today's economy for a small traveling show, and unless your underwritten by sponorship (ie: Big Apple)or self-funded Big Bertha herself (Ringling)the reality is these shows need that extra ding. Can it be done in a less invasive way to the performance? I'd like to think so. But I also remember seeing many pictures of the Ringling clown alley during the 1950's and 60's performing very commmercial product walk-arounds that Paul Jung would build. These always struck me as the nadir of creative comedy, and from what I've been told by the few surviving clowns of that era, it was a quick way to pick up a couple of quick bucks at the end of the season.

-Greg DeSanto

Showbiz David said...

Wade, back there ..
fair question. Maybe my statemet alluded to more than is out there; I have to think, and it's only an impression, that these things do happen. example: I've told Ben Trumble, super nice guy who e-mails me sometimes, that I would expect the favorable comments he makes about the Hugo shows, since he works for them from time to time. But I just can't count on them to be impartial, because a good press agent - media relations operative, etc., is all about putting out the best vibes. And that's completely understandable. And I have to think that there are rivalries between some who participate that are naturally going to color what they say.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

"For the most part it is obviously another Hugo Show with Hisponic acts, good bad or indifferent with maybe a little different twist"
?!?!?! What was that?!?!?!

Pretty bold statement without knowing the acts that are booked, which you obviously don't. We have two American clowns, Armando Loyal would be an American, Huggoite, of Italian decent, Ringmaster John Moss is American, The girl choreographing the productions and doing aerial is American, Pat Davison is American, Sara Green will return to do trapeze shes American, and my wife with her dogs American, Oh yeah...and myself. That leaves four latino flyers, a latino rolla bolla, and John Moss' wife Reyna as the only latins in the show. So you are wrong as you can see. I am not going to vouch for the acts I haven't seen as for quality, but nothing I have seen yet, is as you say, Hugo quality.
I had no idea blowing I was blowing a horn, and better yet hitting sour notes, now that I know, I shall start everyday with another tune.
As far as the blog deal and things said on blogs. The clowns were not asked to shut theirs down, Ben Trumble was not, and I have never been. I am not defending anything Ben Trumble may have said on his blog, but I guarantee nothing he said was any more harmful then half the pictures posted of animals back in the "good ol' days" on another blog. Funny we don't mind showing off how things used to be, but we get frantic if someones points out that things haven't changed somewhere.

Wade G. Burck said...

Show Biz,
Is that not the same sentiment we have discussed many, many times, in the past. That of "self serving paper!!!" If they say it while they are there, it is suggested the "are biting the hand that feeds them." If they suggest it after leaving the employment, they are branded "disgruntled employee!!!" If there is a consistency and definite commitment to statements, that speaks volumes to validity. Yet if it is brought up or suggested at, the messenger is killed. With out a standard or defining definition of what is good or what is a success, (box office, legitimate competition) it will only be speculation without fact.
Shutting them up, as Johnny suggests, if much the way a dictatorship, a religious cult, or an Amish/Quaker/Mennonite community, or any closed tribal society operates. Most of them lead themselves into oblivion or history. Sound familiar? Now we are getting into a building show/tent show war. Did you see the picture of the Australian circus picketing the Russian circus? What industry pickets itself. You tell me what it wrong???LOL

Showbiz David said...


Please review my new guidelines posted to the right down a ways. As for profanity, I am erring on the side of civility, my list of unacceptable words includes the "a - s" word. If your comment is rejected and you wish to rewrite, consider if it:
1. contains profanity.
2. contains offensively crude language.
3. attacks or sarcastically addresses another person. You can state your strong differences of opinion, but please, show others respect.
4. Might it be full of so may misspellings as to confuse?
5. Might it be be just not clear enough?

Thanks for your understanding.

Showbiz David said...

ps. Yes, on point 4 above, I misspelled a word. Sentence should read, "Might it be full of so many misspellings..."

NewsRoom said...

This just in read all about it!!

Sources say performers at the Kelly Miller show uneasy about being tipped extra $25 dollars for extra fourth show at 10:00 in Mcallen TX. Apparently Mr. Cainans' argument to John Herriot that "it isn't just another Hugo show" was not correct in whole. Sounds like the good ol' days on Carson & Barnes.

Clark Kent reporting