Monday, March 31, 2014

Their Photos Failed Finals at the Last World Circus Federation Contest; They Remain “Outraged and Insulted”

Does cute and charming belong here?

Nobody likes entering a contest that feels to them rigged, or having their work pushed aside for that of an insider with connections to the powers that be.

Happens all the time.

When Photographer X (PX), a highly credible source who has asked not to be named,  e-mailed me to complain about the "most recent" World Circus Federation photo contest results (2013), I did not know what to think.  And, in fact, had I not been able to compare the 12 winning entries with a like number from a sampling of those that lost, I might not be addressing this issue at all.

PX and a number of fellow photographers were “outraged and insulted” by the 12  finalists, especially by the federation’s claim about “blind judging.”  My source believes it to be dubious. 

What PX and smoldering cohorts offer as prime evidence of biased judging is one of the finalists – the photo seen here of a little girl standing cutely next to a horse.  The little girl’s name is Chanel Knie.  Her godmother is Princess Stephanie. 

They believe she and the horse hardly exemplify the contest’s theme, “Circus: Strength, Balance,  Courage and Grace.”

What riles my source the most  is the girl’s close relationship to Princess Stephanie.  In fact, Stephanie’s intimate association with the Knie family goes deeper than that of Godmother.  Years ago, the Princess and her children traveled with the circus for over a year, and the Princess enjoyed a relationship with Franco Knie, Sr.

Do little Chanel and the horse even constitute an actual act?  PX could not answer the question for sure (PX believes they do not), nor am I about to go that in-depth on this.  Chanel, guesses our source, is “probably too young to perform yet.”

Now, if the judges were drawn to the young, that is one thing.  But this charming photo – possibly my personal favorite among the variable entries for its charm alone -- could have been easily upstaged by any number of images of kids a little older in compelling action, had such a photo even been submitted.  Kids in circus rings do remarkable things that constitute “strength, balance, courage, and grace.”  Except for perhaps grace, I see none of those qualities in the Knie photo.

 Eleven of the losing photographs, selected by Photographer X at my request.

Let me be clear:  There are some fine entries among the winners (you can link to them below), but altogether, as I view the lot, they foster a rather tepid redundancy not high on the Wow factor.

Of a total of 283 photographs entered (each photographer could submit up to four photos), judges from a number of countries, including the U.S,. selected the final 12.  Ten are European.  One each comes from Canada and the U.S.  Over, then, to the Princess of Monaco, who chose the grand champion.  In this phase, she did not favor her goddaughter.

Let’s let PX say a few things: 

“How did this photo make it into the finalists?  Coincidence?  Nepotism.”

Sure sounds more than coincidental to me.

Driving our photographer's acute discontent with the girl and the horse, is this: “Not a circus performance and does not even fit the theme.”

Well, I have to agree.

Is "blind judging" even possible?  “At some point in the judging, someone is looking at names to force it to be one per photographer, therefore the twelve best photographs are not selected but rather the top twelve photographers.”  Interesting thesis. 

I asked for examples of photos that were not chosen which PX believes to be superior to those that were.  PX sent the eleven images seen above, stating that all but two were taken by photographers beyond PX's circle of fellow shutter bugs. 

Here is mostly why I have gone with this story.  In total, the finalists create an impression of action more abstract than active.  They bring to mind the emergence of the “static trapeze,” making me wonder if our big tops will increasingly default to static sawdust, thus furthering the movement towards circus ballet.

I find the losing photos, on balance, a more engaging lot.  Together, they form a more diversified and interesting spread of circus action.

Surely the 7-high pyramid across the wire effectively addresses the theme.   And I don’t know who took the picture.

The official winner, below, leaves me baffled and wanting. Does this demonstration of proper and polite carriage driving supply exemplary evidence of "Strength, Balance, Courage and Grace”? Okay, grace.

Maybe next year they'll skip grace. Wait!  Next year is already upon us. They are now soliciting  2014 entries. The theme:  World Circus Day.

Thank you, Photographer X, for sharing your experience, knowledge of the rules, and insights with us.  May you and your cohorts stay in the running,  and hope for a better day.  

Here is Princess Stephanie's 2013 favorite:

The grand champion

Your link to the Federation’s finalists:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Big Top Bits: Carson and Barnes, Westward bound? .. Can You Speak Mongolian? Call Kelly-Miller! ... Cirque du Soleil Makes Another Bid for Great White Way Respect

Intriguing movement west:   Following their radiant website (still think it might be the best out there), I see that Carson and Barnes are jumping down into Las Cruces, New Mexico, which makes me wonder if they're flirting with a bigger jump into the Golden State? ...  Or maybe at least as far as Tinsel Town suburbs.  I've a yen for their tinsel tents, hear they have a new ringmaster who quite pleases Harry Kingston, no fan of the departing orator, known for the pony tail ...

Kelly Miller can't stop sharing:  Steve Copeland may have left the lot, but now we have "Hello From Kelly Miller," penned by Clara Sayre for Circus Report, in which she shares details of the backyard scene.  Clara manages the front gate, while hubby John Sayre cavorts as a one-man clown alley in the ring.  In her latest, Clara's asking for anybody who can speak Mongoloid to give a friendly shout out.  Their Mongolian contortionist finally reached the States, being able to speak almost no English.  Show has ordered translation materials to assist  in communication.   "If anybody reading this knows Mongolian," writes Sayre, "message me to help!" ...

END RINGERS: World Circus Day falls on April 19th .... Don Covington, recently back from abroad, detailing in Circus Report  the many circuses and circus festivals and meets to take in Over There.  "Where in the world could you find such a diverse group of circus devotees?  The Monte Carlo Festival reigns supreme as the Oscar ceremony of the circus world.'" ... Cirque du Soleil can't let Broadway alone; they've hired a big stage gun with deep credits to make another try of it .. Also, down Mexico way,  Cirque building a 600-seat theatre, in which patrons will buy a dinner and show combo ... Only 600 seats?  How humbling for the Montreal monster.  Back to baby steps, perhaps ... Heck, Carson and Barnes has more than six hundred seats!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anthony Gatto, Now Retired: Greatest Unknown Juggler in Big Top History? A Tale Told Too Many Times

1/7/15: Preface:  Issuing high marks to Cirque du Soleil's Kooza, which just opened in London's Royal Albert Hall, blogger Douglas McPherson writes, this edition "not only asserts Soleil’s supremacy atop the tree of cirque but is a very accessible and circusy show."

As much as missing a CDS tent, McPherson rues not being able to see Anthony Gatto, who performed with Kooza during its first years.  Here is my post, from March last year, on the sudden and strange retirement of Gatto.

From March 20, 2014:

Indeed, the now 40-year-old juggler, judged by some to be “the greatest in the world” may go down in history for his remarkably anonymous career.

When I first saw him, on Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, I was swept away.  Spellbound.   Awed and astounded.  Practically brought to my feet, overjoyed with the discovery of so dazzling a ring star.

I thought to myself, and I wrote it on the review I posted on this blog: whomever he is, Monte Carlo should send him the Gold right now, no questions asked, no appearances expected.

Anthony Gatto.

The first and only juggler ever to win the Gold Clown at Monte Carlo -- before he landed in Kooza.  That night, the judges were on their game.  .

With CDS, he wowed crowds while at the same time remaining anonymous.  As anonymous as those insulating mug shots of the artists  in a typical CDS program booklet.  Maybe he preferred it that way.

He was not a particularly nice person. Surely, not accessible.  He was so driven a genius, claiming to have spent 10-12 hours a day in practice and preparation. little wonder he had no time for anything or anybody but his art.  Yes, he did show up on some TV shows; some insiders knew about him. 

He flourished in the glitzy shadows of neon-crazed Vegas, and then under a CDS tent, ending up with the company’s Florida unit.

And now he is, it has recently been noted — the noting itself another near-anonymous act — hiding out in retirement.  Managing a cement construction firm.  Raising a son.  And what else?  Might he be harboring second thoughts – how could he not?  Remember Miguel Vazquez, as legendary on the trapeze as was Gatto with clubs and hoops.  Vazquez fell into a kind of self-imposed isolation. In Las Vegas. 

A writer and profound fan named Jason Fagone, reporting and opining on the website Grantland (link below)  tried reaching Gatto for an interview when he was still technically listed in the Florida unit.  He got through on a phone call, but found the voice at the other end sounding “irritated” and distant, evasive.  Fagone was told  to go through the PR office of CDS; that office in turn threw up the face of smug indifference it plays so insultingly well. I know that anonymously unfeeling face.  

Gatto should have appeared in circus troupes around the world; I doubt that he did. He should have been a headliner with Big Apple (too big an ego for them?), with Ringling (not enough money/), with Knie and other global big tops of merit.  He would have garnered major media notice. The Felds might have made him a player in prime time.

But, greater picture, circus artists exist in anonymity to begin with; other than the name Wallenda, who have you seen lately getting fawned over on TV?  In the tabloids?  On Dancing With ...?

There was a day when names like Codona and Leitzel (above),  Herbert and Wallenda and Beatty were popularly known. Written about.   Never did they quite reach the visibility of a movie star or recoding artist, but they made headlines, landed photos in magazines.  The public at large knew about them.  No longer.  I could ask any of my non-circus friends: Have you heard of the Felds?  Gunther Gebel Williams? Bello Nock?   Sylvia Zerbini?  Anthony Gatto? You know the puzzled looks I’d get.

Gatto came and went – a wizard  of untold magic from another planet. That’s how he struck me that day in SF when I first saw him perform with the Cirque-us, a flashing revelation of miraculous power and agility from out of no where. I’d rank that discovery of mine up there with the Wallenda 7-high walk over the high wire in the Grace Pavilion when Polack Bros. Came to Santa Rosa in my boyhood. 

Gatto jumped quickly onto something I’d written about him, featuring it for a time on his blog; I wrote him a few times, asking for an interview of some kind.  Did I ever get an answer?  The silence I got felt par for the CDS course.  But then again, to be fair, neither could I get through to Miguel Vazquez -- the latter was simply no where to be found, hiding out, you might say, in his own way.

Anthony Gatto, if this retirement holds, will have ended his days of greatness in the murky mist of Cirque du Soleil, perhaps feeling perfectly at home playing a typical CDS mysteriously non-human character.  Indeed, the context of Kooza surely helped sell him to my soul more than would a bargain basement tent or a huge old civic arena.  Perhaps we might agree that Gatto and Laliberte were perfectly made for each other.

Anthony Gatto chose his own strange path. We never got to know him.  When he struck me as coming from another planet, perhaps in his own mind, he had.  Ego and ambition can do that.

My thanks to Jack Ryan for sending me a link to the story:  It goes terrifically in depth:


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Big Top Bits: Nik Wallenda to Walk Where Karl Once Walked ... Trouper John Pugh's Cole Bros. Circus Opens Today ... And More!

 Cole Bros. Star Vincenta Pages and her white tigers return for the 2014 season
Feeling the truth of his dauntless trooping spirit: Johnny Pugh, the indomitable showman who cut his circus chops over British sawdust, who has performed, four times,  for Queen Elizabeth, who appeared with his sister on Cole Bros. Circus in the 1940s, working along side such legends as clown Otto Griebling, and who  has owned on operated, hands on every day,  Cole Bros Circus for decades — he is still on the road.  To a Deland reporter, said John “My saddest day is the last day on the road at season’s end.  I can’t wait to go again."

Eerie showmanship, I’d say: Nik Wallenda's latest exploit aloft will put him on the same path that his famed grandfather, Karl walked 45 years ago -- across the 1,000-foot-deep Tallulah gorge over the northeast Georgia mountains ... Projected date is July 18, official permission in the works.   An estimated 35,000 spectators watched Karl Wallenda  traverse the gorge in 1969.  Nine years later, while walking a cable between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a sudden windstorm pushed Karl to his death.  No, Nik, please don't go there.

They never give up.   Let's take a provisional peak into the House of Ringling.  John Ringling North II, who may now have the bug, was last season heard to say, “I want something exotic.” Well, he may or may not have said it, for he is known for later recanting.  But, per a teasing e-mail received here from James Royal, it looks like the show might be a tad more exotic -- if all the acts contracted for actually show up – one comes from Ethiopia.  Indeed, and with a new clown alley of one (or maybe two), Kelly Miller may actually be different enough this season too look like a different circus, compared to the last few arguably static years of recycled showmanship.

End Ringers: “Outraged and insulted” are a few of the photographers, here to Germany, who entered work in the last World Circus Federation photo contest.  I’m onto this, and because it may go clear up to the desk of Princess Stephanie, we might be better off, instead of following the money, following the dates, HoHo.  From Circus Report's latest issue, I was struck and amused by: Herb Ueckert reviewing, thumbs up,  Ringling's latest, stating however that we might not be “overwhelmed,” but never in his notice giving a hint why; Peter Pepke offering kudos to ringmasters who refrain from multiple "I can't hear you!" pitches to the audience for fake signs of life, noting "audience groans are clearly audible;" and Chuck Burnes, having read that Johnny Depp suffers from coultrphobia (fear of clowns). Says the famed actor,who himself sometimes works behind creepy makeup,  "There always seems to be a darkness lurking under the surface."

More, for fun, on Johnny the tenting tycoon: Sir Pugh (I've just knighted him for effect) worked elephants for the movie Cleopatra, exchanging smiles and pleasantries with Liz Taylor (“she was the cutest thing”) and Richard Burton, cavorted across zippy London stages in variety revues, once chauffeured a white tiger cub from Rome to Monte Carlo, gifting Prince Rainier and Princess Stephanie for their private zoo. ... And omigosh, I am going to declare TODAY the official start of the 2014 American Circus Season. For, here's why:  Johnny Pugh’s Cole Bros. Circus opens today in Deland.  Break a trunk, Johnny!  Have another boffo season!  Save a show for me in Jersey, I hope, when I’m back that way in late May.  Let's let Johnny, the nicest showman on earth, have the last word.  Once again -- drum rolls!  Trumpet blasts!

“I can’t wait to go again.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monte Carlo Judged by Two Outsiders, Part II ... When Critics Disagree ... And Some Thoughts on the Festival

From the 2014 festival as seen and reviewed by Liz Arratoon of the UK, writing for The Stage. and  Ernest Albrecht of the U.S.


For an explanation of how to read the following, please scroll down to my first post. 

                 A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION

Vinicio Canastrelli Togni -  24 Liberty Horses, 6 ponies
ALB:  10  – The one [act] most worthy of a second viewing ... circling the ring in concentric circles in opposition experience one is unlikely to encounter again any time soon.
ARR   8 –  Organization is marvelous, but how much better to see them running naturally than walking on hind legs or jumping all hooves off the ground.
SP:  4

Faltyny Family - Unicycles with Slack Wire [one of three of their acts I am looking at here)
ARR;   8 –  Amazing balance skills.
ALB:   6 – A fairly routine act except for ...[a]  woman balanced on a slack wire held between the two men on giraffe  unicycles.
SP: 2                

David Burlet - Comedy Plate Spinning
ARR:   7 – Has built his nippy act round a comedy of errors .... His timing is spot on.
ALB:   5  – Strangely devoid of the kind of hysterical humor that usually characterizes such an act.

Daring Jones Duo - Static Trapeze
ARR:  8 – Fast paced, beautifully costumed and choreographed ... with no safety measures, they nip through a series of casting and catching, drops and feet-to-feet catches set to jazz age music.
ALB:  6   – They received little attention ... music did not support the final trick, which left them with a flat ending.

Joe Gartner Family - Children with Indian Elephants, first routine:
ARR:   6 – Eight very young children ...the third New Generation Circus festival [upcoming] would have suited them better.  However, they all show great maturity.
ALB:   4 – Very youngest members ... attempting to be vaulted [onto an elephant] ...the ring was crowded to the point of chaos.

Joe Gartner Family - Second routine with Elephants Tableaux, second routine
ALB:   8 – A blindfolded elephant ...elephants wore futuristic head gear and created several interesting group poses.  No bull hooks were used by anyone, anywhere in the act.   
ARR:   6 – The close relationship between humans and animals is obvious.”
MCJ:  (overall grade for their appearances) BRONZE
SP: 2
                      MARKED DISAGREEMENT    

Hans Klok - Illusions
ARR:   8  – One of the night’s most entertaining spots ...the master of speed-substitution stunts showbiz, so slick, so quick, ... you can’t help but buy into his shtick.
ALB:   5  – One illusion after another in an overly familiar style heavy on the s and m ... almost every one of his illusions was based on the same escape and replacement technique.
Anastasia Makeeva - Double Aerial Loop Cloud swing
ARR:   8  – Most stylish act of the night ... she executes any number of flexible posses, again with no lunge... hearts stop when she slides serenely into the splits, supported only by one foot in either loop.
ALB:   5 –  Less impressive than her [eight female dancers) introduction.
SP: 2     

Conchi Munoz and Gary Jahn - SEA Lions
ARR:   8  – With very commands from the trainers, these experts slickers do most everything from from balancing beach balls to walking on their flippers, and are warmly received.
ALB:   5 – An act that held little surprise, and like some other acts, seemed to have no real ending.

                   SUMMING UP

From Lz Arratoon, concluding her review:

“This year the jury, headed by Princess Stephanie, was spot on with the Gold Clown awards, which went to the wildly popular Desire of Flight and the Sokolov Troupe..”

From Ernest Albrecht, judging the festival against the others he has attended over the past 13 years:
“The lineup of acts was not only the slimmest in terms of number of acts, but also the quality.


                        SOME FINAL THOUGHTS OF MY OWN:

* My great respect for this festival remains intact.  Judging and critiquing will always and must be subjective, thus a range of reactions to any given act.  For example, considering the Gold Clown that Bello Nock received a few years ago, comparing that to the Silver Clown that Barry Lubin received at another festival for his Grandma, had I been judging, the results might well have been the direct opposite. But I was not there on respective nights when the two performed.

* My own subjective scoring:  Even the ordinal number I gave to each of the reviews is subjective; that is, I tried to be as honest as I could in picturing in my mind the act and how I felt about it based completely upon what the critic wrote.  YOU might well read the same review and score the act differently.   

* Favoritism?  Probably now and then, but I doubt to a great extent. That is, referencing the above, perhaps you could argue that on occasion, an artist deserved a little less or a little more than he or she received. And there are those lingering rumors of the personal affairs and relationships of Princess Stephanie, on occasion allegedly favoring a certain act, as in a good looking male performer.  But I do not have the incentive to research the personal life of Princess Stephanie; I do much admire the work she does, overall.  And, no, I have no inside connections; in fact, when I tried corresponding with Princess Stephanie in recent years, she did not answer my letters.  So there.

* Bad Judging Backfires: There appears to be none this year, not like last year when the Giang Bros. of Vietnam,  many felt, were stunningly slighted by the judges, failing to receive the recognition they deserved.  

* Bribes or Fixes?  I see no smoking guns here. Only were we to be truly stunned by blatantly illogical judging might we have reason to raise the issue.  But circus is NOT ice skating, is NOT cinema or pop music. Is NOT sports entertainment.  Where is the motivation to bribe a judge or fix an event when these awards bring no great monetary benefit?  I mean, can somebody tell me that the artist who takes home a Gold Clown can look forward to lush contract offers from all those millionaire circus owners out there, or swanky automobile sponsorships?  I think not.

* Mechanics: I am very impressed with how the circus community and those who write about it have found a discrete and clear way of referencing the use of mechanics ("lunge" is the term most often used nowadays) without feeling a need to rant.  At the same time, references to these life lines show a proper respect for the performers who do not employ them, thus helping, I believe, to encourage and preserve the brilliance and integrity of authentic circus art.

* Clowning: Based on its miserable failure to make anybody laugh at this meet,  once again, it seems that clowning is the most difficult of all circus acts to bring off successfully.  Don Stacey, in his review of the festival published in Circus Report,  is as critical of the two Russian clowns as were  Arratoon and Albrecht: Not funny.

* Animals!   Thank you, Princess Stephanie, for your unstinting support of animals acts in the circus.  At this festival, they practically stole the show, judging by the number of special prizes handed out to animal trainers.

from 3.10.14 -- Monte Carlo 2014:  Critics Versus Judges, Part II ...   And Some Thoughts of My Own About the Festival

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Baraboo Goes Back on Parade This Summer ... Streets to Blossom with Big Top Glories, Al Ringling Mansion Breakfast, Band Concerts and Broadway Crooners, Annie Get Your Gun at Circus World

How I'd love to go, and, heck, I might. 

Come July 26, you can stand on one of the town's cozy little old world streets and watch great gilded wagons burst by, rumbling wheels proving their mighty merit once more, the sweet blast of trumpets painting the air in the triumphalism of the once-great American circus.

The grand and glorious procession under the direction, for the second time, of local business leaders and Circus World Museum,

They're calling it Circus Celebration Days.

A weekend of big toppery will wrap the town in sawdust and spangles, band concerts and rare circus souvenirs on display. The lucky will have breakfast at the Al. Ringling Mansion. Ringlingphiles will have plenty to enthuse over.

The parade, starring over 75 units,  to be Grand Marshalled by local Lodi hero Tom Wopat, famed for his role in The Dukes of Hazard  TV show and for a sterling stint on the Great White way in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun that brought him a Tony nomination. 

He'll be troubadouring on the sainted stage of the Al Ringling Theatre -- American songbook to contemporary twang.  And playing Frank Butler in a staging of Annie Get Your Gun at Circus World Museum, July 26-27. .

This year marks the 130th anniversary of the Ringling brothers first circus, presented in Baraboo.

What rich festive fun it promises.

That, my friend, is your way back to a land of true circus kings.  Hush, and listen, and maybe you'll hear the ghosts of five brilliant brothers arguing up a storm in some nearby shed, giving rocky birth to a great new idea of the sort that made them, in their day, the envy of Big Tops far and wide.

On with their parade! 

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Out of the Past: Circus Scramble: Pee Wee's Boffo Big Top ... S.F. Student Masters "Static Trapeze" ... Kelly-Miller in the Mud Again ... 46 Acts in 45 Minutes!

First posted March 19, 2011  

A Circus invades farmer Pee Wee's barnyard, and that's the inspired premise of one of the best circus movies I've ever seen, Big Top Pee Wee. And what a glorious delight after, the night before, slogging through one of the dumbest, most retarded "circus" flicks of all time, a slow-as-a-snail workout from France called Around a Small Mountain. The Pee Wee version of circus is ingeniously inventive, amusing, magical. And what a High Payoff ending -- the most gloriously festive parade full of folksy color and animation set to a rousingly right tune, and then a procession of four legged stars following Pee Wee across the high wire ... ' Tis a Sarasota shame that Paul Reubens, the creator of Pee Wee, allowed himself so reckless a personal encounter in that tacky movie house; it set his career back by years. Anyway, I'm glad Reubens is back, maybe on Broadway, or in a show with "Broadway" in the title about to air on HBO. If you haven't seen his movie AND if you believe in old-fashioned circus, see it now! ...

Daring Young Man on a Dead Trapeze: Sounds dead to me, but, of course, the time being the ballet-precious present, and the venue being once-again beleaguered San Francisco Circus Center-School-Post Pickles Circus Residue, etc., etc., the choreography on the "static trapeze," as it is officially called, might have a certain Balanchine bounce. Aerialist Dude is 28-year-old Grey Lux, and he is quoted in a story about money problems at the S.F. Center, talking up the quality of instruction he is getting at the school -- about $35 per class -- touting its alumni as among "some of the greatest performers in the circus world." An astonishing claim; I'd love to see some of these stars some day, somewhere. They are surely not showing up on any of the shows that come my way. And why in the world not, I wonder, considering, per claims, that the Circus School currently has 50 teachers and 500 students! ... Read on ...

They once called it The Pickle Family Circus: About the S.F. Center itself, reducing the intricacies of insolvency and reorganization down to whatever they have left in the cookie jar, which periodically gets looted by self-serving hot shots apparently making hay off of hefty student tuition fees, well, they have peanuts left to sell. And now they have yet another new board of directors and another new executive director, Ayla Agarwal. She was once herself a student of the school. Says she, to her provisional credit, she has "no intention of taking a salary." Behold the strange twisted legacy of the once vibrant Pickle Family Circus. Might this be what faces the Big Apple Circus of tomorrow?

On a recent lot, the view from Steve Copeland's door

Mud, Glorious Mud! Yes, that would be the course by default into which Kelly-Miller Circus recently slipped (it had to happen, per cosmic script) . The lot in Navasota, TX, was well watered, up to a couple of inches around the track, credit the elephants breaking a water pipe. Mother Nature is not always to blame. How do I know all this stuff? I am following Steve Copeland's deliciously detailed blog. Perhaps John Ringling North II and his wife Shirley, departing back to Ireland, got out just in time. Show appears to have prospered in its early Texas dates, these I assume promoted by front ender Jim Judkins. Lately, sans the Judkins touch, biz appears to have slumped and sputtered a bit. An ailing seat wagon is still MIA. On the soggy Navasoa lot, the ring side seats remained empty. Said Steve, "It was weird having to perform to people so far away from us." Why can't I take my eyes off of Kelly Miller? Blame the Ringling in my blood, compelling me to tag and peep along, the voyeur I am. My big question of the moment: Can a show that is virtually the same one as last season deliver? Stay tuned.

Members of the four-person CIRCA troupe

Fastest Show on Earth: From the land down under comes a troupe of four, recently reviewed at the Byham theatre in the land where Ringling under canvas went down under in '56 (Pittsburgh). These hurricane ring wizards execute 46 circus acts in 45 minutes. Wow, what pacing! What brevity! But wait, does that also include a peanut pitch??? They call themselves CIRCA. In total, the group consists of 14 performers who are dispersed into various shows around the world. Go, you Aussies! On the stage is placed a large clock, itself a big feature of the show, for audiences cheer the artists on as their minutes wind down to a precious few. "We are always trying to beat the clock, sometimes it comes down to a whisker," said the company's associate director Ben Kampton. Ringling's late late equestrian director, Fred Bradna, who demanded strict adherence to Swiss clock discipline, must be tick tick ticking with glee in his grave. “Snap is the greatest essential in American circuses,” said the pacemaster. “There must be no waits, no breaks.” Anybody out there listening?