The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp

The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp
Currently Reigning Champion at 4-1/2 Stars, Zoppe Family Circus Wins the Crowds with Heart-Warming Tradition

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Ring? Big Apple Circus Goes Topless at Ballparks

First stop on the Big Apple Circus Havin' a Ball Tour: Aliance Bank Stadium, Syracuse.

How desperate are they? When I think of a circus appearing at a ball park, I think of Ringling-Barnum after the Hartford Fire. I think of Ringling-Barnum after the fall of the big top, during its first "indoor" years making do at fairgrounds and ball parks.

I do not think of something very magical, glamorous, or exciting.

I once made Don Marcks not very happy (actually, more than once) when I expressed my lack of interest in watching a circus at a ballpark. To Don, any true blooded circus fan would be quite happy to see a circus anywhere.

OK, so enough. This is about Big Apple's latest make-do effort (and maybe not such a bad one) to stay on some kind of a road in some form or another. Give them credit for wrapping it all up in pretty prose full of snap. They're calling it "Havin' a Ball Tour! ... From the Big Top to the Ball Park!" I kind of like that.

Heck, they could do worse. They could day-and-date Kelly Miller on those circus lots from hell. (Thanks, Steve, for keeping us amusingly apprised.)

Four one-night stands will find the circus giving 8PM shows from July 13 to July 19, the at-bats slated for Syracuse, Rochester, Eastlake, OH, and Lancaster, PA. The tentless tour is being co-produced by BAC and ESI Concerts,the latter specialists in booking acts into minor league baseball stadiums.

So it's back to sawdust basic. Ring to be spotted "right at home plate." Maybe Grandma will pitch.

There is some good news. Seems that the current roster of acts will take to the field. You can also bank on a "genuine ringmaster" and "a full sized live band."

"We couldn't be more exited about bringing our distinctive style to these unique settings," chirps artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. "We've got lots of surprises planned and we can't wait for our turn at bat!"

We were promised a new regime. Is this it? It feels strangely simple and innocent and promising all over again, like they are back at ground zero starting out, hoping that maybe someday they can get themselves their very own tent and put on a real circus! Circus Bella, you may soon have company.

Last stop on the summer tour: Clipper Magazine Stadium, Lancaster, PA.

PS.  The tour was thankfully aborted.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Water For Elephants" -- I Have Questions, Call Me Dumbo

When Water for Elephants is Netflixable, I think I will take another look, even though I have little interest in seeing it again, but it left me with so many questions. I tried to follow along, perhaps there is still much about the mysterious world of sawdust, spangles, and S&M that I do not yet understand. Here are some of my questions and confusions:

* Clumsy scripting? Why is the first issue to be raised that of elder abuse (the older Jacob disoriented on the Circus Vargas lot, grousing about uncaring children and the senior home in which he lives), or is this cameo intended to subliminally prepare us for the issue of elephant abuse that lies ahead?

* Fabulous product placement for Circus Vargas! Cheers to the Nelson & Katya Quiroga-Tabares, assuming they did not have to pay a fortune (usually the case) for images of their posters vividly prominent in opening scenes. Maybe the show, in return for use of its setting and facilities, landed the lavish exposure. Whatever, that draggy opening scene gave me early doubts, and what followed did not allay my doubts. Why is the subject of circus life so botched up and misrepresented in so many second-rate films? Why?

* Am I to understand that red-lighting (yes, I know about it) was done on a mass scale? Now, that's new. I thought only now and then, a bad apple causing trouble or daring to ask to be paid at the wrong time might be accidentally bumped off the end of the train. No? In Water, our effervescent circus owner August periodically rids the ranks in almost Hitleresque fashion. Whew!

* Battering the heads of young boys trying to sidewall into the girlie show annex, not a tad harsh? Maybe it was just the Three Stooges-type sound effects, which sounded strong enough to effect on-the-spot lobotomies.

* Who might the character of August have been based on? Ben Davenport? He comes to mind, even though I can't believe he would carry on like August, except, of course, maybe when a lone bad apple needed the red light.

* Now, as for the young idealistic Jacob getting forced into the role of elephant trainer. Can a guy really learn the trunks overnight? This puzzled me the most. I can't recall him getting any instruction other than how to administer a bull hook against an errant elephant.

* As for the voice commands in the foreign tongue that produced exquisite compliance from elephant Rosie, incredible? I know there was a Gunther Gebel Williams who shouted out voice commands, although I always kind of assumed he had help from assistants closer to the pachyderms working bull hooks (excuse me, PETA people, for dropping those two words that bring out your warm loving side). If Water is historically accurate, that means, as I see it, that all anybody has to do is stand by the ring curb, pronounce the words loudly, and Rosie will perform precisely and perfectly on cue. Oh, the magic of circus -- even I could be elephant king for a day!

* The elephant as the star attraction who saves the show by bringing back crowds? Sorry, but this tired old circus cliche needs to be permanently retired. Did Gargantua save Ringling in 1938? In fact, can anybody name any act that ever really "saved" a circus? (other than, of course, The Great Sebastian)

* The way Benzini Bros. performers move in slow motion, it made me wonder if maybe Cirque du Soleil had a unit on the road touring the dust bowl for pennies in 1931? And as for the more contemporary music, I am having a hard time finding it in my Rudy Valley collection. The work of another thirties crooner, perhaps?

* Owner-dictator August, evilly envious of the Ringling boys (ok, a very funny running gag), seems to claim that he too is running a grift-free show, or did I miss something? Considering his rather brusk operating procedures, I was disappointed not to see a full scale Hey, rube! converging onto the lot. What a climax that might have produced. More convincing, I think, than the stagy escape of animals from the menagerie, which reminded me, however superficially, of the final scenes in Day of the Locust -- or (you name your favorite disaster flick).

* About Benzini's tough boss, am I too assume that circus owners in the past were as sadistic as this riveting monster? Heck, he makes Charlton Heston in The Greatest Show on Earth look as edgy as Mr. Rogers.

* In fact, has any circus owner ever possessed such sinister charisma? Or, at least, so entertaining a sense of humor?

* Why the tent being brought down by law enforcement cutting the guy ropes? This is a new one to me.

* At the end of the film, we are back at Circus Vargas, and it appears that Jacob has landed a volunteer job taking tickets. How touching it would have been to actually see him doing the job. And maybe seeing August rushing the lot in a drunken rage and getting red-lighted off the next Amtrak train out of town.

* Finally, a poignant regret. Know what I feel? A great sadness for a film that could have been great. Why oh why another missed cinematic opportunity?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Water For Elephants -- Violence Trumps Circus in Depression Era Film ...

Christoph Waltz, a circus in himself

Welcome to the circus from hell, the new movie just out based upon the novel of the same name, Water for Elephants.

Red lighting to your right! Animal abuse to your left! And in the center --- or only --- ring, the meanest SOB who ever blew the whistle or ran a red-light train. He's foundering in debt, in need of a star attraction to bring back the crowds, sound familiar? His lovely wife has wandering eyes for a Cornell student majoring in veterinary medicine, out of money and house in the Great Depression, his parents having just died, he having jumped aboard a train in the middle of the night in search of salvation somewhere else, finding himself in the sleazy, creepy clutches of Benzini Bros Circus.

You want realism? You may get more than you want here, and I'm accepting that circuses once operated like this one, violently on the fly. Terrifically cast Christoph Waltz, who runs away with the film playing August, a sadistic circus owner with a morbid sense of humor to boot, may earn an Oscar nomination for best actor, unless his sheer ferocity is deemed too over the top. He brings the strongest dramatic presence to the film. Reese Withersppon as Marlena and the slightly affected Robert Pattinson as Jacob (overly prone to stilted facial posturing) deliver, well, serviceably well.

Movie plods along without a strong pulse in the first hour (an early scene on the Circus Vargas lot of today puts too much footage between us and the story). Somewhere into the second half, the action-intense scripting takes off and goes for the gut, whatever its depth or lack of. By then, August is onto something up between his wife and Jacob. And he will not let go.

From there, tension builds neatly into fears and depictions of mass red lighting, climactic fights between Jacob and August, a mass escape of animals from the menagerie into the tent (the rather formulaic look of a disaster epic), and August's attempted strangulation of Marlena before his own demise, cleverly at the trunk of a suspiciously cued elephant, calling to mind something out of maybe Disney's Dumbo.

I felt strongly engaged by the end, even if, outside, I was also left with a bitter taste in my mouth. In many ways, Water for the Elephants is a downer. PETA will love its depiction of animal abuse, whether accurate or not.

Circus movies that aim for high or low drama tread a difficult path, largely because "circus" action is itself not violent or brooding, but in fact the very opposite. Something like trying to turn Bambi into The Silence of Bambi.

Historical content of scenes -- side show banner lines (tops), wagons from Baraboo, flats and tents, all look marvelous. Stylized interior big top scenes of performers at work are a mixed bag. But then again, this is not really a circus movie-- unless you wish to view it principally as a veiled indictment of animal cruelty under a sadistic big top.

It's a somewhat disjointed affair that may hit pay dirt too late. My rotten tomatoes prediction? Let's say around 65%

What the critics are saying. A slight majority favor the film. Here are some excerpts:

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "The film is so bland that it made me long for 'The Greatest Show on Earth,' the 1952 DeMille extravaganza that used the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. That movie left you feeling as if you’d enjoyed at least one roll in the sawdust. "

David Germain, Associated Press: "Elephants' is a three-ring bore."

Michael Philips, Chicago Tribune: "the unexpectedly good film version of 'Water for Elephants' elevates pure corn to a completely satisfying realm of romantic melodrama."

Rotten Tomatoes so far gives it a 54% rating.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twitter Time: German Circus War "Shootout" Over Lot Space Leaves Six Injured, Rival Big Tops in Disarray; Baraboo Rues Lost Role In "Water" ...

Regensburg, Germany, NewsCore via Covington Connected: Here's one for the books. Two German big tops battling it out over the same lot space, the ruckus ending up in gunfire, injured personnel, tent poles, canvas and props in lovely abstrat disarray. Each of the "warring circus clans" reported to have camped out and dug in on the eastern fringe of the southern German city of Regensburg. In fact, on about the exact same spot.

Hey, Rube! One victim left with a bullet wound in his leg, five others, ages 17 to 15, being nursed for modest to moderate injuries. Report is sketchy, not naming the circuses, naming only one Helmut Brumbach, seen above, a "circus director" surveying the damage. Police evidently not buying the same-lot rivalry angle, calling events provoking the melee "a complete mystery." Among items seized in the wake of the sawdust war were three guns, several knives, batons, and brass knuckles. No hula hoops were found.

Baraboo Blues: Circus World Museum's Steve Freese ruing the town's having not been used for location shots in the movie opening tomorrow, Water for Elephants. He had imagined a parade down Baraboo's main street, midway scenes filmed out on the nearby vacant Badger Army Ammunition Plant. His plans, which charmed the director, were nixed by new tax laws signed by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle disallowing tax breaks for out-of-state film companies. Thus, film producers shot away in Tennessee, George and Southern California ... Circus World handed $350,00 for its scholarship, use of wagons, etc, in the movie. Half of that to be used on --- guess what,kids?!? -- YES, more wagon restoration. Meanwhile, me fears the Thimble Theatre, rotting away in a deep freese, will remain callously, criminally neglected.

Water for Elephants opens tomorrow; I'll be there for the first screening. Can't wait. Have avoided all reviews; it's a challenging thrill watching something with no preconceptions colored by early reviews. Look close, you of the spangled set, and you'll see P.T. Freese at the runs helping to unload wagons. So, too, Circus World's long-time restoration man, Harold "Heavy" Burdick, with the museum since he was 19 ...

Twitter Tips: Another Big Apple Circus exit, this being general manager Scott O'Donnell, who is reliably rumored to have resigned, reason not rumored. The show's website still preserves the grand old order, Paul Binder's name way up there, just below that of another soon to be ex, executive director Gary Dunning. There is some kind of drama lurking about and around this precariously in-limbo operation ... Let's fly away! A wing of the Wallenda family inked to appear in one of Discovery Channel's upcoming TV docs, in which, per Reuters, "audience will follow the Flying Wallendas." Sure ... CFAer Richard Tuck of El Ceritto, CA, founder of a tight little charm box of a museum walk-through, Playland-Not-at-the-Beach, gone at the age of 63. A sad loss. Tuck's colorfully diverse collection mixes remnants of San Francisco's old Playland-at-the Beach amusement park with, among other side novelties, the model circus of the late Don Marcks. According to one news story, Tuck was the owner of Circus Chimera. News to me. He likely held an ownership stake in the doomed show and, as I understand, for a period helped to promote it from his home base. Told months ago that he had terminal cancer, Tuck took the news in cheerful stride: "I'm going to party and have fun if I only have months to go, what a way to live them!"... Tito Gaona, in Venice, FL last Saturday at the old Ringling arena he is campaigning to turn into a a circus museum, raising money for the project and celebrating second annual World Circus Day. Does anybody out there, excepting Steve Copeland, even know that there was such a day? Now you know, twee!t tweet! ...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Inside Job, the Movie: How Much Lower Can U.S. Greed & Corruption Sink?

This is a film well worth your time. Powerfully clear, probing, to the point.

You have already heard that the scoundrels who got us into the mess (there's two, maybe three of them up there) were retained by two administrations (sorry but corruption crosses party lines) to save the day, the country, the world. Mostly, to save themselves and their millions.

Now you can view up closer many of these shameless con artists on parade (but not yet on parole) in action. This film's spot-on commentary is cool and patient in its pursuit of the few players who agreed to talk (not one of the principals cooperated). It nonetheless places the crooks at the scene of the crimes before each was recruited to clean up the mess by selling more lies to shake down the Fed for bailout money. Most of it they doled out to their Wall St. cronies, to the lobbyists and high-priced whores who gilded their monumental misdeeds with perks aplenty.

Americans may not realize the money earned by well-placed economic professors serving on Wall Street boards. Conflicts of interest? Not as they see it. Nor do some of them feel that their consulting services need be a matter of public record. This give Inside Job additional reporting brilliance. Harvard University's Larry Summers, until recently director of the White House economic council, was a key obstructionist in preserving the deregulated norm, a norm that remains largely intact. Examples here of the whoring that goes on between the banking industry and academia are breath taking.

Kudos to writer- directed by Charles Ferguson, who manages to make less obtuse, if not totally understandable, those mysteriously complex "derivatives."

A few months back, I decided to watch ABC-TV's version of a Sunday morning news program, and to give George S., not one of my favorites, another chance. And who in the world did he have on that Sunday to offer expert financial analysis and insight on the ongoing economic crisis?

Alan Greenspan, a chief architect of deregulation.

It just never ends, the loathsome spectacle of naked incestuous greed from Wall Street to the halls of congress to the nightly news. Virtually all of corporate America participates, prolongs, rearranges shell game settings on the U.S.S. Titanic. We were told that those toxic banks were "too big to fail," and had to be broken up so that such a horrible thing would never visit us again. Right! Well, the bailed-out banks are now not smaller but bigger than ever.

Next time, I suppose, they will tell us, "The United States is just too big to fail." Good luck on that one.

I feel sorry for the young people who will inherit the sins of their selfish parents -- that is, if there is a country left to inherit.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Carson & Barnes Circus Does Something You Won't Get From Big Apple, Vargas, Kelly-Miller or Cole -- Tell Me What Before You Read Me!

The last 3-ring Carson and Barnes big top goes up in San Francisco, 2008

Those fearless touring Byrds -- Barbara and Gary -- are now shepherding their re-designed one ringer into California, with Bay Area dates due up in mere weeks.

This means I will get to the see the show this year.

Not until now -- oh, the epochal epiphanies life has to offer you if you just live long enough -- not until now has it dawned on me that the circus of Dory Miller is alone among our main-line tenters (save for, I suppose, UniverSoul) in at least one formidable respect: It tours across the seasons from COAST TO COAST. It, ladies and gentlemen, is truly a national American circus. And I should know, having more than once gotten off a bus or train a few miles out of a city some where -- be it in California, Illinois, or Texas -- to walk another mile or two in search of its tents. No wonder I have developed a penchant for long ambling strolls.

Carson and Barnes Circus, thank you, Hugo, makes it out to my state usually every two to four years. They reach down into Florida now and then. Last year, they may have wished not having reached. I've done a little cyber digging and can link them to at least one New York state appearance in recent years. Not sure if they ever invaded New England.

Big Apple Circus, ever since its inception in 1977, has hovered shyly in a tidy little region, focusing on New York city, a jump down to Atlanta (gone this year), a few dates into New England, and that's about it. And what a strange irony; of all shows, this once-prosperous, critically respected, corporately well funded outfit should have made dates on the west coast. I could never figure.

Cole Bros. Circus of Stars makes an annual slate of visits up the coast into New England, and then back down a little west, but not too far, into New Orleans and back to Florida.

Circus Vargas is a mostly California show, infrequently booking Nor Cal stops; when founder Cliff Vargas ran it, he did try eastern dates, at least as far east as Chicago, a hellishly difficult town to crack. He may have reached New York state one season. But he struggled whenever he left the golden state. In fact, he did so poorly that, in desperation it would seem, he defaulted one year into a string of arena dates and nearly lost his shirt.

Kelly-Miller Circus, these days, casts its routing nets a little wider, after kicking off in Texas and wandering eastward up into the Boston region; maybe they will yet nibble on the edges of California, combining a few SoCal dates (assuming they can nail down suitably challenging lots -- sorry, those offended, I just couldn't resist!) with a few Arizona frames. Historically speaking, when Kelly Miller last played California, decades ago, it was Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. I saw it

But to Carson and Barnes goes some kind of credit for sheer trouping guts. Here is a marketing opportunity possibly overlooked by C & B; then again, is there such a thing as a "press agent" working on any of these shows? Somebody might concoct a way for C&B to tout its national routing reach. Jack, pro bono for you? My mind is already spinning, but I'm not going to go there. Conflict-of interest quicksand. Eddie Howe could have a field day fitting just the right few words into a bouncy boast.

Anybody want to create an apt slogan for the circus that dares to tour virtually the entire United States?

Beef up your bi-coastal ballyhoo, big top Byrds!

The multi-talented Rinny family appears this year with Carson & Barnes

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Twittering the Facts: Circus Bella Tours Utah; C & B Takes Calif.; Vargas Lands Hollywood; Boston Critic Calls Big Apple's Latest "a Misstep"

Jumpsuit Jugglers: the Circus Bella way

They're on the move, tweet! tweet! Big tents and baby tents. The Ring springs eternal (oops, I promised up there just the facts) ... Oakland's own Circus Bella, new kid on the midway, landing a slate of dates in Mormon country. And giving them away ... Carson & Barnes enters California this Friday at 29 Palms. Trouping northward from there, wearing one-a-day hearts again, headed, so far, my way. Hope to see the Byrds in berets, tweet tweet!

Big Apple Circus, going where? Up in Boston, Herald critic Jill Radsken went to work posting her positives in a notice laced with telling reservations: Among the qualms --- just the facts, yes! -- "sometimes it does fall short of its own high standards ... circus-goers may be left feeling as though producers simply ran out of ideas this season ... perennial favorite Barry 'Grandma' Lubin was very much present, even if under-utilized ... Comic Mark Gindick replaced his clown act with repetitive dance moves, and let's be honest: Gindick can't boogie." ... Twittery implications: Not much of a sendoff, that, for new man artistically in charge -- Guillaume Dufresnoy. Read on....

Twitter Alert! Inside Gotham source forecasts press release from BAC, guts of which suggest the circus of Paul Binder (himself now certifiably retired) may be slipping itself onto a path of premature self-retirement ... Tweet!

Circus Vargas Plays Hollywood: Show, tenting up in tinsel town May12-16, may enjoy product placement (based on the video tease) in new flick Water for Elephants, soon to hit the screens. I'm all atwitter with Greyhound bus ticket in hand ... Also new to the screen is a flick, Circo, just given high marks by the New York Times, said by reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis to paint a very mixed picture of a typical small struggling Mexican family circus, not every member of the family thrilled with life under a little top. Sayz Catsoulis, film "offers a touching chronicle of a dying culture harnessed to ambitions that remain very much alive. Never mind the declining attendance, collapsing economy, backbreaking debt and intra-family emotions; to Tino his circus is still the greatest show on earth." Twitter this not: "It soon becomes clear that the animals are not the only ones who are caged." Oh, those loyal and loving Mexican ring types, tweet tweet!

Maybe Circus Bella has the right formula. Keep your day jobs and coordinate vacation time to play spot dates in Utah. Just don't call yourself The Book of Mormon Circus ... Twitter me out ...


Sunday Morning, Looking Back: Who Are They?

Irving J. Polack and Louis P. Stern
founders, circa 1930, of Polack Bros. Circus

From difficult times, a star was born

combining thrills with carny corn
One man started out with a pan
The other glad-handed, signed and ran

Kudos to Steven!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Filming "The Last Great Circus Flyer" Reaps Surprising Rewards. Here's One, from Miguel to Phil to Me to Boyi to You ...

What a thrill to receive this photo from documentary filmmaker Philip Weyland, at work on his project The Last Great Circus Flyer about Miguel Vazquez, seen here a week ago looking at one of my books at the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota.

Miguel was the first to spin four somersaults from swinging bar to catcher's hands, and he spun them with remarkable consistency for well over ten years above the world's greatest circus rings. To my knowledge, no other aerialist has come close to matching Miguel's record and achievements.

When Phil began the project back in 2009, he interviewed me in L.A. on the subject of trapeze history in general, Miguel in particular. Work on the documentary, updates Phil, is "proceeding nicely," with many interviews completed and a number more scheduled. The Hollywood-based actor expects to finish shooting in the next six months. I can't wait to see how Phil shapes his vision into a finished film, and, of course, I hope he lands outstanding placement on TV.

I sent Phil's e-mail to my friend Boyi Yuan, sharing with him my excitement and telling him of Miguel's first quad being turned in Long Beach, CA in 1981 on my birthday. "His big day is also your big day," replied Boyi, who on his own did some clever computer digging and discovered a wonderful YouTube of Miguel competing at Monte Carlo in 1990, the year he and his family won the Gold Clown award. Amazingly, I have never seen the video. I found it very moving. Here is the link:

I can't recommend it enough. There are three things to study here that brilliantly highlight Miguel's mastery and superb artistic delivery:

1. On an evening of high drama, Miguel misses catching the quad on his first attempt. He returns up the rope ladder to try again. Camera closeups of his face as he applies yet more rosin to his hands and then carefully positions himself for another take off reveal the steely confidence and resolve of one phenomenal performer.

2. Miguel's angelic form is finely controlled, as controlled as that of a Russian ballet dancer. Follow the singular line of his body, of how all of his limbs conform, nearly perfectly, to one fluid stream. At Monte Carlo before an astonished audience, the triumph that fate finally hands Miguel -- he and his catcher, brother Juan, connect perfectly on their second try! -- makes an astounding feat feel even more astounding.

3. This flyer never once over-reaches for the crowd's approval. His approach is more subtle (think Pinito Del Oro or Gunther Gebel Williams) -- as if he desires not to detract from the art he so magnificently represents. In the afterglow of his achievement that historic night, Miguel appears to be looking graciously upwards in thanks to his own personal God. You are in the presence of a greatness the world may never again witness

Oh, to have been there at Monte Carlo that night of nights! To have shared in the victory! Another asset are views of the audience itself. Those who witnessed the event, I take it, were themselves some of the circus world's most gifted contributors -- be they performer, director, owner, producer. Prince Rainer III, who founded and hosted the annual festival (viewed by many as the most respected of its kind in the world), can be seen at the judges table.

Prince Rainer III presents the Gold Clown award to Miguel, center, and his family at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival in 1990.

The heights to which the 17-year-old circus star ascended earned him overnight acclaim, The Chicago Tribune declaring, "Miguel Vazquez may be the world's best athlete."

I'd say he was. Thank you, Miguel and Phil, for the photo. And thank you, Boyi, for finding the YouTube, which reminds me why we go to circuses, forever hoping that somewhere, somehow, another Miguel Vazquez, in the air, on a bike, with clubs in hand or a wire to scale, will magically appear ...

Miguel Vazquez today, seen here at center, flanked by Katya and Nelson Quiroga and Circus Vargas trapeze performers, November, 2010

[This and photo at top courtesy of Philip Weyland]

Monday, April 04, 2011

Saturday Scraps: Carson & Barnes Eyes Calif.; Cole Adds More Seats; Feld Pays Clowns Big Bucks; Kelly-Miller Slogs On ...

Starting, well, where to start? Rather amazing to read that, according to Big Show boss Kenneth Feld, his fun makers start out at around $40,000, and that's not per decade but per year. How times have changed; once, the new Clown College grads landing contracts to wiggle and giggle in pretty poses survived on far far less, and then still owed the paymaster for space on the train, etc. But, hey, I'm reading this latest from a London source, Market Watch, reading that, according to the Feld of Felds, "there's no limit to the salaries that can be earned in the circus." Spin it fine, Mr. F. BTW, sayz he, get out of your greasepaint and into the cannon, where you can "expect to earn a lot more."

Californians can see 'em down in Bakersfield, this side of the grapevine hump on the way to L.A. Carson and Barnes booked to spread hay and pitch peanuts at the fairgrounds on April 20. I predicted they'd scale back to single day stops. I hope they hit Bay Area markets, too -- they have a way of rampaging in and out of the Golden State in a red-light flurry ... Cole Bros Circus of the Stars, out of the barn and hitting the seaboard routes north, talking up not really much in the way of new acts to the press. Show's touting a pair of buffoons, one named Stephen Smith, a former firefighter with a dozen seasons clowning around. Here's the most impressive claim: Said the show's marketing man, Chuck Werner, to a news scribe, Cole is sporting a new tent "with better seating capacity." If better means more, I'm impressed ... Johnny Pugh, recently rumored offering to sell his trick to Barbara and Gary Byrd, apparently is doing something right. Anybody who adds more seating capacity deserves some kind of an award ..

Gotham rip-off leaves Bindlestiff's stiffed: Highly credentialed, highly recommended "Event planner" Hickey Shields, promoting a four-day Coney Island celebration that drew raves from the locals, is not drawing the same from Brooklyn's Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. Shields hired the group to perform and add color around "cheesy children's rides," but still owes them a balance of $26.000. Not a small amount for a troupe whose annual operating budget is in the $150,000 to $200, 000 range. They aired their discontent on Disgracebook: "Hickey Shields cripples Bindlestiff Family Cirkus." Other free lancers then surfaced with similar claims.

On the Steve-Ryan trail at Kelly-Miller: Modest crowds are finding plenty of spare seats to spread out in. On one recent lot, not particularly well patronized, the sponsor, as recounted by Steve, "gave a long winded guest ringmaster speech before opening" Quipped Ryan to his partner, "They can't sell a ticket, but they can talk for half an hour!" ... I say, hire Mr. Hickey Shields and bank on larger crowds, but not necessarily on larger profits ... Ah, the compensating joys of circus life! ...