OVER THERE and Over Here, I go back and forth, cheered to see Brit big tops getting ready for next season, less optimistic as I stare at dormant U.S. circus websites, and walk a bleak landscape looking like forgotten playgrounds. Have we about lost it all? (or have I?) Are we still in the running? Yes, UniverSoul is playing a Texas date, good news, and a vaccine is on the way. And then, let’s see. And then, who will have the will and the wallet to reboot and reroute?
CULLPEPPER & MERRIWETHER, the smallest show, shines the brightest on my PC screen. Big Apple Circus, arguably the biggest U.S. name, shines the grayist – as barren as one flickering light bulb on a rusting neon sign over a boarded up store. Bankruptcy to go -- or for pick up, anyone? Paul, where on earth are you! Please come out and say something.
Corona is Not a Circus Fan
SO BACK TO the sunny side of the pond: The best news is that not a single transmission of Covid at any circus has been reported. Writes my Atlantic correspondent Douglas McPherson, in helpful reply to my asking him for a general update, “Socially distanced big tops proved to be a safe environment.”
THE FIFTEEN OR SO circuses of the UK evidently did okay through the autumn. In early November, they were all locked down through at least until December 2. A few of the bigger ones produce pantomimes filling out December.
“I think all the circuses will be back in 2021,” writes Douglas.
Big Top Boris
FUNDING TO THE RESCUE: Boris (as in prime minster) opened his pocketbook with grants to a number of shows. That would be a cool 1 million (pounds) to Gandey’s, 600,000 to Zippos, and 466,000 to the National Center for Circus Arts.
BREXIT HAS mucked up the flow lanes between the UK and other countries, making it not nearly as easy or affordable now to import artists from abroad. And those are the ones who supply, it would appear, an increasingly critical component of the kind of shows the public wants to see.
Circus Art is Not a Hobby, Kids
MARTIN BURTON, Chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, and owner of Zippos Circus, told The Stage, “There are a lot of people in the UK who say they are circus artists. But for the quality that I want, I don’t need somebody who decided to train in a building-based circus school in their mid-20s because they thought it sounded more exciting than working in a factory. I need somebody who trained in a 42-foot ring almost from birth and has the skill of an Olympic athlete, which is why is why we employ so many overseas people."
BURTON OFFERED a nine-month tour to some “excellent artists” from an English circus school. They yawned, “Oh, that’s too long. We don’t mind doing July and August.” With British born artists dwindling in number, Burton and other owners are relying more on Eastern European performers and, of course, the redoubtable Chinese acrobats
But for my fear of flying, how I would relish crossing the pond, come summer, to take a look for myself, railing from one lot to another on those cozy British compartment trains.