Monday, May 26, 2014

Posting in the Dark: Perfect Pleasures and Crushing Let Downs in the Big Apple


The best of company: Niece Lisa and her son, Noah ("Mister McFiddle" by me)

Sounds exciting.  Truth is, I am hacking this out on my laptop on another of Amtrak's charming milk trains, the LakeShore – no, make that the LateShore Limited, bound someday for Chicago.  Must hurry, for once there, I will post this via e-mail.

Gotham the Great and Glorious is still a draw, but I've had it with Amtrak, and doubt I'll be returning for a long time, if ever, unless I can break my fear of aerial commuting.

The Gershwin Hotel, my home away from home, went from $139.00 a night to three hundred (new cold-hearted owners), so I found a little room without even a chair at the Hotel Newton, nice enough, on the upper East Side..  My niece, Lisa, who arrived a day later, found fabulous quarters in Times Square Area at Candlewood Suites, for about the same price!  Hers was like a mini modern apartment.

On my own, I looked forward to taking in the Monopoly board game exhibit at the Forbes Gallery, not knowing till I got there that all those cool looking people entering the building  were going to work on upper floors at Forbes magazine.  And then, once the gallery opened, I learned the Monopoly set and all the toys had been sold a few years ago! .... Onto to another museum I've wanted to see, the Guggenheim and, boy, am I glad I finally saw it.  What I loved about Frank Lloyd Wright's circular layout is how it guides you on a clear path up up up, from one display to the next.  They're showing work from the Italian Futurism era, a rare discovery that I can see helped set the stage for the radical violence of Hitler and  Mussolini. ... One of the best special exhibitions  I've ever seen ... So good, that only a few steps into, I took the free reference ear phones, etc, that came with it, back to the front desk and got rid of them. I'll take the art as it strikes me without somebody telling me what to think, thank you, world of superfluous technology.

New York: How Disgustingly Hollywood of You! ... For lunch, I revisited CafĂ© 28, around the corner from where the once bohemian Gershwin Hotel once stood.  Then to the Gershwin, to savor the atmospheric front lobby, drenched in seductive shades of red.  But, once inside, all I could see were panels blocking that space from passage.  I was mortified to learn that the lobby  has been gutted!  Something else is to go there - maybe an extension of the Sex Museum down the street.

At the gutted Gershwin, were rooms went from $139.00 to $300.00 - yes, I went somewhere else.  Beyond the  temp panels, gone is the red lobby and all the art work in the halls and rooms!

I talked to a young doorman.  "It is all gone," he said, "all the paintings on the floors, everything."  The woman who owned the Gershwin sold it a few years ago, how could New York have allowed this to happen?  I thought such a rape only occurred in Tinsel Town. 

Disney's Newsies, I grabbed a half pricer ($92 – can you believe?). Show tells a great little story, really more a play, the dialogue scenes are so strong, with so-so songs and terrific dance work, and like so many bloated tuners, too long.

This kid is so much fun to hang out with and watch cavort through toy stores.

.... All of this amidst the ever-present threat of rain.  Now comes the Big Letdown.  Niece Lisa's great expectation was of our seeing the hot new show After Midnight. She nabbed three tickets, for me, her and her little bright boy, Noah, all of eight.  We got there, high expectations.  Woman scanned our tickets, made a face.  Looked again.  "These are for last night."  My poor niece nearly fainted, so I went into consoling mood, and we regrouped (heartless box office manager would not do anything, although the tickets can be re-used under certain conditions).  Out into the rain we straggled, losers before midnight, to an ice cream sit down, to sugar away our tears.  I took Rocky Road. 

Next morning, we played my game, still in development, Can't Stop Shopping.. Here is how good it has become, and this was NOT scripted: While Lisa was offering me valuable feedback  on the wording of the rules and images on the Act On Coupons, Noah, I thought, was buried in a bed pillow and sleeping. But, no, said Lisa, he is with his little  i-Something playing a video game.  And, then, he wanted to join us to be the banker for second play of the game, and THEN, he wanted to play the game!  How honored I felt that he, with a mind of his own, would break free of his thickening electronic addictions for a board game – which, ironically, could end up someday, if commercially lucky, being sold as a mobile board game.  And then Noah can play it in bed.

We had also taken in the Big Apple Circus out in Cunningham Park, which I will review upon my return.  Lovely ride out to Queens, such a different world, so airy and evergreen.

About the Big City, the best thing I can say is this.  These New Yorkers are so friendly and outgoing when asked for directions — even when they sense you are lost and go out of their way to assist.  All of them.  One young guy, who had helped me at a subway ticket window figure out how to get to Forbes, a little later came running down onto a platform after me:  "Sir, you want the other side!" .... My take?  Together, the residents share a great pride in and love of their city, and each may feel that how they treat a tourist will reflect upon their home. They are A Number One.  Top of the Heap.  Blue Ribbon Boffo.

How I'd love to go back.  Not on Amtrak.  I've had my fill of endless delays. Of squeezing myself into and out of the claustrophobic closet-sized  "sleepers" outrageously overpriced.  How I wish this railroad ran like those of my lucky youth, when I rode the Shata Daylight, the North Coast Limited, the Super Chiefs, the real California Zephyr.  I've given up on a hopeless wish for modern age rail. 

I'll be posting this during my shortened Chicago layover.  Train is now two hours late; its NY-bound counterpart that limped past us yesterday was then six hours behind schedule, and counting. I'm posting safely via my e-mail, because with XP windows, as some of you will know, I dare not go on-line lest the "bad guys" come after me.

So... once  I press "send" on my e-mail, I will have no way of checking how this looks on my  blog..  And If you got here, that means the entire mess got through — Be kind; I walked this wire without a lifeline. 

Au Revoir, New York New York.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Greatest Show in Court” Wins Another Big PR Battle Against Animal Rights Activists ... Cirque du Soleil’s Founder Poised to "Rejuvenate" Show's Lagging Fortunes

From the gift to Kenneth Feld that keeps on giving -- notoriously untruthful witness, the late Tim Rider -- another big victory amounting to millions.  Latest to get stung with steep costs are the Humane Society of the United States, and other related groups, who have been ordered to pay Feld Entertainment $15.75 million.  For those firmly in the Feld camp, it’s Good News.

For others not quite so convinced, well, in the Court of Public Opinion, the jury is still out.  In a pair of seasons, if a Los Angeles city ordinance voted in holds, you won't see any elephants cavorting at Staples Center – that is, if Ringling still comes to Tinsel Town.  On a wobbly fence I sit, watching this whole thing play out, noting, at this juncture, the monumental stupidity of these animal rights activists that banked on the words of Ryder, a one-time Ringling elephant trainer, who made quite a bundle posting as a witness for the activists.

Onto the circus of no animals.

Cirque King, Guy Laliberte, telling Sophie Cousinea of Montreal’s The Globe and Mail, that, yes, he’s been knocked about by some big failures in recent years, and, yes, the profit margin has retreated to near nothing.  He hastens to add that his shows, on balance, are not losing any money.   He sells “between 14 and 15 million tickets per year.”

He's now, headlines the story "on a mission to rejuvenate his Cirque du Soleil."

“We fell into the trap of thinking we could do all things entertainment-related,” said the 54-year-old dynamo, ready to sell 20% to 30% of his live entertainment group, the funds to be channeled into continued expansion into other areas.

So, back to circus concentration, hardly.  Laliberte still covets a  durable and respected slot on the Great White Way.  Funding now being sought will underwrite yet more Broadway shows (or attempts at).  The man at the top still harbors a dream of “finally cracking the New York market.”  Given Laliberte’s paltry track record competing with giant ticket draws like The Lion King and  The Book of Mormon, I fail to see much hope here — unless he can join money with the right Broadway talent to bring in that one-in-a dozen miracle: a Hit Show. 

Declining CDS fortunes are blamed, partly, on the overly high tickets prices of the failed Iris in Hollywood (iffy excuse), on Z in Tokyo going down under the crippling 2011 tsunami (I can buy that).  Most critically along the Vegas strip, wracked by the financial crisis, hotels were driven to offer discounted tickets, “forcing” CDS to follow suit. 

Now, if you, like I, have grown tired of overproduced mediocre “circus” shows under the Grand Chapiteau, you may opt for a newer Cirque venture soon to be coming your way — maybe – such as your own glitzy wedding reception organized by 45 Degres, with whom CDS has formed a partnership.  And then, on the theme park horizon, there too may rise another incarnation of Cirque du Soleil in the form of  “multi media theme parks.”
Once, they employed 5,000 staff. Now, the number is 4,000.  “I am a warrior,” declared Mr. Laliberte to Ms. Cousineau. 

And so I, a naive dreamer, still await the Cirque du Soleil with animals.  Don’t count it out, kids.   If they can just get the right deal with Peterson Peanuts.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Opening Day Today at Circus World Museum: New Wonders on Display Promise Fresh Excitement, A Rousing Reason to GO ...

From Ben Bromley, reporting in the Baraboo News Republic:  "A historic animal house that formerly held a gift shop now displays models illustrating Ringling Bros. Circus history. One is a 200-piece miniature replica of the 1947 Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus train, donated by model train builder Joe Kaspar and housed in a custom-built case that runs the length of the building."

Kasper spent decades crafting the train.  He selected the year 1947 because "that's when the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey show was at its largest."

In the same room, you can take in a set of nine recently restored dioramas, one of them seen below. They were created in Circus World's imposing railroad car shop by the late Jean Leroy in the 1960s to depict the Ringling rise to international fame.

These dioramas traveled ahead of the circus in the 1960s to drum up free publicity, and were later put on display at Irvin Feld's lavish Circus World theme park in Florida. After the park folded in the mid-1980s, they were sold, and languished in an unknown location for years.  A New Jersey collector, revealing their existence, donated them to Circus World in 2011.  Rigorous restoration, undertaken by volunteers Steve and Dawnne Flint of Janesville, consumed 400 hours.

The process was complex.  Asbestos had to be removed, old wiring replaced with LED, among other arduous steps.  "It was more than just glue and paint,” explained Steve Flint. “There were a lot of curse words I didn’t think I knew.”

Of the new miniatures on elegant exhibition, says Circus World Executive Director Scott O'Donnell,  “I fully believe the Ringling brothers would wholeheartedly approve of this display."

Also new this year at Circus World, the annual summer circus show is back under the big top!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Big Top Brainy: Puzzle-Solving Birds -- and Other Animals of Surprising Intelligence -- Science and Circus Should Compare Notes ... And More ...

Randomly we go, around a ring or two -- Sans footnotes.
Thank you Miss Marple (from Agatha Christie) for boring me to death on yet another try at one of your mystery episodes.  After abandoning the DVD, I discovered on Science, a program about some amazing discoveries in recent times of how a certain breed of brainy bird can figure out a maze of tools that, when retrieved and employed in a set manner, will find them a path to the prize: FOOD.

Simply astonishing.  Other areas of human-like behavior now being studied in certain animals: community; monogamy versus "open" relationships," empathy for a fellow beast --- or bird -- emotions in general.   I have long been drawn to and admired the potential value, on a higher level, of how circus animal trainers have demonstrated for years what amazing feats animals can be taught to master and perform. 

Throw in emotion, and perhaps one day, science might assert that, yes, animals in circuses actually derive pleasure (or, well, a sense of a reward lurking in the backyard) from the applause and cheers of a real live audience.  Maybe they even dig the music? 

Randomly, across the pond to where it all began.  Are the Brits giving traditional circus another chance? Perhaps no trainer has better helped foster an image of humane treatment to charges than Thomas Chipperfield, thanks to his home-filmed training videos.  He’s the only trainer now in UK allowed to host a cage of lions and tigers.  

The languishing American Mall as free rent for big tops?   I never knew this would come about, but, yes, many malls are either closing or close to.  Biggest reason: on-line options, and to that even I, usually 15 years behind the techno curve, can relate.  Plus, I feel plastic and pedestrian walking a Mall.  With Mall mangers desperate for ways to lure back shoppers, surely the sight of a tent in the now-deserted parking lot might be one? ... They might have to turn all that asphalt under and replace it with dirt and grass -- okay, designer mud.  

A Grandma for All Venues:   The love of performing knows not venue boundaries.  Grandma (Barry Lubin) seen and reviewed recently, by Peter Pepke in  Circus Report, appearing with the Syria Shrine Circus in Pittsburgh, produced by the Hannefords, with Billy Martin taking charge for Struppi, she working another unit.  .  But, oh, the thought of Grandma sharing silly sawdust with those ever-trying Shrine Clowns dampens my heart.  But how promising to know that Lubin will take on these various venues.  He is surely a perfect candidate for Cole or Ringling -- assuming he wants full time work, but latter history with Big Apple suggests he does not.  I'd love to find him touring with some West Coast show ...

What does PETA stand for?  Here’s a sly variation from the Pepke pen: “Presenting entertaining trained animals!!!”   Love it!...

So, let’s go wandering though Circus Report, and see if there’s more three dot stuff: Does Kelly Miller relish an on-the-scene reporter, she being Clara Sayre, recounting having chatted with a man and his grandson, who, before the show ended, came out, saying they were tired and would probably leave.  I never like the image of people walking out on any show -- unless I agree with their acute disinterest.  Do you?    We’ve all heard about the Kelly Miller bandwagon being retired.  I wonder why? ... I see they are still presenting last yea'rs performance, per their oddly composed website. But, what a wow: you can now buy KM tickets on line, and it looks to be the breeze that Big Apple’s isn't and never was.... Sell out crowds for Shrine in Harrisburg.  That, assuming it to be true (perhaps show was staged in a club house?) .. And from randomly engaging Chuck Burnes, an end-ring guffaw: "Did you know that Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look alike contest in Monte Carlo? Unfortunately, he placed third.”  Thanks for laugh, Chuck!

I was going to talk About Guy Laliberte’s in-depth interview with Montreal’s Globe and Mail. The Cirque King has declared himself firmly back in the saddle, no more space flights on the horizon, and wants to restore an earlier brilliance -- and thriving profit line, not presently enjoyed -- at the same time wanting to.  Do what? Well, you’ll just have to wait, somewhere up the road!

And that's a random wrap ...

Monday, May 05, 2014

Ringling Rigging Collapse in Providence May be Unprecedented in Circus History

Shock, chaos and grief following the crash of eight aerialists forty-feet to the floor.  New York Daily News photo

 Update 5/6/14 7:12 AM PST. Goods news from Providence.  Of eight performers still in the hospital, none are listed in critical condition.

What happened yesterday in Providence at a performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is something a circus crowd has possibly never before witnessed: the utter collapse of a rigging that dangled eight hair hanging aerialists from it.

I can't recall ever, during my lifetime taking in many circuses, watching the failure of an aerial structure on this scale. In fact, I do not recall witnessing any riggings fall to the ground.

A flying trapeze rigging going down? When? Where?  A high wire and the pedestals losing anchor and collapsing over a ring or onto a  hippodrome track.  When?

Perhaps that is what made the fall of eight aerialists even more horrifying to behold.

Aerialists take many risks, perhaps the greatest risk they face, not the failure of their own skills, but of the riggings they rely upon to demonstrate their dazzling accomplishments to the public.

Lillian Leitzel fell to her death in Copenhagen, the victim of a cable connection that crystallized and broke

Another legend, Rose Gold, took a terrible fall, but recovered, due to a camera going off, the flash distracting her concentration.

The multi-talented Elvin Bale, an all-time great in the air, flew out of a "human" cannon in Hong Kong that had been incorrectly tested before the show, over reached the net, and was left paralyzed for life. 

You could argue that Karl Wallenda’s wire-walking talents did not fail him when he tumbled to his death over a Puerto Rico street.  A sudden gust of wind tossed the wire about, in effect undermining the steady foundation he could count on during a conventional performance under a tent or indoors.

Return trapeze flyers take big risks, from career-ending injury to death itself, by merely falling into the net when failing to make connections aloft.

I would be willing to venture that perhaps a slight majority of injuries incurred by aerial daredevils were due to rigging malfunctions, not to error on their part.

The spectacle of so many performers going down together is possibly unprecedented.  The closest incident that comes to mind would be the seven wire-walking Wallendas slipping from the wire (caused by human error), then struggling to spare themselves by clinging to the wire and to each other while prop hands below scrambled to spread an emergency net.  When it was over, two members of the troupe were dead, another confined to a wheel chair for life.  

When a flyer falls, it is a heart-wrenching sight. I have witnessed it only once, maybe twice in my life.  On each occasion, only one artist fell -- and the rigging did not follow him.

What I saw on the news yesterday at first looked almost surreal -- as if a part of the act -- but then turned into a horrific revelation.

My heart goes out to those women, wishing them all a speedy and complete recovery.