Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Midweek Midway Mixup: Mud & Slush, Grift and Glory and the Straw Houses They Pray For ...

“Staycations” are the new rage, and maybe (or have I already said this), tent shows taking it to the front yards of gas-pump averse Americans, will yet soar this depressed season .... But then again, they may have to compete with Maud’s Ice Cream Parlor, Sammy’s Casino for Dummies. or the local Flea Markets ... BTW: Oklahoma, full of circus savvy, is also full of oil mogul T. Boon Pickens, at 80 charging ahead on the internet to promote his reformed view of an America free of Arabian fuel, full of wind power and other novel alternatives ...

Gas, gas, gas. How can these shows afford just to move? I marvel. I marvel. I marvel. Somehow, brother, they keep at it, through mud and muck and wet and shine. Like an adolescent chasing after a second kiss from an unforgettable crush. In this case, that crush is just one more pair of packed houses, which erases out all the down days in-between. “When everything works,“ blogs mud show guy Ben Trumble, cheering a boffo Kelly-Miller day in Ohio, “the circus business is a thing of beauty.” Ah, how I recall a packed Wallace Bros. tent when the band blared full force and sassy Cosetta Cristiani high-kicked a sassy cakewalk atop a cantering horse ... And here, straycationing again, soon comes the return to Kelly-Miller of one Katherine North, daughter of show owner John Ringling North II, seen here, left, with manager James Royal. Royal hints of a Ringling conversion. “I fear her design business is taking a back seat to the circus.” She’s immersed in “a variety of projects for the show.” Please, Ms. Katherine, make one of them the overhaul of that musty moribund Kelly-Miller website.

What they do for circus. When Ms. Katherine recently guest managed for a week, she, in the words of John Moss, “made all the right decisions. It must be in the blood.” Still to be seen is John Ringling North III — yes, I said, the third... They just keep on coming, and isn’t that grand?

Kelly Miller, in truth, has had to fight mother nature at almost every gloomy turn. “Rarely a week passes when we haven’t had rain, and plenty of it, creating problems with our lots,” reports Royal. The show must go on. Must be moved every night. If you love it, you shove it, you push, you pull, and you fight ...

Those lucky circus animals! So privileged and pampered — when not pushing, shoving, or pulling — compared to the tragic plight of so many critters left to the genuine cruelly of average ordinary creeps who ought to be locked up in prison cages. Another heart-breaking
tale, they seem to spill forth almost daily, comes from a liberal enclave known as Santa Cruz (CA) county. A dog breeder’s house, finally pried open by the police, fraught with dozens of dead, starved and/or sickly dogs, at least one decapitated, skulls of others arranged in some sick Tarantino order, others still alive too traumatized to accept the touch of a human. Said a neighbor to a local TV reporter, “I can hear dogs throughout the night with vicious and crying sounds.” And he's heard those sounds for years. PETA and Lady Ingrid, what have you to say of all this?
Band- wagon’s take on the remarkable Norma Cristiani, essayed by Lane Talburt, continues to enthral in the key of candor. You gotta respect the Pfenings for taking on what was for years a virtual cottage industry under our big tops — grift, grift, grift, which in words spoken to me once by Art Concello, “moved the show.” Norma’s dad, Ben Davenport (that's him in the photo), recently enshrined at the Ring of Fame (which seems to be gutting its credibility down to zero) was a top of the line grifter-in-chief. “The gamblers were eventually assigned to their own private car — reinforcing the importance of grift to the show’s fortunes.” I had no idea how large the Daily Bros. show was: up to 25 elephants at one time; PR man Bev Kelly serving a stint on the advance; Ex-Ringling manager George Smith being hired and allowed to shape up a messy operation. What they had to do, turning their heads away from the ugly realities, in order to draw a paycheck ...

Ringling soon comes to Oakland, offering kids a ticket for only ten bucks. And the Sawdust Kid (that would be Logan Jacot) out of touch with the world, got his keyboard back, then had to dash off to help tear down a cage ... And the Mud Show Guy no doubt dreams of more idyllic days tenting over green grass, under yellow and blue skies before a packed tent. And gifted Christian Stoinev, with Big Apple Circus, sharing with a reporter the joys of trouping. “Making people smile and feeling gratitude for what you have done. And feeling appreciated."

What they do for all those wonderful people who still give them a chance under tattered canvas peaks to keep the magic alive ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Midweek Midway Mix: Long Live Sawdust Circles and Affordable Fraud

Here we go, down the flats and off the runs in no particular order ... Let’s let Paul Binder kick off this ramble, telling WCAX-TV 3 News in Hanover, NH of his life-long respect for the sawdust circle “This is the original form. This is the form that pre-dated Theatre ... pre-dated Opera and ballet and musical theatre.” Now, does that make you feel proud of our bigtopian addictions? Duz me ... Big Apple Circus’s upcoming season promises a fetching mix of talent and threatens to fly high again, says I, merely examining a released list of some of the acts: Horse rider Christine Zerbini (might that be Sylvia??), Anastasini Family dogs from Rome; the Nan Jing Troupe from China “performing incredible acrobatic ballet;" a Russian barre act named Rodion; the juggling Lasalle Brothers from the USofA — AND Brazilian flyers named Rigolletos — a welcome trend back to the air for the recently ground-bound Apple troupe. ... Remarks impresario Paul, “The work becomes secondary to the joy and passion of doing it.”

Those Funny Pfenings: Have you seen the recent issue of their Bandwagon? Upon first glance, I thought I’d received maybe a copy of MAD magazine from the fifties. How daringly different, but only did they reproduce the cover of a 1902 mag put out by Bill Poster Display advertising, to promote the services of its litho advertisers, the Courier Company splashing on both covers. “WE PRINT THEM. YOU POST THEM.”... Into the Bay Area, day and dating without lithos (but with tv ads) comes first Circus Vargas, tenting up in S.F. on August 13, and then, the next day, opening over in Oakland, Ringling-Barnum ... This one will be interesting to watch, and let's hope there's still a crowd for Carson & Barnes, when it spreads its canvas wings across the Cow Palace parking lot a few weeks later....

Why I Like Circus Animal Turns: I do not have to witness a compassionate man being jailed for daring to care for a bear. This from New Delhi, by way of AP: The man, Ram Singh Munda brought home an orphaned bear cub to “console his 6-year-old daughter,” who had just lost her mother. He was subsequently arrested and sent to jail for violating wildlife laws. All three parties were left depressed. The bear “refuses to eat,” the girl was sent to a boarding school. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS: Maybe there is hope from those animal rights loonies, who are endeavoring, in a flash of reason, to liberate Munda from the brig and restore the family threesome. Maybe there is hope ... In the end rings, this: Should human rights be granted to monkeys? Currently, they are considered so close in IQ to humans, that the argument goes, they need to be treated as full fledged citizens. But are they smarter than a fifth grader on television? ...Whoa, we gotta follow this wagon up the road. No, no, I mean down the road...

Kelly Miller Circus inside and — inside. Some of you will recall a certain aerialist named “Holly” denied the center ring in the film the Greatest Show on Earth. John Ringling North II remembers well, for when recently coaxed into his single ring for a photo op with tiger man Casey McCoy, he quipped, “I don’t have a Holly or a center ring, so I went into a cage of tigers.” Looks to me, Mr. Great Sebastian, that Mr. North the Sequel will NOT pay for your speeding tickets, so you can turn around and go home, guy ...

In the mind of the advance man: From the same show, if you check staffer Ben Trumble’s blog, there he is wondering about the tricky mix of sponsors and locations, etc, and how they might or might not result in good and bad days ... You will also learn that not all of the show’s biz is at all busy ... This marks a new era in on-the-spot reporting. Trade talk you are unlikely to get in other quarters ... Count this a gift of the Internet generation.

Fraud is a relative sin, I hereby declare: When I hear about sub prime scams, corrupt banking tycoons, bogus lenders and the hidden credit fees that are bringing overzealous consumers to their knees (and this country, what's left of it, to the brink of an economic blowdown), I kind of wish all the suckered victims had spent their money instead on an old fashioned midway. Yeah, they might have gone home minus a twenty, but they still would have gone home to a home they could still call their own..

And that’s a random wrap, and let’s all meet here again somewhere “down” that long and winding road — or, if you prefer, down the lonesome one traveled by Sinatra in the days of three-ring glory ...

First posted, Circa 7.28.2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

First Draft Reckless. If I Fall Off the Wire, Please Look Away ...

Blogging can be dangerous, like a brutal mixed martial arts boxing match that gives the public blood and gore. No school teacher’s red pencil. No editor over the shoulder. Even the spell checker is a non-human, and it can be tripped up, and here I am, going for it, first draft out the gate...

Like they are in Stockton, where those brutal boxers are going at it, and, of all people, tickling a San Francisco sports TV anchor gal, who gushes, “Much more barbaric than any sport I’ve ever seen!” This from the center of PC? I guess... Stockton is the place Ringling allegedly chose over San Francisco — if what a ticket seller at the Cow Palace on the phone keeps telling me. Standard excuse. “They wanted to try Stockton.” Good choice, perhaps. In Stockton, I think a pachyderm on pointe would be cheered; not jeered as it would in the city by the golden gate, where all things modern — including bloody brutal boxing matches — are peachy fine, cause, well, they are so cutting edge...

San Francisco is a city without a decent amusement park; it does have trendy Pier 39, where my sister, recently in from Omaha for a visit, wanted to go, in search of chimes. Seals not home that day. Tourists everywhere. The “F” line streetcar out there was so crowded, folks were told to crash the back door without paying. And all of us who had lined up and paid had to suffer. How brutally insensitive...

Barbaric boxing matches and other “extreme sports” give the public what it once got at the Roman Coliseum, and may again — if a band of ambitious promoters wanting to revive Circus Maximus have their way.. If Rome says no, they might try Stockton ... ‘Ya see, though the circus as we know it may pass into sawdust oblivion, its primal parts, trust me, kids, will find other venues in which to thrive... If the “circus” goes ballet, its daring humans may go skate board or martial arts, or be fitted for the gladiator show on TV — is it still on?

.... So far, spelling probably horrible. I only promised you first draft. Are you still with me? Sister Kathy and I, up in Santa Rosa at the County Fair, took a chance on the dark ride; she was spooked by a skeleton that surprised her, jumping out in her direction. Ride very short. I walked through a spooky fun house; passageways too narrow for my sister, who stayed out on the midway. I should thank my luck stars for getting out alive. About that time where the carnival played (we later learned), a young kid was gang stabbed. Injured, not killed. Security check at front gate unable to keep young thugs at bay... All folks patted down. Hoods still find a way. This in Santa Rosa; no town is safe or serene anymore...

San Francisco, or as they call it “The City” reminds me of an aging madam, nearly stumbling in her vanity, desperate to be wanted. “Adore me. Adore me!” And so the crowds come to gawk at her, to sample her rare geographical charms, and they all end up in just another half-baked amusement park called Pier 39... No stabbing that day, far as a I know. Here in Oakland, don’t know about last night. Missed the body count on the ten o’clock news... And soon I’m off to the tea shop. Such gentle civility over there. Maybe it, too, just a facade. A facade, nonetheless, to believe in — as long as it believes in me...

Anybody still in the seats? Hey, I don’t get paid for this.... I think of it as typing practice, just as long as I don’t fall off ...

[p.s. no, i can't spell that well; my spell checker SCREAMED for equal time]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What Happened to Celebrity Circus?

Is it gone? Will it return? Will he return? No hints on the NBC website except for this ominous sign-off:

“The circus has ended, but the performances live on.”

And who “won”? Well, not Janet Evans, the only contestant who impressed me during the one episode (#2) that I slogged through.

“Congratulations to Antonio Sabato, Jr.! The big winner of celebrity circus!” -- so reads NBC's declaration.

So they gave it to the HUNK. Maybe they liked his family's circus background. Or maybe the HUNK kept the people they were able to scam onto their midway coming back for more. For more. For more.

"Antonio is the most hottest man on television," reads one comment on NBC. "Too bad I am married!!!!"

Antonio told another source, “This means the world.”

And what to the world means Celebrity Circus? Were its lame allusions to a Cirque du Soleil style so ineffectual as to turn more people off than on?

Or might those earnest pretensions to high cirque art drive the public gratefully back to a more realistic big top not a third as fey and ten times more earthy and dangerous?

Surfing the net for clues, I find hissing bloggers ...

From MightyElroy: “Oh, where do I begin. First off, they start out with this warped techno-circus theme music, where everyone is trying to show how much energy and enthusiasm they have, but it looks forced. Then, we have the celebrity ringleader, former boy-band star Joey Fataine. Then there are the celebrities themselves...wait, don't you have to be famous to be a celebrity?" He graded it 3.0. The comments he drew averaged about a 5.0 score.

Last Wednesday, NBC shows came in far behind Fox and CBS. So You Think You Can Dance drew nearly 9 million viewers, Circus, 4.42 (down 16% from the previous week). Still, not so bad for a so bad a show?

(Putting TV ratings in perspective, for the week ending July 9, according to Nielsen, the top rated show, America's Got Talent, drew 12 million viewers; Number 20, Rules of Engagement, was seen by nearly 7 million.)

Reality TV represents a cultural leap from the old Circus of the Stars show that helped launch one of our modern day sawdust icons, David Nelson. “Realty” is now just that — real people (okay, some of them with pro backgrounds) competing to launch real careers before our eyes. Compared to which, Celebrity Circus must seem anti-climactic and a stale exercise to many viewers. Only seven "celebrities" competed. American Idol draws from hundreds of amateur talents hungering for the spotlights.

I would be surprised to see it return. However, four and a half million voyeurs (excuse me, viewers) ... Maybe they are already on a nation-wide search for next season's HUNK. Or simply an encore for Antonio?

Whatever sells.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Midweek Midway Mixup: As Ringling Falls, Rome Rises Again???

Reading the tea leaves, for free: Okay, what a shameless hook, that headline above, to lure all seven of you in — before you escape up the midway to another shameless concession. Yes, I know, the Balloon Man has his lot all fancied up with red white and blue, posters and balloons flying high, or maybe you’re wondering if the Sawdust Nights Kid had another WOOT WOOT day ... But wait, here inside the tea tent, have a little hype and history on me. No, Ringling is NOT falling (not yet, I don’t think), but Rome may be rising anew with a modern version of Circus Maximus, planned to play the crumbling old coliseum. Remember when chariots rumbled and gladiators stumbled? When Christians were thrown to the lions? Open casting call for all Born Agains! ... So apt a symbol — the fall of America; the rebirth of Old Europe. Not so far off base, folks? I know, it IS scary out there, and I feel sadly humbled and humbly sad for all the people who may suffer ...

A rush back to smaller tops? May I repeat myself by suggesting that affordable circuses may thrive as more Americans park their cars and learn to enjoy life closer to home ... And Marcia, who co-owns L’Amyx, just came in bearing evidence of gambling addictions, holding up some lottery tickets freshly purchased. (Between you and me, shhhhh, I hope the lady’s biz is okay, for it’s a super grand place to hang out and feel cool) ...

Where are we, anyway? Gotta shuffle my papers. Gotta get Covington Connected. Let’s see, more on gambling. I saw a video of Guy Laliberte playing a world class poker championship last December and nearly winning. Instead, the circus mogul put down the highest pot in high stakes poker history, about oh just under a million. What rather amused me were comments posted about the man’s performance, not exactly what he draws for his Cirque du Spectaculars. Let’s hear one: “How can anybody throw away their money like that? Laliberte is a world class jackass.” BUT, to balance it out, PBS style with opposing spin, the kinder side counters, “He’s a billionaire, that’s how he can throw money away. This isn’t your neighborhood $5 dollar buy in game. Obviously you have no clue who you’re talking about, who’s the jackass now?” ... Oh, to have a bank in your pocket for spare change ...

At our Rome Reunion, maybe Wade Burck will reveal the results of his latest circus awards. He’s a Big Picture global guy in search of the "BEST CIRCUS IN THE WORLD.” Myself, I am hopelessly local, dreaming that maybe out there in the States are say 10 characters who will have seen all, let’s say 10 regular touring tents this year and would agree, under an honor system, to fill out a questionnaire for the Showbiz David Circus Ring Awards ...

Page Two, and I’m still having fun. Is anybody there? Yeah, I just heard a stampede over to Buckles big big top. Okay, for the three of you still listening, a cup of Gold-Flecked Green on me. Back to the rebirth of circus essential ... “Restoring the Circus Maximus,” writes Nick Pisa in The Telegraph, “would include setting up platforms, security exits, a stage at the center of course, a ditch and outdoor stables.” They’ve got 35,000 seats. They’ve got history, do they ever ... They hope to engage charioteers “from all over the world.” Gosh, am I glad I didn’t put my old Chariot up for sale on ebay. More about this as time tolerates....

Walkarounds: The New York Times essays about Americans spending millions on “mood altering drugs for their cats and dogs.” Asks the reigning paper, “Is it because we’ve driven them mad?"... Well, for starters, maybe, but why don’t you ask PETA, NYT? Which reminds me, what a nasty argument I fell into with a Long Island friend on the phone. She hates circuses for you know why. While she lectured me, she tried coaxing one of her ailing dogs back onto its feet (no luck) and talked about the wet nights it suffers. Now, why did I not suggest that SHE is guilty of animal cruelty? Why did I not ask her what SHE would think were she to come across her OWN dog in its end-of-life condition at a circus? Hypocrisy unlimited ...

Orientation Respect: Referencing the late great cloud swing aerialist Billy Barton, whose columns gave Don Marcks Circus Report jazz and juice, I’ve sometimes closed off, as did he (in a way), with “see you up the road, Luvs." No way, says trouper Wade of Burck. Turn around and get your arrows right. It should be “down the road.”

Indeed it should, Mr. Cage Man. Even inside a proper tea tent ...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When You Wish Upon A Clone

Film Review: Wall E

The opening scenes in Wall E are stunning, let me tell you: A once mighty U.S. metropolis without people, its towering buildings decayed, the fading signs above urging consumers who once lived there to “Buy Large.” It is now a long-lost world buried alive under its own plastic trash. Through it waddles a little rusty robot guy, still picking up garbage and stashing it neatly off into storage units. In the background we hear a song from Hello, Dolly, "Put On Your Sunday Clothes.” Somebody forgot to turn off the last VCR. What a sensational start.

Nobody home anymore — but the robot, who ends up whisked away on a space ship to a space station where cloned pig-like humans (evidently, the ones who fled Earth when it could no longer sustain their consumer-driven greed), are pampered by robots 24/7 and luxuriate, cruise ship style, under controlled sunshine. All live on auto pilot. The scenic effects here are stunning, too, but a bit nauseatingly repetitive, like the redundantly meaningless lives. After a while, this endless holiday, twelve hundred years long and counting, feels about as exciting as being confined to a steady diet of Twinkies while "It's a Small World After All" plays over and over again for the rest of your life.

Sitting through this brilliantly abstract, if a little too abstract, movie, it felt something like walking into a modern art museum, through an installation exhibit designed to evoke the end of a civilization gone mad at the mall. I could care less whether it is a satire on the so-called values of either the Democrats or the Republicans.

Oddly, they have inserted into the surreal sets a fairly standard Walt Disney type curtsy romance. Robot guy meets pretty and faceless girl off the space ship that takes him back. Sure, they are in and out of the action, but another plot line revolving around the space station captain who fights to regain manual control of his own destiny is what generates some real excitement, and so the ending reached is worth the patience it may take you to endure all of the time-consuming special effects. Thought some, to be sure, are quite amusing. Still, for me it feels like two movies in one that don’t quite mesh.

Maybe the original Pixar vision got watered down for box office concerns and theme park spin offs. I do know this, glimpsing the idiocy of cloned figures passing their thousands of days away on recliners in absolute predictability, I wanted to run outside the theatre and hug the first real live person I saw, even if it risked my getting mugged.

I didn’t. By then, fortunately I was sufficiently moved by the universal poignancy of a return to earth to overlook the intervening dullness. As for the two robots, yeah, they finally get to hold hands. So Disney. Good news, Dorothy, you can go home again -- back to sound stage E.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Morning Turnabout -- Tragedy to Trophies

Sunday morning not so serene. Had something different in mind. Shouldn't have surfed the blogs, full of mud, mayhem and sad sad tragecy ... Let's start out easy: A young kid named Logan Jacot enters the big top, gets bumped on the head and decides to bear the blood without a Doc. A young trouper to the core, Logan blogs of “death and destruction at Lewis & Clark.“ "Death" marks the passing of a baby goat, "destruction" the trauma to Logan's head. Still, this determined kid, all of about 21 or so, has found a home under canvas. Ironically, he calls it "the only consistent thing in my life. I’ve always been able to count on it to take care of me both physically and emotionally, I hope it’ll always be around to take care of me.”

Then there’s a slightly older chap, Ben Trumble, currently free lancing on the Kelly-Miller lot, chatting on his mud show blog about difficult lots and mixed turnouts, about an operation (now run by John Ringling North II) that is maybe too too nice for some ongoing issues to be resolved ... Heck, who needs the old Billboard or the new Circus Report when we have these on-the-lot troupers willing to tell all (okay, maybe not ALL -- but we're waiting for that, too)... It’s a different world toady ... A keen discovery is circus aficionado Crash Moreau (his blog, Circus Review, is linked to the right), who sees a lot of circuses, writes ‘em up and gives you neat facts about biz and logistics and vital trivia. So far this season Crash has crashed 16 shows – hold that stat for the end, right here coming up...

Surfing the insiders, Buckles pays tribute to the Besalou Baby Elephants as being “the finest elephant act ever trained in this country.” Gosh and “ WOOT WOOT,” as Logan might say, I saw ‘em on Polack in their heyday, and I LOVED baby Opal’s epic tricks ... Wade Burck, the Cage Man, has lots of photos of gorgeous tigers and wonders about some — who are they and who trained ‘em? ... Our King Clown of the Blogs, Pat Cashin, chirpfully quotes Steve Smith on his favorite subject: “Clowning really is snow on Christmas and all day suckers and Never-Never Land.” After the Xmas part, the sentence lost me ...

Now to the Sad Sad Story: Between recalling his leftist youth and talking up the need for humanist imagery in circus animal acts, Trumble (as do others) addresses the horrible murder this last week of Carson & Barnes road office manager, Mauricio Droguett, in a local mall by his estranged wife, Debi. “One family was permanently torn apart. A dozen other families are left to grieve and wonder why?” The circus can’t escape life, nor life the circus....My heart goes out ...

Okay, all this makes me sort of long for a copy of the White Tops. Maybe you, too, need a little tinsel and fresh pink sawdust? Back to the subject of an annual awards for circus performance art. Wade Burck wonders if my earlier proposed titles “the Johnnys” or “The Alberts” (both Ringlings) are a bit dated. Burck suggests "The Irvins" (nice sound) or “The Cliffs” (would the latter be for the most erratically run operation of the year?) And Baraboo’s Bob Dewell wonders aloud if they might not be simple called the RBBB Awards. Hummm, Doc, that sounds like a prescription.

Thus my latest proposal: THE CIRCUS RING AWARDS. What say ye, all three of you out there?

This I believe: If we can find ten or twenty Crash Moreaus who actually go out and see, let’s say, all of about the ten regularly touring shows (not to slight the fringe affairs, but who sees em all?), those people should automatically qualify to receive ballots and vote. It would be an honor system, remember honor before Steroids? We would trust these people, fans or ex-circus employees pledging no current financial or volunteer conflicts of interest whatsoever, to complete a simple form, sign and return. It’s a start, no?

Away from mud and misfortune, back to the front end: Circus Vargas is showing real class in tv ads it's running in the Bay Area. What a surprise! This should be one to watch. Meanwhile, Logan, I’d suggest a hard hat, all except for your ring time. The circus might take care of you -- as long as you are around to be taken care of...

[photos, from top: Logan Jacot, from his blog, Sawdust Nights; Opal, presented by Peggy MacDonald, from Buckles Blog; last photo from Circus Vargas website]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Midweek Midway Mix: Misunderstood Tycoons to Unwanted Popcorn Machines

They’re fighting over San Francisco, of all places, or is it merely accidental? Circus Vargas gets there first, slated to play back of the city’s famed ball park, near where the upscale rich (adult) kids live. Maybe without animals, the show will draw yuppies seeking relief from auto travel ... Then comes the Big One in early September, down by lower class Cow Palace. Carson & Barnes has three rings of live animals and they might have an audience of grateful Hispanics, about the only group left giving birth to real live children in the city by the bay ... I give CV kudos for landing that tony lot by the bay. It alone should draw crowds ... As for the cow barn, it will surely draw PETA — and me.

Victoria, you are gifted 11-year-old contortionist from Asia, adopted by American parents, and you’ve got talent, kid! I saw you last night on television, and you turned a most impressive contortionist routine, with socko climax ... Maybe a shrewd circus producer will grab you for a ring spot, or have you already worked the tents — like other acts I’ve seen on this same show? ... Now, as for those wacky lesser lights who mucked up the program and kept the rejection buzzers wailing, have I got the perfect place for them on a retro-progressive midway:

Step right up, dudes and dames, to the All American Rejects Sideshow! In it, the ten most insulted losers off “America’s Got Talent” each get a platform, and on it, taking turns, we see how long they can last before all three buzzers go off, patrons at the levers. Amusing? I’ll pay to see tacky talent if it’s that entertainingly bad....Yeah, bring it on!

When a stranger knocks: One of the fun things about blogging is never knowing who may e-mail me with inside information, whatever their agenda ... At any time, about one quarter of my visitors are from other countries, which means that I get maybe two or three folks every week bearing foreign points of view. One of my recent drop-bys was communicative enough (his interest captured by something I wrote about Guy Laliberte), to share some insights, so I in turn sent him some questions, which he generously offered to answer by calling me from one of his hang-out countries. And some of you have been buzzing over his account of King Laliberte, which I passed along mostly in my own words, trying to convey as accurately as I could the essence of what he imparted ... What intrigues me the most about big tops are the tycoons who run them. Just how do they make it all happen? Okay, this deserves another paragraph between sips of Rice Tea....

Even though I wrote a book about John Ringling North, and was lucky to interview the man, he remains somewhat of a mystery to me; maybe to himself he was as well. Is my Cirque du Soleil source’s profile of a former boss and colleague fair? Much of it struck me as being roughly on target, so I thought it merited putting out there ... Hear this, skeptics: I ran past the same secret inside source an impression I had formed about the personal life of G.L. based on frivolous Internet gossip, and the source shot down my speculation with persuasive specifics, urging me to steer clear of yellow blogging ...

This impresario seats a customer: Nice touch from a real Ringling, helping an older man to his reserved chair under a tent drawing big houses these days in some New England dates. This according to Kelly-Miller staffer Ben Trumble. The impresario, of course, is John Ringling north II, in his sophomore year as a tent tycoon .... Trills Trumble about JRN II also leading ponies on the pony sweep, his daughter, Katherine, working the moon bounce, “if only people knew what a weird wonderful world circus can be” ... Adds the cockeyed optimist in me, Mr. North evidently has it in him to build up tremendous public good will, linking his circus to the Ringling family legacies, and who knows where that may lead...

End Ring Add-ons ... One of the most consistent Bozo the Clowns, Larry Harmon, died at 83 in Los Angeles ...We learn that Bozo was invented by Pinto Colvig in 1946, for a series of children records issued by Capitol ... Bob went on to train a couple of hundred other Bozos, which is maybe why in my mind, there is no real Bozo the Clown ...In fact, for a while I thought it was a promotional character invented by McDonalds .... Also gone is carnival and circus man Bobby Hakes, from whose collection I was trying to make a purchase. A nephew e-mails me that things will continue in time ... In the very much alive category, another midway man, Dick Dyes, announces his own blog about the outdoor scene. And yes, Dick, I’ll add in a blink once you send me the link ... Lastly, the popcorn machine in the lobby of the Al Ringling Theatre, never meant to be there, is now a mighty removal project, regarding which, according to theatre preservationist and organist Bob Dewel, he and cohorts are “struggling for the money” to 86 it... Hmm, how about a philanthropic request to Guy Laliberte? The man’s pocket change alone, I suspect, could likely restore the entire theatre, Bob, as well as support the entire rest of my mighty one bedroom rental life .....

And what a charity wrap that would be!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday Monring, Looking Back: The Impresario Only Wants Power

This first appeared on July 6, 2008

In the beginning, according to the account of a key inside source, they among the young “team” decided his youth and energy was a good thing, so they together said, “Okay, you be the front man. You be the leader.” And he went out and drummed up interest and money, and he called them from Italy. I have just bought us a tent.

He talked them into going to another country to test their luck away from home. And so they did. And they were a huge success. And they continued to grow and prosper and multiply. And with each new triumph, he became more confident of himself.

He had no artistic ideas of his own, but left that to the others. He listened to them offer their ideas, and then rejected them all. But a week or so later, he suggested the same ideas as his own, and now they were acted upon, all in agreement.

“He had no idea what to say. He is not articulate,” says my source who was there from the start and played one of the most powerful roles. So they gave him his words. He was not a good public speaker, so others spoke for him.

He never had a vision, only an insatiable thirst to conquer more markets and expand his reach.

More and more he began to intrude on the people in positions of importance below him, taking matters capriciously into his own hands, gathering his own people around him, and telling the others what to do even after they had already decided on the policies. And they began to resent his disruptively domineering ways, and they felt a futility, and gradually they left.

“He was always looking to position himself in power.”

In fact, that is the only thing he really wanted. Power and money. Women and money and more power. Every so often, he turned in his current “friends” for a new set — a richer, faster set of global jet setters like himself.

He loved to play with his fortune. He is addicted to the world stage of high risk takers. He revels in playing high stakes poker.

Oddly, his greatest asset, according to one of the now departed founders, is how deeply he allows himself to be influenced by others. But under the ground breaking showmanship they gave him in the beginning, he only repeats the same formula over and over again. He does nothing new.

Who is this Impresario whose only passion, according to my source, is power?

Guy Laliberte.

The owner and operator of Cirque du Soleil.


Returning to Earth, are you surprised? We must think about this from other perspectives, too, for my world-traveled informant, responsible for the above profile, forces us, beyond the Cirque specifics, to ponder the vexing ironies of image versus reality. To confront the mirror of illusions called "life" into which even the most “rational” among us can easily lose their way.

These mortals who bring us magic need not be themselves as passionate about it as we are. The world’s oldest profession comes to mind. A sad truth of life. The impresario to survive must be calculating to a degree. But this too can be said without repute: whatever it is he brings to us is a reflection of either his own intrinsic values — or his business savvy in knowing what the public will buy and how to sell it. Perhaps Guy Laliberte, as my informant insists, is driven only by what fortunes Cirque du Soleil can bring him rather than by what he can give it. Whatever he is behind the scenes (and there are reasons to consider him just as callous as he is portrayed above), he still must be given the credit for the resounding world-wide success of his entertainment empire rooted in circus arts. Brute inarticulate force or multi-talented magic maker, it is Laliberte who makes it happen. Make no doubt of that.

In the beginning, according to my secret source during a global telephone exchange, if there was a single person most responsible for the Cirque du Soleil success, that person was Franco Dragone. (I would have guessed Guy Caron). And even if Guy Laliberte has done nothing more than perpetuate a “formula” like a national chain franchising itself out into more retail outlets, what an astonishing record. And here is where I most differ with my source: Perhaps Laliberte’s genius is in his ability to modify the “formula,” to allow it change in order to, so far, sustain the illusion each time a new show is put up of freshness. So far, the illusion — or reality — has worked.

The modern-day phenomenon that we know as Cirque du Soleil is all designed and packaged and sold from the top down. Twas ever thus in virtually all walks of free market enterprise from cement making to circus producing. And if the man at the top has absolutely no passion for what he is doing, then he is one of the most remarkable business men who ever lived. As long as he can deliver more Varekais and Koozas, to him I will tip my hat.

[photos, from top: Hollywood studio chief Louis B. Mayer groped, drugged and nearly worked Judy Garland to death; Ruthless Broadway producer David Merrick, disliked by many; circus chief Arthur Concello, known as "little Caesar" on the Ringling midway, loved to present himself as doing it "only for the money;" John Ringling North, seen here with Marlene Dietrich at the Madison Square Garden opening in 1955, was viewed by fans as a playboy and absentee owner who had little interest in the circus he produced; Jack Sarnoff, NBC president and notorious self-promoter who took credit for the work of others; Guy Laliberte in 1987 -- who is he?]

For another take on Guy Laliberte, I seriously encourage you to read the comment posted here by Terry Cromwell


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Mid Week Midway L’Amyx: Baraboo to Bucharest ..

Drop the name “Ringling,” and Baraboo’s man for all seasons, Bob Dewel, is the first in line. The retired Doc, still working his finger magic across the Al Ringling Theatre organ keyboard, is advancing merrily towards his 89th birthday. And he faces a new season of Ringling Theatre tours with gentlemanly exuberance. Notes he, in reply to my touting the great Louise Ringling as First Lady of the Circus, First Lady was served divorce papers by husband Albert ... Another local Ringling expert, Paul Wolter of the Sauk County Historical Society, fleshes out the unpleasant inconvenience it caused both parties: “When Al filed for divorce in 1914, Lou surprised him by getting a lawyer of her own and responding with terms.” The marital tension was negotiated back into the back yard after Albert gave Louise $100,000, about the exact amount it cost Al, the next year, to build his visionary theatre — virtually the first movie palace in the entire country. Oh, those Ringlings, even they could be human, too...

... Very much alive, they want you to know, is Circus Vargas (Craig Peters delivering the cheerful reminder). This in reply to my melodramatic wondering aloud what that summer “break” meant. It was just that — and I hope the so-called “flying Tabares” got all the Krispy Kremes they desire so that, when I see the show, they will actually fly as opposed to posturing in mid air like they did when I saw them last year ... What an impressive Bay Area route CV has booked, their star date to be played where Cirque shows, near the S.F. Ballpark (home of disgraced steroid abusers) ... Vargas does San Jose and Oakland, too, daring to play on the latter’s very iffy mud lot where I refuse to go without armed escort ... Vargas is this year engaging Jon Weiss, a reality TV personality, to host a pre-show bash allowing patrons to try out circus skills. Maybe they’ll be ready for the next Celebrity Circus on NBC, if there is to be one ... BTW, Vargas staffer Yasmine Rivera, answering my query about ladies in power over there, describes VP Katya Quiroga, who handles Sales and Marketing while raising three girls, “a pistol on Heels! ....

Covington Connected: Don forwards news of a Broadway offering called Cirque Dreams (which to me, as well as to many others, sounded like another Montreal export) not being from the Guy Laliberte Collection at all. A court room challenge from Cirque du Soleil claiming trademark infringement went nowhere. Court ruled that the word “cirque”is not owned by any one person or firm. Is too “generic” a term. Well, King Laliberte, at least until you rule the world, Webster's Dictionary is still in public domain, and so, too, will you someday be ...
Henry Edgar, a blog’s best friend, liked my euphoria over the discovery of an old musical comedy film, Ziegfeld Girl. “Makes me really want to find this movie and watch it!” And, Henry, if it’s not so hot, your popcorn will be returned by media mail. Well, as said, I joined it 20 or 25 minutes into ... It’s a film that has such great moments that you tend to overlook the other ones ... Speaking of cinema, did 'ya know that Gable once sang and hoofed (he did, it seems) and that Garbo once “laughed.” She did, according to a press agent’s hype in an MGM 1940 sampler tease of upcoming flicks, Wizard of Oz among the treasures ...

About the first international circus festival just held in Bucharest, Romania, in which entire circuses competed against each other, Italian director Raffaele De Ritis shares my enthusiasm. “It really is revolutionary,” says he. “You’re right.” ... I suggested annual awards being meted out in Europe and the U.S. “Lets’ do it!” says Raffaele, proposing an “international commission of true competent circus critics.” Easier imagined than done. Locally, in the USA, surely one of the circus magazines could send out annual surveys to its subscribers seeking participant judges/voters. Circus fans are a very open minded lot, grateful to embrace what circuses are out there, both traditional and new. I say anybody who takes in virtually all the major shows in a given season deserves the right to cast a vote. Base it on an honor system, trusting the voters to be fair and open minded. And let's celebrate the winners: Best Circus of the Year; Best Direction, Aerialist, Animal Act, Clowing, Music, and so on. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

And what say ye to the idea, good doc Bob? I suggest the U.S. trophies be called the "Johnnys." You, of course, would opt for calling them the "Alberts" — hmm, sounds rather regal, ready for the Albert Hall — or the Al Ringling Theatre. Keep your fingers warmed up for envelope-opening crescendos.

Heck, I’ve been neglecting my tea ... See you next time, somewhere "up the road, luvs," as the late great Billy Barton used to say ...