Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Friday, November 29, 2013

Broadway's Troubled Spider-Man to "Turn Off the Dark" for Good on January 6 ... $60 Million in the RED. Vegas-for-Rehab, Next Stop.

Musical May Set Record for Greatest Investment Loss in Gotham History 

For those of us who follow the epic ups and downs of Broadway,  the heroic desperation of producers in the face of scathing reviews to save a troubled tuner can be quite compelling. Big history about this points to near-inevitable flop outcomes.

Previews for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, as some of you will recall,  were panned by a few critics breaking ranks with a tradition of not issuing opinions until opening night. They just could not help themselves, I suppose, from gloating over an epic turnkey in the making.

Such pre-opening trauma does make for fun, unless it's a show you are in.

Circus Director Called in to Save Reckless Aerial Show

This lead to the preview version being closed down for major reworking.   Direcotr Julie Taymor, of Lion King fame, was fired, and, to the rescue, came former Ringling Bros. Circus stager, and a very good one, Philip William McKinley to implement fresh direction, working with a rewritten book by a virtual unknown hack with hardly a track record to speak of.  The latter, to me, spelled trouble.

The revised version officially "opened" on June 14, 2011, to a groaning mixture of grudgingly so-so reviews.   The moppet market, opined the critics, might mop it up and make it click, well, for a few years maybe. On that count, they were spot on.   But the money pros guessed that the odds for turning a profit on so expensive a production were virtually impossible.

For an impressive streak, the retooled Spider-Man, with less-hazardous aerial exploits, seemed to be proving its harshest critics wrong.  Business looked good, in the 80% and above range, but then a slippage at the box office began to settle in, ominously.  When a show, ball park guess here, hovers around the 70% mark, and some weeks falls below,  you've got trouble on your hands.  Too many weeks below 70% tells me it ain't gonna last very long.  (Cinderella, stuck in this sub-par category, should not be around for long either.)

Spider-Man held on longer than I estimated, given a mediocre box office. They kept pouring more money into the losing venture.

Julie Taymor: Now the Kiss of Death?

Came the reckoning in late August, this year, when ticket sales slumped too far south.  Around that time, they tacked back onto the marque the  name of the show's original director, Ms. I-Am-Director-Hear-Me-Roar Taymor.  Possibly their last act of desperation was to bank on Taymor's name rebooting ticket sales.  Didn't happen.  Show will close on January 4, then head for Sin City, hoping to turn around its fate in a scaled-down staging with smaller nut, recoup the loss and eventually make hay..

So far, they are $60 million in the hole, estimates The New York Times, as reported by Forbes magazine.  Even then, they've hauled in around $200 million in ticket sales..

Vegas likes flash and motion -- think Liberace and Cirque du Soleil.  Perhaps the show will find a more eager audience in Sin City, where other such aerial-intense offerings from the Montreal monster are still, I assume, reaping big bucks.  Insiders don't sound too confident.

A road tour?  Ooooo, so expensive to mount.  And who will come?   But a flop on Broadway can so easily be a "hit" anywhere outside of New York City.  Funny how Americans love Broadway, no matter what it sends 'em on tour.  Just one opening night (how I'd love one myself, truth be told), no matter what happens the next day, can make you a legend.  You were there. And "there" marks you as a player.

Tell-All Book Promises More Excitement

Broadway's giddy post-mortem celebrants are lapping it all up.  Seems. that Ms. Taymor has an ego equal to a thousand Spider-Women.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times by David Ng, ""Song of Spider-Man" is a tell-all memoir about the contentious behind-the-scenes drama that dominated the most expensive show in Broadway history. Written by Glen Berger, who co-wrote the script for the $75-million spectacle, the book provides a juicy insider account of artistic egos run amok."

Did I tell you about what fun it can be watching Big Egos along the Great White Way Rising and Falling?

Spider-Man could never turn back the odious onus of a doomed date on Broadway.  As for the theatre-circus angle, talked about in the beginning.  Rarely works out.  The harder they try, the harder they die..

Some of us who've never been there are laughing a little.   Nothing quite like the smug darkness of a flop over the Great White Way. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Memories: I Still See the Magic, Still Hear the Music ...

Sunday Morning Looking Back: First published November 22, 2009 

Cool cool day here in Oakland. Looking over bits and pieces getting ready to brighten up (or dull down) this post, past and present march side by side in my many-crowded brain. Beatty may crack his whip. OVO from Cirque du Soleil, yet to be seen in SF, may charm -- or fool ...

On the lots and on the blogs, images of yesterday and today parade in crazy juxtapositions keeping alive a dialogue inside my dithering brain: What is circus? A photo of Otto Griebling on Margaret's Circus Anonymous blog brings me to a late breaking realization: Most lovably amusing come-in clown I’ve ever seen. So lucky to have been there. Talk about characters, which is what the best clowns are. Otto was so close to real I’m still not sure he wasn’t just a harmless bum allowed to stick around the show ....

On Balloon Man Dick Dykes midway, bright-as-sun photos of lusciously gaudy side show banner lines bring back memories of standing inside 10-in-1 tents under hot and heavy canvas over real grass. Maybe Cirque du Soleil will default to a retro side show if they fall off the stage; that's where they’re headed after trying out their latest in Chicago, something called Banana Shpeel that sounds like Kenneth Feld thought up the title. Tense present tense: Early unhappy audience reactions during Shpeel previews sound ominously similar to what Cirque’s Vegas illusion show Believe suffered when it first opened. Now, if they flop the proscenium test at the Beacon Theatre this February, what next. Rodeo? — World Wrestling? Here’s what next may be, something featuring this Indian hoop dancer, Nakota LaRance, from Flagstaff, Arizona, recently hired by CDS to appear on one of its units.

What makes a ring star? I still feel the magic, thank you Anthony Gatto, reading about your dedication to your juggling. Interviewed last March by BaltimoreGayLife.Com, revealed the hoop and club wiz, his daily training includes two plus hours of practice, a 3 mile jog, weight lifting and pre-show stretching. “I’m not saying every juggler has to go through that. There are a lot of different styles of juggling. My style is very high technical with a lot of numbers in the air. In order to keep those items aloft for so long, it does take some power [and boy do YOU have it] so I do have to do some other things besides the actual activity of juggling.” Of particular pride to this Brooklyn born dynamo? “My greatest accomplishment was winning a gold medal in 2000" [at Monte Carlo].

Upside down at Zing Zang Zoom: Yes, that's how the picture was meant to hang.

Pleasant present tense, continued, down the Covington chute: Nice critical nod for Ringling’s Zing Zang Zoom from the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones, who enjoyed himself. All, that is, except for a few spot-on caveats with which I cheerfully concur: Jones found the disappearing tiger act, while OK, not as fulfilling as “seeing the video screen that dominated too many prior editions disappear.” He was thoroughly irked, yes irked!, by the illuminated “blackout-killing concession booth,” which he wished they would also make go away. “This seductive grotto of high-priced plastic is tolerable at intermission [agreed!]; making kids drool and parents hang on to their billfold for the entire show goes way, way to far.

Wheel of Death, take a break! ... That’s the other Ringling thing our Chicago critic said he could live without. Seen it a million too many times, and so have I come to think about it. It's grown a little too standard, except for the rare daredevil who can turn it truly breathtaking (Go see Kooza).

Last Man on the Lot: Wistfully nostalgic Bill Taggart, having recently attended the Show folks of Sarasota memorial service for Ben Williams, feeling a pang over all those with-it and for-it souls no longer with us. Bill’s penning for the Bandwagon about his days on Ringling as it stumbled towards big top oblivion in Pittsburgh. We just got ‘54. Now I anxiously await ‘55, for that’s the first and only time I ever saw Big Bertha under the big top, up the road in Richmond, CA. Now, if Bill’s diary has anything on the Richmond date (the day before they faced an ugly line of Teamsters' pickets at the Cow Palace in SF), he’s not letting on. My one day of old Ringling magic. Okay, Bill, if you have to, make something up! ... For the guy who then sold tickets in the yellow wagon, all the people he so fondly remembers working with are now gone. “I now realize that I am the last living person from the front end of the Greatest Show on Earth. Rudy Bundy, Edna Antes, Nena Evans, Theor Forrestol, Noyelles and Hilda Burkhardt, Bobby Hasson, Bob Reyholds, Walter Rairden, Bobby DeLochte all those wonderful circus veterans all gone...”

On summer days, sometimes still I imagine myself standing outside that beautiful blue spread of designer Ringling canvas on a hot August afternoon and listening to the band play on while butchers ran in and out to restock their coca cola trays inside a small side top ... That evening, I would be inside taking in the circus of a lifetime. The next year, it was gone. But in this mind of mine, it still lives vividly on ... To OVO or not to OVO? Okay, I still fall for the hype. I’m coming, with apologies for unfair expectations. I come from out of the past ...


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Minus the "Wow" Factor from Cirque du Soleil: Obtuse, Humorless Amaluna Continues the Company's Ominous Decline

Circus Review:
Cirque du Soleil - Amaluna
San Francisco, November 17
Tickets: $70 to $270

All photos by Yannick Dery (accent / Over E), from the San Francisco Chronicle 

Midway through the second half of Cirque du Soleil’s latest effort (stress effort), I felt as if I were sitting around, half bored, at a party already over. Sure, the laser lights still flashed on and on. Hip young revelers flexed sexy limbs in glitter gear. Some flew back and forth on swings, having fun showing off with little to show. A band of hard grunge rockers kept the room noisily (if not obnoxiously) alive.  And a couple of quibbling fools seeming to believe they were funny — they weren’t — would not shut up. 

A few of the honored still hung around, long enough to offer a little artistic relief: An ambitious and winning group of diablo and risley performers from the Middle Kingdom.  A woman who works hula hoops as a gifted juggler, sans the belly dance part.  Party of dudes spinning terrifically off springboards in novel maneuvers that truly captivate.  And a  mean machine of a man who juggles balls with cool dexterity, if only he could let a little emotion slip through.

Why did he leave me feeling so detached?  Hour later, it struck me: He, like too much of the blasting rock music (such rock never works very well on Broadway, either), came off as totally joyless -- which, in my book, borders on the inhuman.  But then again, that may have been the role assigned him.  Keep in mind, there is a story underway here, something about a woman undergoing a "passage to womanhood" that is said, per program notes, to pay tribute to Shakespeare's The Tempest "along with Mozart's The Magic Flute."  And that director Diane Pulus references the venue in which she is directing to be  "theater." As rendered, our two young star-crossed lovers compose something inanely superficial.

The high points in circus on display here tend to be diminished inside a theatrically overwrought tent. Altogether, everything else between and around which they have to perform gets oppressively in the way, that is — unless you prefer special effects over the accomplished artist.  Unless you swoon to the magical lights of Cirque, to its exotic costumes, its moody abstract interludes, and its obsessively silly clowning (executed to death here by two annoying characters) that can stop the show, but not in the flattering sense of the term.  Of all Cirque's touring shows that I have seen, and I've seen them all, to my eyes and ears this was by far the weakest.

It's an operation that wants to be too many things all at once: (1) visual feast — (2) body movement ballet theatre in no particular hurry  — (3) rock concert, if only they could have signed Mick — and (4) , yes, a little circus. Stress little.  Am I exaggerating a certain lack of the wow factor in Amaluna's path?  The program magazine I have in hand illustrates at least  two acts no longer on the bill, nor could I find any names in the insert containing mug shots of the artists linking any of them to the two missing acts -- low wire and unicycles.  One is left to ponder what may have happened between Montreal and San Francisco.  .

My most memorable moment is not a flattering one. While watching a woman working a stack of bamboo poles by getting them into the air and balanced in a floating formation, the execution of which took forever and ever, I felt strapped to a school desk being lectured to for an hour by a science teacher on the movement of molecules through space.  Never have I felt so imprisoned by boredom at the circus -- excuse me, Ms. Pulus, at the theater.

Watching the disjointed Amaluna, it is not too difficult to understand why this company has suffered a series of monumental flops in recent years, and we are talking high profile shows slated for 10-year runs from New York to Los Angles, China to Vegas.  

Cirque du Soleil made a name for  itself  “reinventing” circus, and that it did brilliantly, thirty years ago come the New Year.  They may still be able to turn profits from a wide spectrum of takers -- newcomers to the tent dazzled by the visuals; snobs who hate “circus;” the "new circus" aficionados anxious to believe they are seeing a much higher art form; circus fans willing to endure narrative  nonsense in order to enjoy gold class artists -- but those acts aren't nearly as evident these days under the high-tech "Grand Chapiteau."  

My last great Cirque experience was the gloriousl OVO, four years ago. What a joy it was, and what great circus.

Cirque King Guy Laliberte may need to give up poker for a season or too and revisit his roots. His next great challenge might be to de-invent his company back by a decade or so.  From everything I have read and seen, my best hunch is that Cirque's recent string of fiascoes may all share one thing in common:

Over produced
Under talented

Overall rating (out of four stops tops):  2 stars 


Monday, November 18, 2013

Out of the Past: Copeland & Combs Leave Kelly-Miller: Steve Talks About Their Days on the Show, From Pay Scales to Coloring Books.

Showbiz David Interviews Steve Copeland

When two young clowns named Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs,  who teamed up while working on the Ringling show, were hired by John Ringling North II in 2009 to produce the laughs for his Kelly-Miller Circus, they joined on with a degree of skepticism,  not knowing exactly what to expect.  But Steve was reminded by a Ringling clown of having once cracked, “I’d never work on a mud show!”

He’s not sure he ever said that, but he and Ryan faced a whole different set of circumstances in the great outdoors, much of it in the mud -- a totally different experience from appearing  in city arenas with the Big Show  The boys, you might say, had fallen from the Fields of Feld to the House of Ringling/JRN II version.

Who pays the most?

The bargain offered a tempting pay off: “We were making substantially more on Kelly-Miller than we were on Ringling.”

It helped them adapt to under-canvas life, playing to hundreds rather than thousands.  “A month into our fist year,” recalls Steve, “we had already decided that we enjoyed being on the show, and we definitely wanted to stay for a second year.”

He began blogging about the day-to-day details of trouping, and quickly drew an appreciative group of followers. He did not hold back on unflattering matters, such as bored or snotty audiences (cell phonies came in for put downs, from funny to scathing), or depressing days when the customers didn't come. But, when he told us about surging crowds, about straw houses and rousing tent-wide laughter that  greeted  their work, we, too, could savor the happy moment. Could feel his joy.  It was not spin.  It was real.  This gave Steve’s blog a raw vitality. Came a second year, and a third, and then a fourth and fifth, and they were still with Kelly-Miller. The blog evolved away from realism, from its early tell-it-all grit to a more upbeat  focus on their work in the ring and their personal lives.  House size estimates vanished. Management feared its bottom feeder rivals taking note of lush little markets.   Management conveyed these concerns to Steve and Ryan.

Precarious beginning

“If I can be honest, I thought the show was very weak our fist year,”says Steve, in reply to one of the questions I sent him, all of which he answered.  “I definitely think the quality of the show has improved since 2009.  Ryan and I tried our best to add to that quality over the years with our material, props, costumes, and talent.”

If the boss seemed to favor a static turnover in talent, bringing back the same faces year after year, this did not bother the more artistically ambitious Steve, a soul driven to innovate, albeit it, one might advance, sometimes mired in a surfeit of knockabout slapstick.  Some of their brutal attacks on each other, Three Stooges style, can be gloriously indulgent, bringing to mind the Fumagalli brothers. Others, like their big teeth gag, can seem mechanically executed, more clever than amusing, failing to deliver the big payoff one might expect from these inventive funmakers.   But, back to North's arguably static showmanship;  says Steve:

 “I don’t think that’s particularly strange in the circus business.  I can think of other shows that have almost the exact same program year after year, save for maybe a different clown.”

Color me unhappy

In the beginning when Steve’s blog let it all hang out, there were stressful moments that he did not shy away from recounting . For my money, the worst of all were those nagging coloring books that the guys were expected to sell.  It was clear that Steve did not relish the task, and when relived of it a season or so later, you could feel his elation.  

So why, last year, did the boys take back the concession they had so despised?  “Going into our fifth year, Mr. North and Jim Royal asked us to sell coloring books during intermission.  I didn’t feel like a negative answer would have dampened our chances of renewing our contract, but after how good K-M has been to us, we felt it would have been rude to say no.”

Insulting Intermissions
The funny fellows were all along, it would appear, coming to grips with  the realities of American circus trouping –  away from the few exceptions, be they Ringling or Big Apple. In fact, it was Big Apple Circus’s  current ringmaster, John Kennedy Kane, who helped persuade Copeland and Combs to embrace the advantages of pitching the crayon-ready books.  Kane, says Steve, is “one of the biggest advocates for clowns selling coloring books, and he actually sold us on doing the job while he was  filling in for John Moss as ringmaster.”

The task could be fun, and it could be “the pits,” concedes Steve. From his encounter with fans, he did harvest  “tons of funny quotes for my blog.”  What he didn’t relish was having to deal with  “rude or angry” customers.

Enter accidental agent John Ringling North II

Came Circo Vazquez “with an offer we couldn’t refuse.”  It might not have happened at all without the curiously unorthodox assistance of their own employer -- yes, John Ringling North II.  Earlier in the season, North told the fellows that Vazquez was interested in them. The gesture marked, in Steve’s words, “an excellent example of what a stand up gentleman he is ...one of, if not the nicest men I have ever worked for.”

There were awkward laughs to share when Mr. North approached them after learning that they had signed with the Mexican show.  ‘Now, I’m not trying to get rid of you guys!  You can stay on Kelly Miller as long as you want!”

Maybe one day they will return.

Circo Varques will compensate them with “a substantial raise,” and they will do a post-show photo concession, a gig they themselves solicited.   “We had seen other clowns doing the same thing after the show.”

“We had a good run on K-M, but after 5 years we felt it was time to make the next stop in our career.”

“The creative freedom that Mr. North and Jim Royal gave us can not be overlooked.”

Triumphal Texas premiere

His warmest memory?

“I fondly look back on our first two shows with Kelly Miller in Brownsville, Texas.  We had two packed houses full of cheering people, and we absolutely brought the house down with our sink repair gag. That was when we knew that we had a shot at making it in the business”

His digital diary has marked a new kind of living circus history, to be sure,  more-so in its early years.

Will he continue blogging over at Vazquez?

“Indeed, I will!”

Long term dreams?  “my ultimate goals are Big Apple Circus, and major circuses in Europe.”

“My greatest dream in circus .. is for me and Ryan to continue making people laugh using physical comedy.  I’d like to go farther in my career than I ever imagined when I left Ringling and I want to keep the forward momentum going.  Onward and upward!”


[The following does not apply to this posting of 7/5/15] On Wednesday or Thursday, I will be posting a print-out of the complete e-mail interview. It will  not be placed at the top of the blog, so you may have to scroll down a little to find it.  I will post a note to this effect, however, at the top of the blog

First posted November 18, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Monday Wake-Ups: Rat, Rodent , & Pickpocket a Hit at Big Apple Circus ... New Circus World Boss Floats Big Ideas ... Cat Competition Videos a New Rage ...

A little levity from out of the past ...

Late breaking!  Another Circus du Soleil aerialist falls ...  Reported the Los Angeles Times Sunday evening, "... another mishap in Las Vegas last week when a performer fell during a show ... The accident Friday came just three days after regulators slapped Cirque with six citations alleging work-safety violations connected to the death of an aerialist during a performance of "Ka" at the MGM Grand in June."  Performer fell from the ever-hazardous Wheel of Death, and is expected to leave hospital in a few days.

 Pickpocket for fun makes hay with rat and rodent at Big Apple Circus 

My eyes on a certain rat and a certain Rodent named Bob, grabbing Gotham glee at Big Apple Circus’s new Luminocity, which is coming out to the usual rosy notices.   Waxing high in The New York Times, declares reviewer Laurel Graeber,  “A circus that can keep a rambunctious toddler rapt for two hours deserves praise. But an even greater test of quality is whether it can entertain a jaded grown-up for just as long."  Mission accomplished.  “Luminocity succeeds on both counts.’‘ ...

One of the delights amounts to the slyly simple: pickpocket- magician Pierre Ginet tossing an “amiable rat” into a trash bin, the amiable survivor, like any good NY rat, very much alive, reversing the snub by emerging into a far larger size.  “Big Apple fans,” writes Graeber, quite tickled,  “will recognize this as a capybara, the world’s largest rodent.”  Didn’t I tell you how Gotham went a gaga over Bob a few years back – that’s the rodent’s show name. Bob.  “And what could be a more appropriate place for the biggest rodent on the planet than a Dumpsters in Times Square?” asks the astute critic.  Those 42nd Street rats are lionized like stage stars ...

Don't go any further, yet!  Tell me what you see:  A.  Nebraska  Hay Balers Cooperative?   B. Donald Trump's Private Badminton Court?   C.  The Affordable Health Care National Calling Center? 

Is anyone still wanting to “restore” or “revive” or “rethink” the value of the old Ringling arena down in Venice, FLA, after looking at the sterile structure, above, of what still stands following a virtual demolition? Come on now, are you telling me you see circus in that thing?  I see a NASA parking garage. Wrote a local scribe,  “they tore down the wall, but left the basic structure,” which is like saying they struck the big top but left the stake holes in the ground.  What I see conveys absolutely nothing. It’s over, Tito, over.

Onto an abundance of atmosphere, still standing triumphantCircus World Museum’s new — or latest big boss — Scott O’Donnell, floating big expansive ideas for jazzing up the place, and, kudos in advance! He did not mention restoring another circus wagon, from what I read.  A start in the right direction ... He wants to restore for public display the old train barn in the backyard.  I’ve seen it, thanks to Heavy, who gave me a tour of the place, and it's an industrial show stopper.  So symbolic of early Ringling on the rise ... Highest on Scott’s list is bringing back the Great Circus Parade ... Also, he talks of building a new exhibit hall, as if they need another, projected to be “interactive.”  This designed partly to fill the big void left by a sucking sound south (to FLA) of numerous Feld-owned  historical goodies, alleged to have only been “loaned” to Baraboo many years ago.  Now being called home, home being the new Feld Entertainment headquarters just north of Sarasota.  Well, okay, if that's what they say.  I guess.  I suppose  But I do wonder if  the freight charges south were paid for by one Mr. Tibbals. As they say, follow the money ...

End Ringers: Cavalia, the horse troupe I stupidly predicted would meet with an early demise, still touring, now in DC showing off its latest, ‘Odysseo.”  They found their grove, I think, when they brought acrobats into the mix, thus crafting something much more than a horse show — closer to the original Phillip Astley modern-day circus invention from old London town.  Since then, I've detected various configurations of this latent reincarnation, promising indeed -- sometimes the tumblers coming first, other times the horses.  ... Circus cabaret “La Soire” previewing off-Broadway, itself a growing playground with ticketing for smaller alternative circus troupes reaching for the upper class.  Show hits the sawdust November 7. ... BTW: Did you know that one Italian automaker, of the Lamborghini line, refuses to hire a single robot? All-human all the way ...

Or, did you know that Cat Video Festivals are now purring across the land?  Precocious felines compete for a variety of awards offered by various venues, from the Golden Kitty to The Golden Litter Scoop – and what do they do to woo the judges?  Circus talent scouts, take note: One stares into a mirror.   Another attacks a sheet of paper coming out of a printer.  And, as seen above, possibly one of the trio of concert divas, recently observed “nodding in unison” to a passage from Mozart.   Paws of perfection, coming to a symphony-circus program near you soon!  You cats bearing medals, you have options  ... And soon, you'll have the agents I could never land in a million moons.

First posted November 14, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday, Wake Up! Drunken Disco Dudes Steal Circus Llama ... Big Top Therapy Hits Sarasota ...Circus Silly -- Kid Shows to Geeks, Freaks and Goons. They’re All on the Inside!

Night out on the Circus:  Bordeaux, France scene of silly crimes: Five drunk disco dudes, bored, stealing away a Llama from a French-Italian circus, taking it for a streetcar ride.  Chased by police, thieves escaping off to a place called Comedy Plaza.  Circus owner drops charges after Serge (the llama) is returned to the ring, causing an uptick in business.  Anything to get warm bodies into cold seats.  “I have nothing against these lads,” says owner, charmed by the theft’s unintended consequences. Makes me wonder if so whimsical an act wasn't staged as performance art?  But don’t count on Serge making it into next year's Monte Carlo Circus Festival  ...

A new breed of big top bureaucrat on the rise:  Heck with the phone rooms, turn yourself into a “conservatory” and go for corporate funding, et all.  Big top as therapy is the latest greatest angle.  Out of work, over the tent performers finding lucrative callings in bogus self-help classrooms, public sector funding a boon..  Remember Circus Sarasota?  It's now “The Circus Arts Conservatory.”  Seems they have so many many vital things to do -- people to rescue, self-esteems to save, causes to address in sympathetic spangles -- that “circus” is a narrowing insult.  If lucky, they might get pitch time on the Pledge Break Society (PBS), offering  more big top broccoli in lieu of the hated cotton candy stuff.  Freshly repentant group traces its roots back to the Sailor Circus.

Giddy kiddie ring romps, adult discretion waived:  Kevin O’Keefe is, to my fleeting fickle eye, a likable-looking oddball, working out of New England, operating five entities, vaguely alluding to circus fare by and for the young, under his wacky umbrella, Circus Minimums.  One of them being his break-out One-Man Circus-in-a-Suitcase, which tours, no surprise, schools, theatres, and community centers far and wide.

Born on a sidewalk:  O'Keefe claims to have  "discovered" Circus Minimums laying  inside a suitcase outside his New York city apartment in 1985. In it, he says, was everything he needed to perform minimally around the world. Other subsidiaries, since crafted and christened, include Time Machine Circus, Circus Yoga and the Human Body, and, if  “body” puts you off, there’s Circus Yoga and Life Sciences.

Sigh.  New England, say what you will, is alive with experimentation.  I’m starting to feel outdated in my non-conservatory patronship of Cirque du Soliel.  How cutting edge it once seemed.  How suddenly old hat it may risk becoming.  You read it here.  The ticket I ordered on-line to their latest, soon to tent up over the land of the rich - San Francisco, cost me $90.00.   I shunned a cheaper ceiling seat at  $70 a cling, not feeling up to straddling myself to a girder over the back door entrance. But, but, good news!  At check out, NOTHING was added onto my clean $90.00.  And that made me feel deceptively wanted.

Broadway bound, they're puffing! The daring Broadway musical of 1997 about Siamese twins that wowed some New York  critics, but not the public, Sideshow, getting a new "re-imagined" staging with director Bill Condon at the helm, for the La Jolla Playhouse in S. Diego area.  After Sideshow, Condon slated to rewrite screenplay for a movie musical to be filmed by 20th Century Fox about P.T. Barnum, to star Hugh Jackman as  the legendary showman.   Both shows featuring Siamese twins. Wonder if either will offer university credits?

Circle of Fame ringmaster: Paul Binder

Sarasota Circle of Fame inductees.  On principle here —  they have to pay for their own plaques, shame on the mock selection committee!  And a few don’t really belong there, okay, in my outrageous opinion  — so, this time around, I'm only naming those who rise to my personal bias, if that's how you wish to see it, and here they are:  Pinito Dol Oro and Paul Binder.  I didn't diss the others; in fact, the Therons should probably be here. See how kind I can be?   That’s what I’m learning at my  local Big Top Therapy, Attitude Readjusment, Membership Pledge Extraction, and Rebirthing Conservatory.

P.S.  I love Pinito.

In a word:  surreal

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday Morning on the Bandwagon: A Ripe Issue

 Rails to asphalt: Ahead of its time?  Downie Bros truck circus

In the current number – we are now up to January-February, 2013, lots of goodies strewn about the lot.  Editor-for-a-moment-in-time Rick Pfening III, soon to be fanfaring out, has whipped together another dandy layout, a sampling of which:

Multi-ring zeal -- some would call it insanity -- once ruled the land of red white and blue:  Here's author Earl Chapin May writing up the advantages of a truck circus, "Swift Motor Trucks Put Circus Back on Road," reporting for Popular Science Monthly, April 1933.

 “A circus must have three rings to attract paying patronage.  Americans disdain a one-ring show.”  Oh, how times can change, over time!.

“Most of these motorized circuses move as rapidly as railroad shows ... A motorized circus, paying only for motor licenses, except where in a few instances special licenses are required, lands on the lot, exhibits, tears down and goes directly to another pitch.  Valuable time and money are thus saved.”

"A Reporter Penetrates Into the Mysteries of Circus Life," from the Sacramento (California) Daily Record-Union, September 7, 1880, on W.W. Coles circus:

“Do you fear these fellows?” [the lions]

“Well, yes and no,” answered George Conklin, “I must make them fear me, or I need to fear them.”

“You perform with them?”

“Twice a day.”

“You treat them kindly?”

“Not by a long shot.  They have been conquered by the application of red-hot iron bars, and finally by the loaded whip.  Any one of them would catch me up at any time but for the fear they have for me, and that fear I keep alive by blows and punishment.  The affection and kind-hearted theory wouldn’t save your life two minutes.”

Leaps! -- from twelve twirling men, among them Harry Long: “They fly over horses and elephants in great numbers, and turn in midair and alight with wonderful agility.”

Takes me back to that wonderful summer afternoon in Santa Rosa, when my mother took us to see  King Bros Circus, and under my first big top.   I would remember acres of white canvas over green grass, side show banner lines reaching clear up to heaven.  Most of all, the magic of tumblers scampering up a long runway to do essentially what is described above, into the air and over the elephants ... nothing like it! 

This is the issue that also gives us William Taggart’s account of the 1955 season. 

The Bandwagon, a very expensive ride, as much a photo gallery now as a periodical, is chock full of lore, color, fun, rich history.  Even accidental leaks of unpleasant truths.