At UniverSoul last month
What is there to write about a season that wasn’t ? That
it will stand out in American circus history as, yes, the season that
wasn’t? And what’s to look forward to in 2021? As Nellie Hanneford so
simply stated, when I reached her by telephone, “It’s out of our hands.”
And the sooner it’s back in, the better. But even then, I wonder. There should be plenty of Americans hungry for the kind of down-to-earth live entertainment that circus can offer. And if the Feld of Felds does make good on his promise to bring back The Greatest Show on Earth, that will be, by far, the best thing that could happen to the big top scene here. For, Ringling-Barnum symbolizes American circus. When it died, so in the minds of many did circus die. A successful return could work wonders for an institution that is closer than ever to the abyss.
How does 2021 look to the trouping wounded? I dialed their numbers, sent out e-mails seeking their thoughts on what lies ahead. My rankings here are partly based on the responses received; also on my knowledge of each show’s history; and a gut feeling.
2020 American Circus Evidence of Life Awards
No need to call them. The sight of an actual tent in the air anywhere over the U.S. marks a milestone. They pitched theirs for a perilous period last month down in Texas. Whether the crowds pitched back is another matter. Photos I have seen show only a few strays in the seats. But something is better than nothing, right? My hat's off to you, Cedric Walker.
2. Cullpepper Meriweather
Why so high on this list? They are small enough to have, I assume, the smallest nut, and they’re run by pros, and have been around for a long time.
From Cullpepper’s Jim Royal: “Show owner/manager Trey Key is monitoring the situation daily. We are in touch with our local sponsors and ready to set the route. Everything hinges on the pandemic. I know, no surprise there.”
3. Royal Hanneford
I’d never spoken with Nellie Hanneford before, such a sweet soul. She tells me they are working on dates, and she nearly mentions one in particular, but I do not press. These days, “in particular” could mean a whole season.
4. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
From VIP Stephen C. Yaros, in reply: “Thanks for reaching out to Feld Entertainment. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, our plans to relaunch The Greatest Show On Earth have been delayed. As soon as we have more information to share, we plan to do so. I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas. Cheers.”
Money is no problem for the Felds. Only key issue, as I see it, is when best to strike. I’d say, when Americans feel safe enough to sit next to each other at a circus. Feld has good reason to maximize the potential for a groundswell of grateful yes-give-us-the-real-circus patronage. Was the stage ever better set for a circus named Ringling to roar back in triumph?
5. Big Apple Circus
It’s presence remains, I’d venture, even more murky, as witness what you hear when you dial their number. At the other end, a recorded message from a cool sounding guy: “Hey there, thank you for calling. Please leave us a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.” No name of voice or circus. Us Circus?
The guy, answering my e-mail on the upbeat, turns out to be Jack Marsh from Circus Flora — the Flora that played a hand in the last Lincoln Center date show before Covid came calling.
“Yes, life is here, indeed!!"pipes Jack. “Obviously hard to have a crystal ball right now, but all plans are for BAC to re-launch once the world will allow. Plan A right now is to target Lincoln Center in October, our usual time frame.... Fun plans are underway. Fingers crossed for the industry we both love.”
His name stands above the imposing title, Executive Producer. So I e-mail back, and toss Jack be nimble some questions:
Is Gregg Walker still in charge?
“Gregg is moving on to greener pastures.”
Is Walker’s company still involved in any way?
“I don’t have precise details on the arraignment but Remarkable has some ownership of the company, as do other investors.”
Who is your CEO?
“That’s not a position we have right now”.
“No, no ownership changes to report. Be careful about assumptions!”
Jacks seems to be a splendid fellow. See how much space he got here? He even offered to set up a chat, which might have been very interesting, but I did not wish to take it that far. Given Jack’s fluidity, I might have ended up with so much inside stuff, that I would feel guilty not writing a book about it. So politely, I declined.
Since they can’t seem to live without Lincoln Center (their Achilles heal), they might not be too welcome back come October. Broadway is still looking uncertain about 2021.
6. Carson & Barnes
Both circus Vargas and Carson & Barnes are about equally inaccessible by either e-mail or phone. I am graciously awarding an edge to C&B because they answered my e-mail of yesterday with this lovely reply. "Hello David, Thank you for contacting us! Someone will respond to you very soon about your inquiry." Well, I am still waiting.
7. Circus Vargas
Didn't get back to me at all. When I dialed there number, I was sent into a loop-the-loop extension chase down into a hole. No reply to my two e-mails. So I must relegate them to this bottom slot. You have come to the end of the rankings. You may now take your mask off, kids.
END RINGERS: This is the year when we lost Circus Report for good, when Spectacle suspended publication due to lack of subject matter to cover ... When the Brits showed us how to could keep a dozen or more circuses on the road for a few months. From the land that gave us circus, I would hope for that. Kudos to them!... A year when Italy, which had suffered devastating covid deaths, warmed my heart by staging a great circus festival, in which star Italians inspired before masked-in audiences. ... The year when Cirque du Soliel went into and out of bankruptcy, as if anybody cares. I have grown weary of the Cirque style. And I believe many Americans have, too. I mean, really, does "character arc"do that much for any of you? ... Feld Family: You are our last great hope, so don’t let us down this time!... And I almost forgot, when cyber courier Don Covington stuck in there, continuing to find all sorts of stories related to circus and sending them out and keeping me on the list. Thank you, Don!
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!