Monday, August 14, 2017

Circus Fans in Turmoil: Do You Suffer FOACC? Approach All Circus Websites at Your Own Peril

Is that desolate enough?   As close as I could find to an ideal image for here-- rings in the dust after a circus has left town. I'm still looking ...

Count me among the walking wounded on an ominously circus-unfriendly horizon, waiting for the trouping wounded to find the magic, to rekindle what was there and to thrill us once again with shows coming and going.  Midways teeming with happy healthy crowds.  Tents filling up with happy healthy half houses. People in the seats! 

That too much to ask for?

Daringly aware of the shaky situation out there, I set out periodically, as I did this weekend, to take a roll call of the shows still clinging to a semblance of precarious prosperity.   You see, I suffer from FOACC— Fear of another circus closing.

And you, too?

At the still-operational Zoppe Family Cricus

From Giovanni ZoppĂ© to Nathan Hunt at Road and Kingdomes: 

“If I have one or two weeks bad, I’m done, I’m bankrupt.”

My latest roll call finds the following:

CARSON & BARNES.  Website unchanged, no indication yet of the fall dates projected by management when they shuttered early to cancel summer dates, look for fresh funding and regroup.

BIG APPLE CIRCUS: New website holding, with a YouTube teaser of some of the acts.   New owners are promising nothing beyond Lincoln Center.  I recently read that the tent itself was not a part of the auction, that it is  owned by the city of New York   How very odd – or interesting.  BAC ticket software seems to show the same seating layout as in the old setting, as wistfully I recall.  

UNIVERSOUL CIRCUS: By far the most appealing website, if only for its video of show clips, most impressive of them all.  How I wished the show still came west.  They once had two units, no longer.  Current dates ahead include big Midwest cities and Detroit.

KELLY MILLER: Linking onto "upcoming dates," the last one I found was for the day I was looking, on Saturday!  FOACC attack!  No, No, please don’t do a C&B on me!  Calm down, I told myself, get a grip and check out the KM Facebook page.  Yes, good, idea.  So I hurried over there, and scrolled up and down, furiously looking for signs of future life.   RELIEF: I found a few postings listing October dates just signed.

Happily I returned to rejoin the walking wounded.  But I must concede here and now:  From what I have seen and heard, John Ringling North II will have to import a fresh roster of talent, top to bottom if he is to have a fighting chance at recapturing a  shrinking customer base. His best first move would be to bring back clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs. Oh, yes!

CIRCUS VARGAS: They’re coming my way with their usual slavish devotion to wanting to be  Cirque du Soleil.   This one called Steam Cirque.  Not an animal in sight, not even a dog!  I wonder if all pets are banned from the backyard village of house trailers.  Yes, some of the acts are rather top notch (not the lazy flyers), but there is a strange air of a circus nearly suffocating in its own desire to look like anything but a traditional circus.  I do wish them well.

    A new reality offers the basics in friendlier settings
Suddenly, the littler tops are taking on greater appeal to me as they become my default option.  And my appreciation is growing. It must.  Of course, I am having to lower the bar on my expectations, knowing I will not be spoiled by what Ringling and Big Apple usually gave me.

So I am drawing some comfort and solace from looking forward to next year’s locally born and based Circus Bella, especially since I missed this years.  Show has a sunny spirit and a crackerjack band. When earlier I took a pulse of their website, the discovery of co-founder David Hunt’s name missing among the trouping wounded left me nearly in a panic attack.  What, no David Hunt?  Are you kidding!  Only last year, he broke out in a new and very winning role, that of one of the most casually engaging and hip ringmasters I have yet come across. And without airs.  He was a natural for the part, a big reason being that he did not overstay his time at the mike— as some are known to do.  I can think of one who is now out of work.

Had I seen the show, I would have asked for my free admission back.  So, I had to contact Circus Bella about this.  Came a nice reply from Hunt’s co-founder aerialist Abigail Munn, curing me of my premature FOACC.   “David is still near and dear.”  He was too busy teaching circus skills to a summer class to appear with the show, wrote Abigail, who vowed to try "luring him back into the ring" next season.  How grand that would be!  

And where does this leave me and my rattled blog?  I once reported  on circuses and reviewed them. Now, it seems as if I am turning out one obit after another, and I don’t like it.

Circus Vargas will be playing in a very unflattering place, where I have seen it two times before, at the Southland Mall in Hayward.   How lyrically bleak a location, so in tune with today’s battered big tops.  Tent goes up next to a freeway, over the asphalt parking of a  mall that, itself, like so many other malls, may be dying a slow death. To walk it is to feel the ghostly presence a dying American institution.  How unfortunately odd that this circus and malls should end up sharing the same space.  PLEASE, Vargas, a little fake grass?  Dirt?  Elephant dung?      

To get out there, I end up on a bus which I reach on BART,  and facing another phobia: getting mugged or beaten up by local hoodlums who these days are storming BART cars, robbing and knocking down innocent passengers. 
So, is this the way the world will end -- not with that T. S.Elliot whimper, but with the last show of the last circus on the last mall in America?

 The first Bella show, in 2009.

Thanks to fearless cyber courier Don Covington for facing the music and sharing it with others.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Cole Bros. Circus Owner John Pugh, Just Inducted into Circus Ring of Fame, Bound for Haiti with Big Top Shelter for Quake Victims ...

8/6/17: About the nicest person I ever interviewed.  So naturally down to earth.  He seemed as eager, as challenged and happy to be running a circus then as I imagine he was when he took over management of the Beatty-Cole Circus many decades before.  How I wish Johnny Pugh was still on the road. He brings pure gold to the Ring of Fame.

He just might be the nicest guy under the big top. A native of England, he started out as a movie stuntman and performer, along the way executing the more difficult moves as a double for Richard Burton in Cleopatra, and watching the Burton-Taylor romance bloom before his eyes. He joined Clyde Beatty Circus in 1961 and has been with the show ever since.

First performing as an acrobat, following a career-ending injury, Pugh was offered the assistant manager position. From there on up he advanced to the top of the big top.

"For job preservation, I went on to be the owner," Pugh with a laugh told Pat Hatfield of the DeLand, Florida West Volusia Beacon.

Johnny Pugh is not resting on yesterday's spangled memories, and shows no signs of slowing down. "It's a seven-day-a-week job. I enjoy it. It's a great life."

He has also served as a judge for the world's most prestigious international circus competition -- the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival in Monaco.

Soon, Pugh will be giving something back to the world when he boards an airplane bound for Haiti with a lot more than the acceptable carry-on-bag. He'll have with him a complete three-ring size circus big top, taking it there in response to a Haitian government request. Pugh estimates, given the local help he plans to personally supervise, that it may take a day or so to set the canvas up for much-needed temporary shelter.

The name JOHN PUGH in the Sarasota Circus Ring of Fame should add luster to an institution that in recent years has honored some not-so-distinguished figures. Pugh said the induction was emotional for him. His wife, Brigitte, introduced him at the ceremony.

And the show goes on. Cole Bros. Circus, marking its 126th year in business, opens its 2010 season in DeLand on March 20.

Congratulations, John! Well deserved!

First posted February 18, 2010