Concerning my quote, a rough estimate, on declining attendance at American circuses, I sent a copy of this post to Josh Keefe, and he graciously responded: "Our thinking was that such a large range makes it pretty clear the number is not a hard fact, but instead an estimate." Nonetheless, he agreed to add the word "estimated."
Thanks, Josh, and kudos for pressing Big Apple Circus on their own attendance figures.
I have a bitter morning after taste in my mouth.
Call it Interviewee's Remorse.
I sent him my number, he called me and we had a wonderful, far-from-rushed conversation about Big Apple, about circus in general and about how the animal rights movements and Cirque du Soliel have impacted on public taste. I followed his lead, and let his questions direct the dialogue.
On Big Apple, I pushed the notion that a key question reporters seem not to have been raising is actual attendance. Can the people running BAC still actually bring in a decent sized crowd?
Botching a Nationwide Screen Test
For a stunning piece of anecdotal evidence, I recounted for Keefe the show’s live streaming of a performance (one of its weakest editions in years) into dozens of movie houses back in November, 2014. The performance that day, in fact, appeared to have been shockingly ill-attended, with swaths of empty chairs. It so bothered my brother Dick, who enjoyed the streaming in a Utah movie house with one other person -- his wife, that he told me: “You’re watching a loser.” I addressed this with Keefe, wondering why somebody at BAC could not have been able to round up a full tent, even if they had to give it away?
He sounded surprised to learn of this ill-fated affair.
In Keefe's Observer piece, published yesterday, he does appear to have pressed BAC for an answer on attendance, for he reports that current executive director Will Maitland Weiss “insists that Big Apple Circus attendance has stayed steady at about 1,000 guests a show ... in recent years.” What Keefe does not inform the reader is that the Big Apple tent seats 1,700.
Even the “1,000 guests” figure is questioned by a highly reliable inside source, well familiar with BAC operations, who wrote me, “that may be optimistic.”
Excuse Maker to the Unforeseen Rescue
So out of the interview, what did I end up getting quoted as saying about Big Apple Circus itself? NOTHING. And I am left with a feeling of having been (misleadingly?) used to set up a sympathetic context for what Binder and Co are up against: Here are my two quotes, both concerning the American circus in general:
“There’s a declining appetite for the circus on the part of the American people.”
Ok, I said that. That’s how it seems to me.
“Circus attendance is down 30 to 50 percent from where it was 20 years."
The sounds awfully factual to me. In fact, I went out of my way to begin my answer with, “It is my sense, my best guess, that circus attendance is down 30 to 50 percent.”
What Nobody Knows About Any Circus
I had spent much time explaining to Keefe the difficulty in addressing the subject of ticket sale trends at the red wagon over the years. There is no tracking systems for circus attendance as there is for TV and the movies, pop record sales and Broadway, etc. And so we are left to speculate in the dark, forever.
Why did the reporter not correctly characterize my answer as, “in his estimation.”?
Perhaps negligence on his part. Perhaps not.
Was I used? I feel like I was used – merely to supply the sympathetic context. And that’s the New York media working overtime for Big Apple.
Twelfth Hour Donor Hiding in the Wings?
Paul Binder, master New York city fund raiser (who probably already has a default savior up his sleeve -- just in case), may bring it off again. And then what? They are talking of touring the show indoors, and does that warm the imagination. The entire BAC experience would be destroyed over night.
Whatever happens, this feels like a very slow, very drawn out funeral. All of the lavish corporate sugar daddy funding may be drying up.
Of course, Paul and Michael could go back to square one, buy themselves a smaller tent and put on a show right there in their own back yard -- at Prospect Park!