Monday, October 22, 2012

Morning Midway: Ringling Venice Arena Off the Demolition Block -- for Now

Tito Gaona must be flying high today, well, in his mind. His great dream of turning the Venice arena into some kind of a circus museum got a lifeline from the Venice City Council, which this week, as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, "took a big step toward allowing preservation of the former circus arena north of the Circus Bridge when it pulled $250,000 in demolition costs out of the budget."

This grants Gaona's restoration group "some breathing room."

Mayor Ed Martin sounded still skeptical of the cause. The Circus Foundation has failed to fund its admirable if highly impractical goals. To former Ringling pros, the site holds great sentimental value. To others, what exactly? And why another spangled walk-through when they've got the extravagantly funded Ringling juggernaut up the road? Gaona has been at it for seven years. Only $30,000 has been raised to date; much much more is needed.

"They are giving us a chance," said Gaona. First priority is to repair a roof that leaks.

The tasks ahead are daunting. As required by Federal law, the operation, whatever it might turn out to be, would have to be a revenue producer for the airport fund because it sits on airport property.

Mayor Martin was impressed by the 200 people who appeared on a hot day, ready and willing to pull weeds. "It deserves as much latitude as we can give."

Beyond that, Tito's dream remains, if I understand the situation, a fragile fantasy. How many circus museums can this country sustain? And pardon me for asking, but is Venice, Florida a destination?

Sorry to sound so skeptical.

original posting date lost

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Anonymous World Out There, and What to Do with It ...

About a year ago, I gave serious thought to not posing comments by Anonymous. A few considerations held me back:

The internet is rife with anonymous remarks. Without them on some websites, there might be very few, and the dialogue might not be nearly as interesting.

In the circus, in particular, the community is so adverse on the surface to issuing criticism of circus shows (other than, perhaps, Ringling), that the only route for some who do have opinions worth considering but for whatever the reason can't or won't reveal their names, is to conceal them under the Big A. I well understand the social culture in the circus community and the limited outlets it offers for vigorous debate.

However, I do not post all comments by the Big A. No profanity. No personal attacks on others; taking issue with what somebody has said does not constitute a personal attack in my opinion.

Believe it or not, the second most visited posting on this blog, if my blogger stats are to be believed, is "Two Views of Carson and Barnes," which came out two years ago. I posted two very different points of view, neither mine, one positive and one negative.

I just got a comment from the Big A that I did not post, even though it contained a lot of stimulating juice and heat, because the contributor callously dismissed the idea of African Americans being able to perform in circuses. Not just insulting but rather ignorant. Yes, yes, yes, there are very few blacks in our circuses, and I have long pondered why. But how can you discount evidence in the affirmative, such as the Ayak Bros, whom Cliff Vargas brought over. One of the few modern day ringmasters who really impressed me, although I have only see him work once, is Calvin "Casual Cal Dupree," originally from UniverSoul. I have seen a few comedy ground acrobatic acts (one on UniverSoul) there were sensational. I saw a decent high wire troupe from South Africa on the same show, too. I think John Ringling North II presented a lively African troupe of tumblers two or three years ago. Some said it was the show's highlight.

Why there are so few black performers in the circus fairly mystifies me -- as it may the African American owner of UniverSoul Circus, who pulls his cast from many nations. I have given up trying to figure out why.

I will continue monitoring my space on the midway.

Circus World Museum Hires, Finally, a Librarian ... Atwell Photos Coming to a Computer Near You ...

Date first posted is lost.  A guess:  2012

Baraboo is back in its own spotlight, touting the installation of Peter Shrake, previously with the Sauk County Historical Society, to head up the Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center. He's got a two-for-one title, archivist and librarian.

It's about time, Circus World!

The news issued by Seve Freese, also revealing a second appointment, that of Baraboo business man and "circus enthusiast" Ralph D. Pierce , brought on board to undertake digitizing 1,377 glass plate negatives snapped by famed Harry Atwell, whose images were used by circus press agents of the era. Time line ranges from 1905-1930. An anonymous donation from a private donor is said to have funded these appointments.

Best of all, we will very soon be able to access Atwell's work on-line, as soon as "a month or so."

The goings on at this non-accredited museum can be puzzling, if not mystifying. Me wonders if Circus World fears being left in the dust as the Ringling Museum of Circus in Sarasota continues its empire building, and as the aggressively emerging Milner Libary at ISU in Bloomington makes a bigger mark on the world with its own formidable photo collection starring the superlative color work of Sverre Braathen. Plus, they've got a huge collection of books, more, says librarian Maureen Brunsdale, than her Sarasota rivals ...

Big Top Bits: How to return danger, or its illusion, to the big top: Cirque du Soleil hiring Canvasland Levin of New Zealand to produce a large cushion for emergency landings by aerialists during Japanese earthquakes. These modern pads, made of nylon, said to allow a performer to fall on front or back side, "in any position without risking injury." ... A Cirque high wire act had been grounded owing to high probability of afterwhocks. The advanced cushions were rushed out to Tokyo so the act could continue ... There is new promise here, that perhaps one day a circus will perform over a surface underpinned by such padding technology, thus allowing for the elimination of the unsightly and demeaning mechanics. Or maybe by then, some other inventor will have devised an invisible mechanic. OK with me. Just don't tell me when it's being used. I'll take a good illusion over a bad reality ... Water for Elephants, if I read the box office figures correctly, fading fast ... Circus Historical Society's Virtual Library adding scans by Robert Spivey, Hal Guyon, Jr., Judy Griffin, and Bob Cline ... The group's annual convention to spread sawdust over For Mitchell, Kentucky, June 6-11, during The Amazing American Circus Poster Exhibit in session at the Cincinnati Art Museum ... Here's a spiffy little top that gives off a breezy old canvas smile: Culpepper & Merriweather Circus's brand new blue and white beauty ... Carson and Barnes Circus this year celebrating its 75th anniversary on the road, John Ringling North II, his fifth ... That means, in Ringling time, he has three more years to get Kelly-Miller circus onto the rails ...

How geographically clever am I? At the moment of this posting I am on Am tracks, not that far from from Baraboo. Guess exactly where? See you up the rails, slow-speed fans ...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Flashes (if there are any) ... Come In and SEEEEEEE!

Randomly served, if you will ...

Count 'em -- not ONE but TWO Grandma clown clones:  Mark Gindick, right, at the Big Apple Circus, Circa 2010, and Matthew Pauli.

Grandma lurks in other rings, yes she does -- in this instance, Mark Gindck handling the role originated by elsewhere occupied Barry Lubin, who, as you know, "retired" from Big Apple Circus last season. Grandma recently seen by Dan McGinnis, Sr., reviewing Big E Super Circus for Circus Report.  Not sure about Gindick, but I've seen (best guess) the work of Matthew Pauli, who turns in a dandy grandma. And I'm told there were others! I guess the character is licensed by Lubin, and does that not mark a first in world circus history?  Here we have a specific character being cloned on down the line. (There have, believe it or not, been others.) Sure, you could say that Emmett Kelly had spin-off imitators.  I wonder what would happen if a non-licenesed funster decided to appropriate Grandma? ... With any luck, we will eventually see ...

Triple somersaults on high were flown by Terry Cavaretta, to the tune of 17,445, which she claims are the most ever executed by any flyer.  Terry, who still works trapeze, now teaches it, too, in Las Vegas, where the Flying Cavarettas  appeared at Ciircus Circus for 23 years. Sorry for spoiling this thread by stating that, having once walked through Circus Circus, what a dreary place I found it to be.  There she is, age 5, at the outset of a legendary career in the air! ...

Are you still with me? ... Bill Taggart back at work on his Bandwagon series about touring with Ringling-Barnum during their last years under canvas, selling tickets -- when, the Big Show, if we are to believe Bill, did not operate as etthically as for years it claimed to. Bill was taken aside and told how to short change the public at the ticket window. Bandwagon shows grit in opposing the legendary (myth?) of Ringling's dogged honesty in dealing with the public.  I still stubbornly subscribe to that claim (or myth), and there is plenty of evidence that John and Hnery Ringling North, up to the fall of the big top, were trying to weed out corruption against the public. But we await what Billy Boy has to say on the matter.  His previous account is persuasive; Art Concello was no longer around, but some will call me incredibly naive for believing that Art would have operated any differently.

A New York Shame! ... They are touting what looks like a fine exhibit, "Circus and the City," but why so short a run?  Or, might I say, why only during the winter?  Display is up only through Feb. 3 ... Can another book about the Ringlings, much of it murky fiction, grab a market?  Herb Ueckert in CR, apparently having enjoyed his read of Ringling: The Last Laugh, seriously rues the book's weakness on solid  research.  This tome, written by  Michael Lancaster,  dishes up the epic life of John Ringling, a life that in my quarters screams out for a great movie, which I have argued too many times already. But, please, still stay with me. The routinely tactful Ueckert notes, "the work is an entertaining read and definitely receives a 'thumbs up'." ...  On Amazon, the book gets three 5-star reviews, two of them from first-time reviewers to Amazon.  And while I find that suspect, it is also possible that here is the basis for a movie, BUT, I am only speculating, folks.  When it comes to a library near me, I will be all over it.

 Zhang Fan.  Big Apple Circus photo.

Big Apple Circus opens today in Gotham.  DC date seems not to have been reviewed.  Hold on!  I'm going to right now goggle up reviews, and here will be my tally:  NONE (that I can find, other than suspect bloggers on the shill, some pitching tickets). But website photos, setpiece and a jolly looking ringmaster all look terrific ... Early buzz might be that show favores the kiddies, but did it not do the same last year, and did not artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy go on record as wishing they could attrack more adults, such as circuses in Europe do? What goes here?  Lineup, however, above all such quibbles, looks boffo.... Inside sources discretely convey to me that show is still struggling to stay financially afloat.

But the photos look fabulous.  On this promising note, let's cut and run ... Let this one go out rough, photos due in on the Second Section. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Enter the Classroom Circus Amateurs ... Their Numbers Are Rising -- When Will They Rise Above Recital Status?

End of Summer Wrap Up, which is never really a wrap up.  "Same old same old" is not a nice thing to say, so I must I must try saying something like "same new same new."  These days, I've been feeling as if I'm sinking into historic quicksand,  and it's because I am more and more getting a sense that the "commercial circus' (is that an oxymoron?) may be sinking itself -- under an emerging world-wide academic circus, from school to school to school. 

There are, I've heard (pardon my lazy awareness) hundreds if not thousands of class rooms round the world in which youngsters dabble in juggling, take a crack at trampoline with spangles, join up for test shows and experimental shows and youth summer shows and what not  -- most of them never going beyond the summer of their big top dreams.  Or they end up, please be assured, the academics tell us, on cruise ships or in Vegas vaudeville, or abroad.  Not under Kelly Miller Canvas.  Rarely, if ever, inside Big Apple's world class rings.

Don't say "circus for self-esteem," because a legion of veterans now at the chalkboard are finding new careers spreading the joy of acrobatics and aerial arts.  And out of this new paradigm, perhaps, may evolve the next big circus epoch, if there is to be one.  You can be certain it will be far less visceral, more cerebral.  

Here's my apologia, or pragmatic perspective:  I buy tickets to see touring professional shows (just a word to carve out a broad category), and so I have lived out of the radar of the academics.  Let me draw an unflattering analogy between what we will call (not a word I drop smugly, but with respect)  "amateur circus" and "amateur theatre."  The latter, more often called "community" or "regional" I am well aware of, because there are hundreds of booming local playhouses in which fine actors deliver plays and musicals in high style; many thespians, with the right nudge or roll of dice, might have made it on big boards -- there just aren't enough big boards for them all.

Segue to "amateur circus.  Here's the deal, or I should say the big gap.  I practically never derive the same top-drawer satisfaction from a student circus show as I do from a local amateur stage company. For one big reason, circus soars on great tricks. Theatre comes with dialogue and songs, pre-composed, the materials proven time and time again.  Easier, I declare, for an amateur singer belting "That's Entertainment" to get a rise from me than for a fledgling juggler to take me to the clouds.

Take the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. There I saw, for the first time, the stage version of Cabaret.  A wonderful show, expertly directed, well acted.  There I've seen rousing stagings of chestnuts like Annie and Oliver, so well done, as to approximate a professional theatre-going experience.   Of course, the actors come with those powerful  time-tested materials.

Around amateur circus rings, it just ain't so. Sorry.  There are the notable exceptions. Even though Traces, which long ago opened in San Francisco, impressed me, even though it had some good acts, it was the exception, Id' guess, not the rule.  Even Circus Oz, when I was putting up with it, did not always have what one might call professional acts. It compensated with a subversive hip on its shoulder. 

Where am I going here?  Are you still with me?  Let's continue this thread tomorrow or the next day or the next ...

* My recent intersecting with some very nice accademics out there.

* The schools that do produce, big time.

* Ooops, I started out alluding to standard shows forever on the edge of insolvency. That, too, will be addressed in due time, I think.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Raves Around the World Continue Rolling In for Showbiz David's New Book


Big Top to Classroom -- England to New England -- Germany to Jersey --  The raves keep coming for David Lewis Hammarstrom's penetrating look into the circus as it is today -- and what it might become tomorrow!       (*new reviews, just in)

The book's World Premiere at the Silent Auction during the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival in Monaco last January

*  "Fascinating! ... Something we need in these changing times more than anything else."
          -- PLANET CIRCUS, Germany

 "Step right up for a visit to the American Circus - there could be no finer guide than David Lewis Hammarstrom ... His passion for sawdust and spangles bubbles from every line but - a rarity among circus writers - he's as quick to point out the rubbish and rip-offs as the wonderful" 
          -- THE STAGE, London

  "I eagerly read this book - as a circus arts performer and instructor I found it entertaining, and as an academic educator I found it very useful. This book strikes a fun balance between history and gossip, critical guide and personal insights into the diversity that is the world of the modern circus show." 
          -- ELSIE SMITH 
             ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, 

 "Bold and ambitious ... Timely and provocative ... It is difficult to disagree with most of his views." 
          -- CIRCUS REPORT, USA 

"A thought-provoking book ... how circus, particularly American circus, has changed and developed over the past 50 to 60 years, this book is packed with information and opinion."
          -- KING POLE, UK

"Roll up, while you still can, to the greatest show on earth! 'fresh, alive, magical and compelling.'  Along with the author of this fine volune, I urge you to buy tickets for the world of sawdust and spangles before it's too late and circuses go the way of steam trains."
          -- THE DAILY MAIL, London 

"Once in the audience, how can viewers evaluate what they see? ... A concise guide ... Hammarstrom's memories are vivid, and his enthusiasm is infectious" 
          -- CHOICE

"A good show! ... This engaging study functions as a sort of everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-circus-business-today-but-were-too-mildly-nostalgic-to-ask."
          -- SPECTACLE, USA

"His appraisals of changing circus trends under American big top apply to the world circus scene absolutely."
           -- CIRCUS ARCHIVE,  Germany

Dare you deny yourself a copy of the big top's new bible? 

Dig Deeper
 Dream Smarter 
Go Inside the Changing Circus

Monday, October 08, 2012

Saturday Slush Pile, Sweet & Sour ...

From October 8, 2012

Three Dots . . . dot dot dot . . . and away we wobbly go! Warning to the clear of mind: This may go out un-spell-checked, so fasten your safety belts for some weedy prose ahead ... Vegas Vanishers: I rue those mortals, like the great Wally Eastwood, who sell out to Nevada neon, meaning we never see them again. The fabulous Anthony Gatto emerged from the mist of Vegas to re-submerge into the mist of Cirque du Soliel, but there I saw him, and there I thrillingly beheld. ...

From Circus Report reviews, I usually don’t expect anything less than "best ever" — such as "maybe a twee bit less than terrific" or "merely wonderful, demand your money back" (if you paid any) — but at least they usually provide a concise listing of the acts, giving me a sense of where a show is, and, sorry to rue, Carson & Barnes seems not to have advanced an inch away from its now-standard one-ring format, what with the same ringmaster, et all. I’d hoped the show would mirror its marvelous website makeover, but no ... A nice Circus Report bonus are its center folds, which can be quite pictorially alluring, they can. Came across one, seen here, that took me back to the Big Show under white canvas in the 1920s during Grand Entry. All those showy costumes. Three rings. Crowds in the seats. But --No, No, it did not! Upon closer examination, 'twas a photo of the 1973 spec in a building, with guy wires lending then impression of a tent -- such a striking contrast to where this show has gone ... Has it a future?

Feld Family Intrigue: A big story in the Washing Post about Kenneth Feld's tutoring his three daughters to take over as producers, which they already have. I hear he’s keenly into the dump truck follies; oops, make that the Monster Jam thing. Girls seem each to bear potentially complimentary personalities ... I’m guessing that Nichole, at only 34, oldest of the sawdust sirens, will end up in control, aided by siblings Alana, 32, and Juliette, 28 ... “Observers wonder if they are up to it,” writes Thomas Heath, “or, not, whether they will leave behind a company with valuable pieces to be picked up by competitors.” Indeed. The Feld of Feld’s “biggest unknown” reveals he, is “what is the next big thing that may not exist now? Will they see it?” ... This huge organization continues to astonish and baffle me, it is so sprawling and, judged by the moderate turnouts I have observed in the Bay Area, so under-patronized as to make me wonder how they pull if off ... Corporately speaking, they might be Giants.

I’m cracked as hell, and I’m not going to crack em’ anymore! Yes, about my anti-peanut pitch rants. Well, not if John Ringling North II has he way. Previously, he’s tempted me to break peanuts with him together during a visit, to which I am invited, upon a day at Kelly Miller, which I, now shy of the backyard, may never see. Now comes, in the mail from John the Sequel, a copy of this year’s program magazine (lovely to look out – let whomever designed this REDESIGN your HUMDRUM website), and a genuine package of Peterson’s “Gourmet Nuts and Snacks” Salted Peanuts. Unopened, there it lays at the salty edge of my monitor .... When I have reason to celebrate, I will crack back. ... Behind the Big Top, my first tome, gets listed on Amazon like all the others, selling for as high as $242.18. Does anybody really pay that much for a book? Same book also can be had for around 20 bucks .. Go figer ... Montreal Magic: Up there, they put on a big circus festival in July, drawing from troupes and artists in European ring capitals. So close, and I wouldn’t have to fly. Next year, I must, I must ...

Under His Radar, Gossip Monger, Me? That’s what Kelly Miller’s tiger guy, Ryan Easley (Radar) thinks, as witness his reaction to a story I did about an elephant connected to our nationally revered, big top trend setting, one-star Ticketmaster rated Piccadilly Circus testing positive for the Big T. Here comes, what, me in reverse? “Repeating unsubstantiated rumors with nothing other than press quips from extremists as evidence does nothing but continue to destroy this industry you profess to love and classify yourself as a gossip-monger, uninterested not in the true story but rather to glorify your petty criticism of all those not meeting your unrealistic vision of the real world.” Oh really? So, now, a circus review from yours unruly can amount to a world vision. I feel honored, World. Actually, the item in question came from the Bangor Daily News, forwarded to me by (hardly a gossip monger, he) Don Covinton. If you wish to send me your rebutting evidence, Ryan, please do, and I will be most obliged to blog -- one hand on my mouse, the other on a nut ...

End Ringers: Did you know that John Phillip Sousa started out in a circus band, around 1867? I didn’t ... A smaller Bandwagon? I wonder why the Circus Historical Society, especially while they are hustling to catch-up on back issues, needs put out so many pages? The Sept-Oct issue last year numbered a whopping 76 .... Okay, see you down – or up the road – kids, as Billy Barton used to kind of say at the end of his CR columns ...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Beauty of Baseball: When Champions Look Like a Bunch of Kids Off a Hardscrabble Lot

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I decided not to listen to today's game pitting the Oakland A's against the Texas Rangers, afraid "my" sometime team would lose. I am a fair weather fan. Years ago, when I was building my model amusement park rides, I'd listen to the games, glued to the radio, for they were decently in contention -- my only diversion into the world of pro sports, which on balance I (call me a snob) disdain. All those lying steroid fakes, bloated beyond humanity, pulling in millions and never enough.

Downstairs to pick up a UPS delivery, UPS guy was gazing at his smart phone, asking me with excitement if I was following the game. The score --- nine-to-five he said.  I was swept up with hope.

I remember, years ago, in 1972, watching them play at the Oakland Coliseum under a clear blue fall sky.  Those were world series years, and I was there courtesy of my employer.  They played to perfection, as nimble and smooth as ballet dancers.  They seemed to own the game so effortlessly.  Catfish Hunter. Rollie Fingers. Vida Blue ... a string of legends. 

Back up here, I turned on the radio, and those astonishing guys from no where came through in triumphal fashion.  Most of all, I think I'm happy for Billy Beane, who himself failed to fulfill his early promise as a player and moved into management, and has stuck with this club.

The lowest team payroll in baseball beating out one of the highest paid. And I hardly know their names. Some are colorful, like Coco Crisp.  Could a Hollywood agent have come up with a better name?

And now, they seem miraculously like a crushing brigade of unstoppable miracle hitters and pitchers.

I'm renting the movie Money Ball again.  It's a great film.

A great day in Oakland. A great day for baseball.

Monday, October 01, 2012

How is everybody out there doing?

Somebody on a jazz station here is singing one of my favorite songs, "Laura."

Then, to a Netflix offering -- Hollywood in the 1930s.

Lots of work rewriting a musical, the composer based in NY.  Lyrics are my favorite form of writing.  The challenge you set for yourself, using a dummie melody of your own (the composer won't hear it, but only see the finished lyric) to help you set sail on words words words. Some kept in, many tossed.

One of the songs we did, "Let Go" was written to a Santana melody.  Composer was not told.  He caught the latin spirit, and it soars.

Have a good evening, drive to the next lot, walk to the post office or store, visit with friends.

Feels like the circus just left town.

At the Sonoma County fairgrounds, when I go up there, sometimes to write, now that I once again have the whole place to myself , I sit at a table under a chorus of eucalyptus trees overlooking a large grassy area where once the Clyde Beatty Circus came to Santa Rosa, and I was lured into the punk gang.

Days long ago.  Under shady trees, hosting sawdust memories and Broadway dreams...