Sunday, September 08, 2019

Circus at Crossroads: Say Goodby to One Dreary Decade, But Don’t Put Your Dreams Away -- Not Yet

Facing 2020 feels more like facing a  new century.  And may it be new -- and better.  Blame it on my having lived through too much disappearing circus history in the last ten years —  or did I inherit this feeling the moment Kenneth Feld announced that he was shutting down Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey for good?

So many closings give me pause, and you?, to wonder if there is to be a future for what is now more frequently being called  “traditional circus.” I merely call it, pardon me, circus.  Is South Pacific, a tradition musical?  Gone With The Wind, a traditional movie?

Those two words, I am feeling,  may mark a condescending dismissal by a class of people, feminist driven it would appear,  who inwardly despise what circus has meant to the masses.  And so they hold a patronizing stance, while waiting for the last dog to leave the tent, the last scary clown to renounce his greasepaint and join Old Clowns Anonymous.  Waiting and ready, honing their acro-centric skills in classrooms and warehouses, municipal centers and small stages, to make their case as the only option left, and therefore, theoretically, more marketable to the public at large. Indeed, their day may be upon us.  Read the reviews in Circus Talk, and behold.  

The traumatic fold, two years ago,  of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey opened wider the gates for “new circus”advocates to assume a greater,  more believable force.  In fact, I think it is far more honest to call themselves  “new circus”  and let “circus” alone stand.  Drop the“traditional.”

Some new circus enthusiasts proclaim to be witnessing a “renaissance” of what they call “circus arts.” This may be so, but it is not the same as a renaissance of circus, period.  Need I even try explaining why?

Such troupes as  ambitiously creative Five Fingers got in on the ground floor, and are finding some success, albeit with funding, before audiences who patronize theatre and ballet. To their credit they do not hang “circus” on their moniker, but, to be sure and safe, talk it up aplenty, obviously to draw in the kind of a ticket buyer who  might like some circus acts but not the circus.  You are unlikely to see TV promo videos from these troupes (including  Cirque du Soleil)  pushing narrative elements:  Gripping cathartic human drama!  Spectacular soliloquies!  Spine tingling character confrontations!  Virtually all new circus videos push Circus.  So there.

Currently for me, the most interesting thing to observe is how this will all play out. To wonder if, out there somewhere lurks a showman yet to surface who can make circus thrive again.  More likely, the ageless delight may yet rebound, come a day imagined long in the future,  when cultural shifts favor the public’s re-embracement of circus’s  defining staples.  Americans may then again accept circus based on a new, more trusting pact between themselves and the owner-producers — a pact more open and transparent where animals may once again be welcome in the tent.  One need only look to the ways of trainer Thomas Chipperfield in England for clues to how such a day may come about.

Impossible to imagine so magical, instructive and inspiring an enterprise as animal training being outlawed forever.

In recent times,  a segment of the young clamor to hear new pop recordings on vinyl, as in LP.   Down at Issues on Piedmont Avenue, near to where I live, a surprising show of younger people flock to the shelves, to consider a dazzling array of books and magazines from far and wide. Can you spell p a p e r?

So, took the circus? 

Circus may be down, but don’t count ten yet.  

To quote Douglas McPherson from London: “Let’s hope these twenties roar like the previous ones!”

Thomas Chipperfield

circa 10.19.19

Monday, September 02, 2019

Rust in Peace: A Walk Among the Ruins of Clyde Beatty Circus ...

Joy in a once-embracing land: 1996

So much bad news continues coming my way.  Not yours?  Are you in dedicated denial? Or lost and hiding  behind old scrapbooks and movies?  Posters and photos?  Pretending that the "circus" show you just saw on a stage, at a concert hall or cruise ship, under a summer tent of students putting on a circus, is proof sufficient that American big tops are as alive and thriving as ever?

Sorry I don’t share your fragile fantasy.  But I do understand, CFA.

To look at the newest old photos is eerily surreal.   We are smack dabble in the middle of what may one day be a bleak and settled history of circus for generations to come.  We were there.

Tim Tegge was there/is there, too, and he  knows what is going on.  Maybe we all do, but for many of us, it’s too painful to face.  And so, any economy — or volunteer —  ensemble of jugglers and acrobats, a dog or two, a pair fluttering through the fabrics — will give the suffering imagination wings to magnify spangles into spectacles, match sticks into tent poles.   Culleppper & Merriweather, the new Ringling?  Ask noted author Janet Davis to explain.  Even the learned can’t cope. 

Tim and wife Barbara, on their way to a wedding in Orlando, stopped off to walk the aging, desolate grounds of now-defunct Cole Bros. Circus.  He clowned on the show from the end of 1994 through all of ‘95 and ‘96.  Bunked in room #85 on the joey sleeper.  “It will always remain ‘the Beatty show in my heart ... not ‘Cole Bros.”

Same for me, Tim.  I saw the Clyde Beatty Circus in my PC-deprived boyhood.

On his Facebook, reprinted in the soon-to-be-gone Circus Report, Tim remembers how ”invigorating and exciting” it was to be joining the show in the spring, when equipment had been freshly painted, and there was “more activity than you could possibly imagine!”

Going back now, Tim is  struck by the decaying condition of trucks pealing away, by the old trapeze rigging still standing, “rotting away in weeds and high grass.” In one of the lonely photos, a small green tree nudged up against a Cole Bros. semi looks as if to be coddling it out of sympathy and respect.

Tim cuts to the core emotion that all of these images produce in me  “Almost like watching a friend slowly dying from a terminal disease. It is painful and you're totally helpless.”

That once fine and proud and oh-so well run circus, the nation’s largest tent show in the indoor age of Ringling, rues Tim, “will never again take to the road.”

Never again. Did you really have to say “never,” Tim?

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Kelly Miller Circus, Sunday, September 1, 2019 ...

The Kelly Miller Circus Is Official Closed. Thanks For The Memories.

Other than this message, typo included,  the website is now totally blank, all other pages having been apparently removed.


Remember the once-happy days of John Ringling North II?  His stetson hat, an audience landmark?  There he is, but no, as originally reported here, that is not him, as I guessed, at the head of the table with staff and fans, but Casey Cainan .  Johnny II could not and would not continue without the animals, and who are we to blame him?  Do I see Harry Kingston at the feast?  Surely I see clown and tell-it-like-it-is blogger (then) Steve Copeland, third up on the right.  Steve was so honest in sharing life on the show --  such as crowd sizes to cell-phonies mucking up the audience -- that we had to have our daily fix.  Truly a new kind of on-the-spot circus reporting -- Nothing like it before or since.  We were lucky!  Now, it all feels like a wonderful little golden age.  In my heart still, Ringling forever.