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

Monday, August 26, 2019

BIG APPLE CIRCUS IN CHAOS: Debit-Ridden Sarasota Backers Back Out – New Regime Fires West Hyler & Team, Dumps Entire Show ... Circus Flora Lands Artistic Control ... Five Weeks to Opening Night, Website is a Shell

In the beginning ...

Not since the Ringling family wars of the 1940s has there be anything quite like this under a big top.  Fasten your seat belts, kids!

Breathtaking – the brazen stupidity of it all, junking a complete show-in-the-making only six weeks before it is slated to open?   Doubly amazing:  If last year’s Lincoln Center date actually sold almost twice as many tickets as the previous one, as claimed by current CEO Greg Walker, then why in the world would you ‘86 a new show by the same creative team, ready to go on?

For the riveting rush of details informing most of  my observations here, we can thank Spectacle Magazine’s editor Ernest Albrecht.  He has skillfully –- and doggedly, I would assume  --- gathered and assembled the pieces into something far more coherent and complete than has heretofore been made known.  

Founders Paul Binder, right, and Michael Christensen.  All photos from various shows over the years.    

Sold or rented to?

There is a tangle of players here to sort through, so I may confuse us all.  One thing seems clear: Big Top Works, an arm (now in a sling) of Sarasota-based Compass Partners, LLC, which bought the circus out of bankruptcy, ran out of money.  Compass called a halt to the ride.  At the outset, Compass  had given  operational control of the circus  to one of its  own,  retired spinal surgeon Neil Kahanovitz .   The doctor’s  five-year stint in pre-med days working for Clyde  Beatty Circus in a trapeze act, made for good press copy. 

The first opus Kahanovitz produced, from reviews I have read, appeared to have been good enough, if not great enough.   It only took Big Apple’s being back in business for the press to hail Kahanovitz as “the man who saved the circus.”   Apparently, he did not.  Anthony Mason may have to retract some of his chirping on CBS as veiled spin-master for the show.  The Wall Street Journal may wish to reconsider how to cover circus more probingly.  

The doctor came.  The doctor went.

Circus King for a season:  Neil Kahanovitz, crowned by the media for saving the circus,  was dethroned without notice. 

Faced with deepening debts, after pulling the money plug on Kahanovitz, though evidently not letting him go, Compass proceeded to engage the services of Remarkable Entertainment, described by  Albrecht,  as  “a managing operator of the Big Apple Circus”   Albrecht writes that they “replaced Kahanovitz  and his investors who had fallen into serious debt.” Presumably, Compass still owns BAC.  RE's CEO is Greg Walker, who continues as CEO of Big Apple.   In fact, he has claimed to have been at the helm since last summer.   But back then, Kahanovitz was still granting interviews, ostensibly in charge, when he talked up plans for a national indoor tour. The tour was aborted before it began.  Whomever pushed the idea onto investors, Kahanovitz and/or Walker, displayed epic child-like naivete. 

 Who are the new operators?

One of Remarkable’s investors is  Randy Weinter, dubbed by The New York Times “the leading impresario of nontraditional theater.”  Wall Street Journal described him “the mad genius of night life."  Big Apple Circus needs a mad genius of any life.

Wrote Albrecht, "Kahanovitz financiers walked away and left him personally exposed financially." Into the breech jumped Remarkable, “making it a powerful force in the scheme of things financial and potentially creative.”

Only at Lincoln Center

By the time Hyler was notified  by telephone of his having been removed along with his entire creative staff,  they had been at work on the new show for almost a year.  Sets were built, costumes designed.  (Have you a feeling that we are in the Twilight Zone of the big tops?).  Most of the acts were also given the boot. Three of them,  reported the New York Post, as I previously covered here,  have filed lawsuits, each claiming to be owned $200,000 for five weeks of work they had signed onto.  

The Post’s glancing notice may strike New Yorkers as a first alert:  This big top was not saved, and is still in serious trouble.   Not the kind of news you want when you are about to premiere whatever it is you can throw together in the next five weeks.   They have announced that they will not tour beyond Lincoln Center. Something about people in other cities not having the money to pay the high ticket prices necessary to keep the kitty in black ink.

Is this understudy ready for prime time?

In to fill the performance void left by Hyler and company, come long-time Circus Flora movers and shakers.  Flora’s Jack Marsh will produce, while his mother,  Cecil McKinnon,  will provide artistic guidance.  She has scripted and directed Flora shows for many years.

On it's website, the group describes itself,  "A theatre company specializing in one-ring circus production." 

I have never seen Flora, which does annual summer shows in St. Louis.  I have heard and read good things about the company, such that, in my mind, it holds an honorable position as a very good mid-level circus with a more hometown feel, offering some very good acts, albeit heavily entwined in story lines.  McKinon favors more theater than ever did Paul and Mike. (Albrecht reviews the current show in the same issue, linked below.) I doubt Flora ever came close to putting out the kind of world class circus action that Paul and Mike did in their best seasons.  And I suspect that New Yorkers, given reason to question yet another regime change so fast, may not be so willing to give the show an easy pass — especially if it comes to town with too much dialogue and not enough get-to-the-point muscle.  New Yorkers have all the theater they need, all around them.

The Big Apple Circus website is a virtual shell.  Not a single photo or story appears.  Not a single act is named   A haunting symbol of yet another big top teetering on the edge.   

Dare I ask, will the show even go on? 

Paul Binder, around the time he announced his retirement, circa 2008.

Link to Spectacle:   http://spectaclemagazine.com/?page_id=12720
Once there, look to the right and click onto FYI.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Beleaguered Buffoons Win Affection, Respect in Touching McDonald's Ad ... Remember When Kids Loved Clowns?

Here comes, from London Town, a sunny break from all the snickering negativity about circus clowns. And what a relief from our long, dreary sludge through a dark tunnel of media indifference and veiled hostility.   

Thanks to UK blogger-writer Douglas McPherson for the link.  "I wondered if they're showing this circusy McDonald's ad in your area." No, Sir Douglas, not so far.  And I can't avoid the never-ending barrage of advertising and drug pushing.

The McDonald's ad, first posted on YouTube in 2015, stars the great Russian clown, Popov.  His aging image inspires in me memories of my trip to the Soviet Union in 1979,  when I saw some of the most gifted jesters on earth. I beheld the silently riveting Karandash at Moscow's New Circus. Elsewhere, inventive joeys who filled the rings memorably.

The special thing about this ad, which is credited to Leo's Think Tank Ad Agency, is that if feels more like a warm and loving tribute.  It is remarkably composed:  Sensitive, affectionate, musically moving -- you'll even see a costumed horse in the background.Good grief, a performing horse?  How daring!

Why have I not seen this?  Let me have some fun going paranoid:  Might McDonald's fear retribution from any number of viciously antagonistic big top haters?   Might PETA hold vetting rights, stateside?  In fact, had the burger giant decided the ad would backfire here?

Okay, just take a look for yourself, and tell me if this does not come close to something very special. .


I wish McDonald's would do a one-hour tribute to what we've lost under our vanishing big tops, using the same talent to script, score and produce it: I doubt you'll see the likes of this on Pledge Break Society. 

It's okay to shed some tears.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

BIG APPLE CIRCUS SLAMMED IN LAWSUIT: Three Performers Each Claim $200,000 for Botched Tour ... Details Point to Reckless Mismanagement

From Showbiz David –  Biz Buzz Division

Adam Kuchler, Mark Gindick and ringmaster Stephanie Monseu, photo from the New York Post. 

How Much Do Circus Performers Really Make?

OKAY, FIRST OF ALL, to prepare you for my headline issue, what do you suppose the average circus performer makes in this country?  I would have guessed  between $20,000 and $40,000- $50,000 a year — maybe the rare ones up to 80, 90 grand.  Ringling may have once gone that high for the likes of a Bello Nock, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Barry Lubin was getting over a hundred grand from Paul Binder for his delightful Grandma cameos.  

I did a little goggling, and settled on the figures supplied by Salary.Com, looking at Cirque du Soleil, which I imagine pays more than any other still-in-biz big top, anywhere in the world. To quote:

"Cirque Du Soleil Inc in the United States  is $56,769 {average] as of July 30, 2019, but the range typically falls between $46,782 and $69,313."
Okay, onto the Big Question: Why did the new Big Apple Circus owners offer three performers $200,000 each for five months of work in the so-called indoor unit, the one that never made it off the ground? And we are not talking Monte Carlo Showstoppers.   We are talking two clowns – Adam Kuchler and Mark Gindick --- and last season’s ringmaster, Stephanie Monseu.

Tour was aborted five days before it was slated to go on, "low ticket sales" the cause.

How do I know this?  Because the New York Post reported last Saturday on a lawsuit filed by the three plaintiffs  in the  Manhattan Supreme Court. Plaintiffs allege they have signed contracts, that they were let go without compensation, thus having to find alternative bookings for 20 weeks of work lost.  I doubt they could have landed such loot elsewhere.   (You may recall another lawsuit against Big Apple Circus, reported here, by two parties claiming they were promised upper-management positions, and then pushed aside and out the tent, without compensation).  Do I spot a trend here?  I have nibbled around the edges of what feels like cloudy ethics in play, to post it politely

 Who is Really in Charge?

The two-hundred-grand figure alone tells me that this show is being run by amateurs. But then, if this Sarasota-funded outfit really doubled its tickets sales at Lincoln Center last season, as heretofore claimed by current CEO,  Gregg Walker (over those of the first season out), that points to a brilliant mind at work.  Whose mind?  The same mind  at work now?  Which brings me back to the subject of Neil Kravnazh --  the retired spinal surgeon to the Supremes (of the court),  accoladed for having “saved” the circus.  Whatever happened to Kravnazh, who was generally profiled as the man very much in charge of every aspect of BAC.    According to Walker, he, Walker, has been at the helm since last summer.  But the doctor was still being quoted in news reports about the circus as late as this past March. Did somebody fail to inform him that he was no longer CEO?   And why?  If another person was behind the soaring ticket sales, Walker seems the likely one, I can see that marketing genius grabbing the power away from the doctor. My best guess.   You realize, of course, the soaring sales were talked up by Walker, but, to my knowledge, not independently confirmed.


END RINGERS:   Barnum is back in fresh print, credit two books, one just out, the other ten years ago..  Barnum: An American Life, is drawing respectable though not glowing notices, while, The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum drew raves when it was released in 2009.  I'd like to read it ...  Public respect for circus plunges: Just look and listen around, rather shocking.  Ringling’s exit was received with a collective shrug, the public and media sighing, sad, but, yes, it was about time.  Those poor animals.  Circus is a thing of the past. ... Comments at the end of circus articles, one after another, echoing the same anti-circus animals, even clowns, tone: It’s about time! ... The same ill-wishers may not be so happy if race tracks are shut down, and if owning pets becomes the next big PETA-pronounced evil.  As they say, be careful what you wish for.

This is 1956, not 2017

IN THE CLASSROOM, ALL IS WELL: Argues noted academic author Janet Davis, having penned an op-ed piece for the Wash Post, chirping that we are actually living in a very good time for the circus.  Arguing we lived through the same emotional frame back in 1956.  Really?  Back then, the public wept over the demise of the Ringling big top. Newspapers wept.  Editorial cartoons wept.  All of them to my knowledge.  Back then, the public en masse flocked to big tops, GUILT-FREE, to enjoy performing animals and slightly, lovable, eccentric (okay, devious) clown characters, along with the thrillers.  And back then, shows like Ringling-Barnum and Beatty-Cole did not fade into history books, but rebounded for another fifty seasons.  And what have we to support the Davis doctrine:  She cites two shows as examples of a still-thriving big top scene:  Circus Flora and Cullpepper Merriweahter ("still going strong").  Lame.  I’m canceling your course, prof.  Think I’ll enroll in Gender Detection Studies.  I hear the actively dating young are lining up to grab that one.

Many thanks to Barry Lipton for the New York Post link.