Betting on the wrong America? While the Felds plan to revive Ringling without clowns, without animals, American circus producers who dare to present the real thing are finding gold, post-Covid euphoria, in places far removed from blue state insanity.
From Royal Hanneford to Culpepper & Merriweathe , the sight of seats filling up to overflowing offers indisputable evidence of a still viable market out there for what Ringling will be completely turning its back on.
What do you see in these photos? Be honest. I see what I too often have not seen in ages, too many photos or videos showing circus rings surrounded by a sea of empty chairs. We are not in a twilight zone episode. We are at Cindy Migley's Circus Spectacular, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in this very year, where the show packed ‘em in for all eight performances. And where it did the same at several other SD dates. This, from Time Tegge, who ring-mastered.
When I reached out to ask Tim for his take on circus business in general, he shocked and dazzled me by talking up soaring spring patronage for Hanneford “In around 90% of the dates, we either filled or nearly filled the seats. And on a few, we turned them away.”
Oh, really? Now, please ... One must be leery of such pronouncements from a circus pro, ever mindful of job securities, etc. So I asked for a little evidence, and it came. And Tim was not spinning.
Another day. Another avalanche. In Detroit Lakes, MN
But he was also quick to temper and link the phenomenal biz to a pent up hunger among Americans, now mask-free, to get out and mingle and take in most any live entertainment that comes their way. He reports of spotting forty- and fifty-year olds in the seats who have never seen a circus before (he spoke with some), suddenly discovering its primal magic.
Down in Mobile, Alabama, on a cold date under new blue Royal Hanneford canvas, they sold out half the shows — how dare they! — with wild animals on the bill. Yes, those hated wild animals. Not there. The earthy spectacle of a tiger dutifully burning bright leaping through a fiery hoop, nearly brought down the house. So audiences still go for animal acts, Tim? “They’re eating it up!” I love trainer Brunon Blaszak's dashing huzza jump.
Tim will tell you how PETA has charmed or bribed Hollywood celebrities into foisting its cause on the media, and how the media does the rest. And of how many people who still wanted to go, were conned into guilt or discomfort.
Salvation in red. I can see our smarter shows concentrating in on smaller towns (as if they already aren't) where audiences are still receptive to real circus, and rebuilding a strong marketing base. In time, this may trickle out to the larger blue cities currently paralyzed under woke-choke control.
Back to the Felds, and to a circus that seems to be self-destructing before our eyes, when it could be cashing in on and leading the way in a rebounding public love of the ageless delight. No clowns, No animals are words that land like a huge, suddenly popped balloon onto flat lifeless cement.
Tim and I tried guessing what the latest Feld make over, far closer to Cirque than to Barnum, may come off looking like. So “sterile,” in a word from our visiting ringmaster, as to “look like a hospital ward when you get there.”
I am still laughing.
So, perhaps the new Greatest Show on Earth, poop-free, will require the wearing of a mask at all times. Give me the poop, the restless growl of native Africa, a messy patch of earth below, the death-defying arc of true daring-do above. Give me the circus.
END RINGERS: Art Concello's life getting major treatment in a new book by Maureen Brunsdale, due out from Roman and Littlefield next spring .... Speaking of which, Lane Talburt, writing on Concello’s attempt to wrest control of the Beatty Show in the 1950s, gives Bandwagon magazine a jolt of some pretty gritty stuff. ...What else? ... How unlike the elegant perfection of an iPhone is an Apple store. My iPhone died, and I went in to see if they could revive it, ready to buy new. Horrible experience. Was assigned a “genius,” who turned out to be only one of several, each, in turn, granting me restless attention, the last coming off like a mop up man. NEVER AGAIN. D+