Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ringling Minus Elephants, Feld Plus Daughters = New Day for the Greatest Show on Earth -- Or One Season Closer to Oblivion?


Can it be the Greatest Show on Earth without elephants?

At 66 and still firmly in charge of Ringling-Barnum, Kenneth Feld would have us believe that, without them, the circus faces its greatest challenge yet: How to sustain its grandiose stature long symbolized by the towering pachyderms on parade? Might Feld's genius for survival be on the line as never before?

Interviewed by the New York Times last November, Feld spoke passionately of the need to keep changing the format, and he conceded that the circus no longer marks his “most popular business.”  The ice shows and the monster truck division evidently turn bigger profits.  But they do not come loaded with controversial baggage linked in the public’s mind to elements of circus that no longer feel nearly as welcome or entertaining as once they did — not to the average ticket buyer.

And so Feld & daughters, robustly determined to reinvent, reinvent. 

That Big a Deal, Really?

Times writer Taffy Brodesse-Akner wrote of Kenneth and daughters engaged  “in meeting after meeting, trying to figure out how to create a circus so good that we won’t notice the absence of the elephants.”

Should it really be all that difficult?  Indeed, the Felds may now be able to recompose the circus into a less problematic form, able to recapture a larger section of its potential audience base.  Americans may return in droves, simply because a long-festering controversy has been put to rest.


Feld with daughters Juliet, left, Alana and Nicole

But the reinvention will not come trouble-free.  However admirable may be Feld's resolve to continue featuring other wild animals -- yet the presence of big cage acts may seriously hamper his efforts to redefine and re-brand the Ringling  product in the public’s mind.  Big Cage acts are sure to leave  many customers with a nagging impression that this circus has not really changed that much.
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Like Father, Maybe Not Like Son

Kenneth Feld, surely one of the most successful circus managers in American big top history — deserving a place with James Bailey and the like —  has survived on his own for over thirty years, no small feat considering the magnitude of his rail-intense operation.  Two long circus trains alone represent a staggering expense. How they manage to turn a profit, given the apparently paltry crowds, I do not know.  I could never figure it out, defaulting to a theory that the ice shows were some seasons perhaps subsidizing the circus.

Kenneth’s father, Irvin, entered the picture some ten years after the show had made its boldest historical move ever,  by shucking the big top for hard tops. Irvin favored the three-ring format he inherited.  Kenneth seemed much more adaptable to change.  He was in charge when the show imported Chinese acrobatics into its rings and produced one of its best shows ever; when they dared to not feature a single flying trapeze act on the program; when three rings were reduced to one – and then none; and now, when the show will tour without its lumbering symbols of the great American three-ring circus, itself a thing of the past.
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A New Show to Come, or Another Feld Smorgasbord?

Kenneth deserves just credit for showcasing some of the best acts in the world. And credit for creating dazzling special-effects spectacle virtually unmatched by any other ring show in the world, save for, of course, Cirque du Soleil.

On the downside, less impressive is the man's penchant for filling out a bill  one moment with brilliance, the next with banality.  I have often felt that the element most lacking in the uneven Feld touch is theatrical unity.  (His one-ring circus that played Coney Island two years in a year was a superior exception).  Does this matter to the public?  Does the typical audience out there want less a smorgasbord, more a finely wrought performance of consistent quality in tone. scoring, and pacing?   Hard to say.

The Story Line Returns

The new edition now being promoted is said to break new ground in that it will involve, for the first time, a story line —  the claim is rather lame. In fact, the Felds have tried narrative circus in recent years.  Whatever they may have achieved with it, there is no evidence of its luring in larger crowds.  But now, with ice composing a part of the surface, who knows.  Perhaps that creaky rolling platform will become a skating platform. I'd vote for its being retired to Baraboo sooner than later.

But even if they can bring off an excitingly new kind of circus to ballyhoo, they may still face an even more daunting challenge — the seeming obsolescence of circus itself to a growing sector of a public saturated as never before with more amusing distractions, real to virtual.   Let’s hope that all of the empty seats so often glaringly visible in photos and videos are once again filled.

Once considered far less emotionally connected to the circus than his father, Kenneth Feld's fluid flexibility remains an intriguing work in progress. 

Can he turn the next corner that he believes need be turned?  He understands profoundly well the ever-changing nature of this most raw and real of all entertainments.

The Showmanship of Change, Beginning with Astley





Ballet of the Elephants, Ringling Bros. Circus, 1942

At the dawn of circus – London, 1772 — elephants were not there.  Neither the flying trapeze.  What was there were life-affirming feats of astonishing acrobatic agility and daring-do, on horseback, on and over the sawdust. And many other things. And so must they still be there today, if circus has a fighting chance to endure.  I am afraid it will only get harder.  The man at the top expounded on this eloquently to the Times, giving them the most impressive quote of his that I have ever come across. To Ms.Brodesse-Akner, the Feld of Felds explained:

“The circus has changed over the years.  There’s no entertainment that’s been around for this long that you could name.  We’re older than baseball.  We’re older than Coca Cola.  I don’t know how many times it’s been re-imagined, reinvented, but I know we’ve probably done it six, eight times.  We’re going to do it again without the elephants in a whole different way.  Then we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it again."

Amen to that.

 One Last Headstand for the History Books

Thursday, May 26, 2016

MIDWAY FLASH! ... Cirque du Soleil Lands Another Bomb on Broadway---Critically Speaking ... Show Looks Like Another Spiderman On Stage, But With Superior Circus Action ...

"Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour is crashing and burning on Broadway." screams The Globe and Mail in London, "and there’s no point in calling the paramedics. No team of show doctors could cure this bafflingly bad show set in the Golden Age of Hollywood."

In Gotham, site of the carnage, early reviews just in for Cirque du Soleil's Paramour, from Wall Street Journal to New York Times, point to a big floporama, with some great acts that only make the sub-mediocre musical this thing is supposed to be seem and feel even more dreary and second rate.

That's what I glean here in front of my PC in California, surfing critical reaction.

A mixed review from AP finds similarities between Paramour and Spiderman,  the latter having opened at the same theatre, where it enjoyed early popular favor but ultimately crashed and burned, to a colossal loss.

But Cirque's visual feast may hold an edge over Spiderman's in that, as AP notes, Paramour "has the ability to astonish."

From Vulture.Com: 

"Some things just don’t belong together, and you’d think that Cirque, having failed so miserably with New York productions of Banana Shpeel and Zarkana to force this unwanted conjugation, would by now have understood that, or at least have chosen better models and hired a team familiar with the workings of real musicals. It’s an especially arrogant form of carpetbaggery to think that, with enough money, you can do anything. Paramour was capitalized at around $25 million. That’s twice the cost of Hamilton, which admittedly does not include even one drone-controlled lampshade. That must be its problem."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Revived Cole Bros Circus Hits Road with "Last Chance" to See Elephants; Also with Camels and Horses, Flyers -- and Tumbling Finalists from America's Got Talent


UPDATE UPDATE, 5/21, am, PST:  Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha! Yes, I'm becoming addicted to this strange stumble out of the barn.  Try connecting to Cole Central via the telephone number on their website.  You will be quickly transferred through to Ma Bell suggesting you hang up and ... yes, you know the drill! 

UPDATE, 4:36 pm PSTI have learned that Branchwater Productions, which appears on the website as the operator, would probably be John and Brigitte Pugh, for they live on a street named Branchwater Bend in Deland.  A search for Brancwater brings up a tape-distribution company n Sarasota.  The currently observable fact that "Big Top Circus" has not replaced the Cole Bros. title suggests, and I stress suggests, that Johnny is still somewhat if not completely in charge.

Yes, this  has become a rather amusing guessing game that just keeps on guessing!  So beware, my  speculations below may prove to be just that.  I am close to placing a moratorium on  myself for coverage of the Cole Bros. saga for a certain period of time.

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In some ways, fresh new compelling poster art seizes on the elephant act issue by promising patrons a "last chance" to see them.

Early dates look to follow traditional routing -- only, says Agent X, who raced me the news,  "just uncharacteristically late in the season!" --

It will likely stir some increased business from those wishing to have that chance, especially with kids in tow going to their first circus.  And, even more so, by the presence of the Chicago Boyz, a familiar act off  the popular television show, seen by millions.  Shrewd marketing, I'd say. 

How will it stir the dissidents?

Yet to be seen. True blue activists cheered the earlier news that Cole would NOT be going out with any wild animal acts.  Will they play nice and let circus lovers have one last season with a complete traditional big top?  Or make life even more difficult for the troupe?

Hard core protesters will claim a promise made not kept.  And, technically, they will be correct.

And so, they may intensify their harassment out of a paranoia that this circus -- especially when they get wind of the sale -- has no intention of retiring its performing pachyderms.

Considering that Dick Garden, when last I heard, was in charge, it could be a suicidal season in more ways than one. But I do think, in poster art, he's off to a blazing good start.

And, yes, you heard it from me.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

What a Joke! Where are the Elephants??

Update: A few hours after the so-called live streaming yesterday, I linked onto it again, and this
time it began with the elephants coming in, and the darkness was no longer there. I am wondering
if we were purposely kept in the dark and forced to endure audio only just BEFORE the last parade of the elephants.

If so, a tacky promotion. The Felds have a way of being brilliant one moment, banal the next.

Posted on May 1:

I've been at the Ringling Facebook page, inviting me to watch the live stream.  And I've been in the dark, all the while, listening to Ringling staff members talk about elephant cancer research, about the preservation angle, millions to charity, and about the new show coming up, which sounds quite dazzling -- ice to air to cement, I suppose.

Voices IN THE DARK.

What a fiasco.  Were we being teased?

Maybe it's my PC.

I think I missed the Big Show -- or maybe the elephants escaped, too nervous or distraught or depressed to call it a day, a year, a season, a career. Fearing a loss of public attention, of kids and peanuts and fun things to do in bright colored rings.