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