Coming to America with Horses, Camels, Ponies, Donkeys and Dogs!

Coming to America with Horses, Camels, Ponies, Donkeys and Dogs!
Germany's Great Bavarian Circus opens in Atlanta, Georgia, March 15-31. Then Onto Columbia, South Carolina

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Step Right Up, This Way to the Big Book! ... Big Top Typewritter Recalls Last Great Days of AmerIcan Circus! ...

from 5.18.17
 
THIS WAY TO THE GLORY THAT WAS!

The perfect holiday gift --- for yourself or others! 
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Hear what the leading voice in book reviewing says:

 "CIRCUS FANS WILL BE THRILLED TO HEAR ABOUT CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE RINGLING KIND [AS]  THE AUTHOR CELEBRATES THE INDUSTRY'S ACHIEVEMENTS IN PAGES STUDDED WITH REPRODUCTIONS OF POSTERS AND PICTURES OF FAMOUS CIRCUS ACTS ... HIS REVERENCE FOR THE CIRCUS SHOWS ITSELF IN ECSTATIC, OFTEN NOSTALGIC, DESCRIPTIONS OF MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES, AS WHEN HE LONGS TO 'RELIVE THE GLORIOUS AFTERNOON IN 1961 UNDER THE CLYDE BEATTY-COLE BROS. BIG TOP AT RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, WHEN BOOM BOOM BROWNING LEAD THE BAND WITH A JAZZY TINGLE.'... THE CHAPTERS THAT FULFILL THE PROMISE OF THE SUBTITLE SHINE."

 -- Publishers Weekly


THIS WAY TO BIG TOP TALES OF YORE 


ON THE INSIDE, SEE GREAT MOMENTS IN CIRCUS HISTORY ON OUR LIVING PLATFORMS!
SEE FRANCIS BRUNN TAKE ON THE  GREAT RASTELLI IN A JUGGLING SHOWDOWN!   
BEHOLD THE FLABBIEST TEASE IN THE TENT -- MISS OKLAHOMA BEARING ALL! 
SNIFF THE INFAMOUS ELEPHANT DUNG SAMPLER! ... 
WATCH JOHN RINGLING NORTH MAGICALLY REAPPEAR!
 BEHOLD SID KELLNER BLOWING HIS TOP UNDER THE BIG TOP!
THE SHOCKING FALL OF KENNETH FELD'S  GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! 
A RIVETING RINGLING RETURN --
FIVE BROTHERS RELIVE THEIR FINEST HOUR!

THESE AND MANY MORE AMUSING WONDERS
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.

"COMPELLING ... IMMENSELY PERSONABLE ... A THRILLING ROLLER COASTER RIDE THROUGH HIS CAREER AS A WRITER ... BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT THE WORKINGS OF THE CIRCUS INDUSTRY AND THE AUTHOR'S ENCOUNTERS WITH ITS STARS AND SHOWMEN.  A BREEZY PAGE TURNER."
Blasting News




"ENTICING ... INTRIGUING ... PROVOCATIVE ...  ALL, HOWEVER, SHOULD READ BIG TOP TYPEWRITER --- LIKELY A WINNER AS A CONTRIBUTION TO CONTEMPORARY CIRCUS LITERATURE"  
--Herb Ueckert, The Circus Report


"HERE IS A BOOK THAT HITS ALL MY BUTTONS ... THERE IS A CHARISMA TO HAMMARSTROM'S WRITING THAT KEEPS ME WITH HIM ... A UNIQUE TAKE ON CIRCUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY ... HIGHLY ENJOYABLE"  
—  Katharine Kavanagh, Circus Diaries, UK

 


"EYE OPENING ... AMUSING ... ANYTHING BUT YOUR STAID CIRCUS STORY ...   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR READERS WHO LIKE CIRCUS EXPOSES."
  — Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


“WORTH A READ FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ALONE!”
 Amazon consumer review

This way to the Big Book! ... This Way to the Big Book! ...



"A BOOK WITH GLUE ON THE COVER ... I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN!”
Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania


"LIKE A GOOD PERFORMANCE, IT ZIPS ALONG AT A GOOD PACE.” 
-- James Royal, American and European circus manager


Hurry!  Hurry!  Only $16.99 in paperback! $2.99 in Kindle!

Originally posted 5.18.17 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Death of James Bond, Belatedly Noted. Daniel Craig is No 007 ... And Yes, His Films Have Set Records ... So What ...

I remember seeing an early Daniel Craig 007, Skyfall I think, and was so turned off by his lifeless character and the Hollywood scripting, that I gave up on the film long before it gave up on me. With the release in October of the final Craig and the final Bond flick, No Time To Die, I looked up lists of the best Bond films, to find that many consider Craig  to be by far the best Bond ever. Are they kidding? 

So I took another  look at Skyfall, this time forcing myself to set out the entire ordeal, and here is my  review:

Cold and gloomy, morose and leaden, the central character a faceless muscular void. Remember the humor, even the charm of the Bond films? Remember some scenes filmed in actual sunlight? This one is drenched in darkness. Remember how fun they could be? This is a Hollywood exploitation movie, tediously overwrought in gunfire, and here 007 dares never to crack a smile. As for the woman thing, he comes off looking frigid -- as if he has been lobotomized to prepare for the killing target ahead. And he is being called the best Bond ever? Am I insane? Judy Dench manages to get in a little philosophy a la shades of Mrs. Henderson Presents and the Exotic Marigold Hotels. The lunatic is the most interesting character of the lot, and it takes forever to run him back into the slime that renders Scotland a dismal wasteland of lost souls. i struggled to hold on, just to see how this turkey would finally be wrapped. I will not go near another Craig as Bond, for he could not be farther from the character. Any of the others are a joy to watch. You can have your Sam Mendez. I'll take a real James Bond. 

END

And then I watched Timothy Dalton in Living Daylights, and Pearce  Bronson in Tomorrow Never Dies and was reassured to have Bond back. 

P.S. I looked up the reviews on Rotten -- an impressive 85%.  Among the few dissenters, Rex Reed bombed it and the franchise in recent years. Good going, Rex!

Friday, December 17, 2021

Before Oz: Remembering the Seven Ashtons and Other Great Circus Stars from Aussie-Land

Need I drop the names of landmark stars such as Con or Winnie Colleano?  He on the low wire, she on the single trap.  Or how about, oh say, only the very first flyer ever to turn the quad?  That would be Russian diva Lena Jordan.  Yes, a woman. Yes, Down Under.  For a feat that extraordinary, the setting should thereafter hold credit for the sacred act.  

You can see the Seven compelling Ashtons on a You Tube I just came upon.  I marveled at the pace and zip of he act, of the interesting exploits in a flow of action, and of the great cutting-up of one or two of the younger set.  Snazzy posturing for the fun of it.  Props and People continuously in motion, and we of a certain class want our circuses continually in motion right?

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmCaHe8zAO0

As well, the band scored them spot on.  These acts remind me of the primal appeal of true circus, un-burdened  or watered down by the imposition of "theme" or "character arc". Here, the family are the characters, and what a singular joy they are to watch at work.   

Australia could well claim its own share of ring stars.  A far cry from the experimentally rich, if tame in that vein Circus Oz.  It has now gone under, Down Under, massively in debt, and yet  refusing the control of others in order to quality for additional government funding. 

I first saw the marvelous Ashtons on the Polack show in the 1950s

Enjoy-- and Believe!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Cosest Thing to a Real Review of Big Apple Circus ... This One is Unanced ...

 Will the real Anonymous please rise?

Yes, those with the most to say seem the least able to identify themselves. A sad commentary on the dearth of open conversation among circus fans and pros.  And I will say no more at this time on the matter.  This comment, posted at the end of my next posting, is too good not to give center ring attention to.

So I am calling this, far as I know, the first validly fair and objective review of what Nik Wallenda is up to at the Lincoln Center that seems to have shunned.

 TO QUOTE EXACTLY WHAT ANONYMOUS POSTED:

I have to agree with a lot of the previous review. Although there are some stellar solo and duo acts, the show is ONLY solo and duo acts apart from the wire act, which is made extremely cringe-worthy by Nik's several interruptions to show video and speak on mic to the audience. It's as if he didn't want any bigger group acts to upstage his wire act, which is regrettably stale and much smaller than we have seen from him in the past.

It's all made worse by the suspicion that he is doing nothing but alienating his neighbors in Lincoln Center by his Page Six video, hollering about discrimination and unfairness, when it's now obvious that he turned a mistake into a tasteless publicity stunt. His claims that Lincoln Center has been "our home" for so many years ring hollow coming from the man who only bought the company this year.

Seeing t-shirts for sale in concessions with his face on them really drive home the fact that this is the Nik Wallenda show, not the Big Apple Circus.

END OF QUOTE

Thanks, A Whomever You Are!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Where Are They Now? .... Pulse Check of the Midways ...

UPDATE, 12-11 -- Two contributors posting comments, below,  offer rich insights into Big Apple history and the current show.  You read it here.   Others are encouraged to add their comments.

 Some snippets out there ...

Paul Binder!  At last, a Paul Binder sighting on his Facebook, with ... drum roll! ... Yes, the great Tito Tito! (last name, Gaona)  Paul's lively book about sea lions, the weather and his Big Apple Circus days coming out soon in audio, to the voice of Glen Close.  A big coup, Paul!  Where have you been?


 Some happy  fans at  Culpepper & Merriweather midway.  Looks like you had a good time!

The Zoppe Family circus is now until end of month in Redwood City, CA ... too unreachable by public transit for me. Go, Zoppe, Go!
 

 Ringmaster Venardos and his charming little circus.   This one would wow the one-ring heart of Big John Strong.

Royal Hanneford swinging through November. Boy, does that look fun!


Arms up at UniverSoul

Circus Vargas, still on the road, so I'm hoping they return soon to the Bay Area.

 Nik's Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center.  Little media evidence -- so far.  

So, we ain't doing so bad, you'd agree?

 11.22.21

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A Big Top Book Unlike Any Other: Paul Binder Teases With a Winning Big Apple Circus Sampler. Now in Audio!

As first reviewed here, July 14, 2014.  The audio is narrated by Max Samuels and Glenn Close.


The title may be too clever for it's own good, but Paul Binder’s new book,  Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion, is easy and fun to read, a charmer, filled with anecdotes about his years in and around the Big Apple Circus that he and Michael Christensen founded in 1977.

It is noting like I expected, although I don’t know what I expected, come to think of it, other than it would not tell us much about company conflicts, about Binder’s views of other circuses.  The book does, however, dish a little inside dirt (and pachyderm poo), some of which the author may live to regret.

Best of all, and rather surprising considering that Binder is possibly the most intellectually inclined circus producer in American history, the book is not a plodding polemic or an “academic,” to its redemptive credit.  So, those seeking a gender-bending study of how circus “reflects” the changing socio-economic-astrological-digital shifts in society will be just as let down as will the fans who count wagon wheels, tent poles, stringers, jacks and elephants.  Especially the latter. For several seasons, New York’s own circus has stuck with house-friendly critters, like horses and dogs, and the occasional tent-crashing skunk.

Here, Binder is a charming host, and here he does not drop the word “retirement.”  In the end, a third- person account states that he  “stepped out of the ring.”   I believe he did not want to retire, that he was gently, if not firmly, shown a way to make happy in the backyard and continue helping to raise money. 

How to talk about or  review this book? The best and fairest thing to do, it seemed, would be to go with questions raised by what appears on the printed page, rather than, for example, comparing what I find here with what  the author told me during a generous interview several years ago.

He jumps back and forth like an acrobat, and so there are holes in the narrative, some gaping and, one could argue, negligent.  Such as this:  Binder’s early account of how he set up the New York School for Circus Arts, which itself would present the circus, does not cover what became of that short-lived school. When I saw the show in 1978,  I was swept up by its youthful energy and creative spirit.  Some of the acts, as I recall, were developed at the school. Nothing from the ringmaster on its early demise.  I told you not to expect scholarship.

 Old World tested and certified:  Binder, left, and Michael Christensen, who honed their juggling on street corners in Europe, before returning to New York to found the Big Apple Circus in 1977.  Seen between them are Russian clowns Nina Krasavina  and Greory Fedin.  Binder also appears above, as the show's ringmaster.

 In its youthfully ambitious beginning, when the New York School for Circus Arts was a dream: Students perform New York Charivari, in the 1978 show. 

Another amazing gap: After writing about how he and Christensen secured their first  tent, a lot, and funding support, nothing about the first show, the reception, reviews, or the circus school’s diminishing role.  In fact, from there, the narrative leaps forward by five years! 

To his credit, Binder allows us to view his intense temper, in particular, during a box stacking act by David Casey (Oaf)that should have stopped at failed box number 3, but would not, due to the performer’s dogged resolve, contrary to Binder’s cues, to keep going until he succeeded.  Cut to an ugly row backstage — some of it shockingly audible to audience members  —  resulting in what, for a moment, sounded and looked ominously violent.  (Casey alleges in an angry review of the book on Amazon, that Binder’s account is partly fabricated.)

 In its matriculating years, when the circus turned away from youth and presented world class acts, like the Carillo Bros on the high wire, in 1984

Another inexplicable omission is the name of a legendary flyer, only alluded to in this rousing passage:

“Fifteen hundred people stare upward, motionless, neither breathing nor thinking but believing there is no way that flyer can ever break out of four — four! — somersaults, find a catcher’s arms in the blink of an eye, grab them, and hang on.  But what happens in the next instant calls into question every assumption this crowd has made about how the world works: hands and forearms do meet; they clutch, grasp, and hold ...
    And the crowd goes wild.”  

Guess who he’s talking about?  Not Tito Gaona, whom he loved, as anybody would, and who gets prime coverage in Never Quote.   No, a guy named Miguel Vazquez, whose name appears no where in the text.  The slight is astonishing.

For me, by far the ringmaster’s most memorable prose describes the feeling of connection to the crowd that came over him when he and Michael stepped into a circus ring for the first time, to appear at Anna Fratalinies new circus in France.  Here is how he begins: 

“... what I felt when I entered the ring was nothing less than pure joy — not just a personal sense of satisfaction and pleasure, but something far more powerful and deeply primal: true, elemental ritual celebration ...”  

His mantra is a two-word descriptor, “classical circus.” But he spends little time defining what exactly this means.  Would the definition include aerialists hooked to lifelines?  Does Ringling present “classical?” circus?  Or how about bout UniverSoul, or Cirque du Soleil?  And if not, why?

Binder believes that he, and a few others his age,  reintroduced the one ring show to a American audiences. They did not.  That distinction goes to  Polack Bros. Circus, which, in 1935, opted for one wonderful ring, and presented, during its heyday years, some of the greatest “classical circus” acts in the world.  In my boyhood, I saw the great Francis Brunn with Polack that Paul Binder would announce in his  own show thirty years later.

On animals, Binder's thoughts about their moods, and about how the best trainers work around those moods, are quite interesting and may be helpful, may not be.  I was impressed.

On occasion, he takes more space than need be, when he recounts acute looks of displeasure on the faces of opera patrons, Lincoln Center bound, having to pass a circus area freshly scented with late-breaking elephant emissions. 

Final chapters bring on some high drama from the Middle Kingdom, with the arrival of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe from China, resulting in one of its performers, Lanrong, wanting to defect, being locked up in a room by the troupe’s stern task master, Lu Yi (who now teaches circus arts in San Francisco), actually wanting free of  Yi rather than her country.  Here lies a tale made for a movie,  But, please,spare us the languid cameras of PBS.


Production soars in Pictureque, 2004, a near masterpiece.  That season, the Kovgar Troupe, from Russia, sent the show into orbit at finale.  

It’s a book you’ll be beguiled into meeting on its own randomly organized terms – part of its quirky charm.  Which gives it a rare easy-to-take effervescence.  The informally artful layout (short chapters, most headed with small sketch drawings, charming) is another asset.  Only are the poorly reproduced black and white photographs a drawback (and I thought some of mine in recent books were bad!) -- but who cares.  It's the writing that counts.

Binder’s mother never seemed sure about her son’s career choice.   He would call her up after another opening to share his enthusiasm, and she, per he, “asked hesitantly, almost as if she feared what the answer would be: “But ... Paul, ... are you ... are you happy?”

Perhaps more then than now.  Just after announcing  his retirement, the ringmaster told a TV reporter what a joy it was, every single day, to dress up in his costume and wait to go on. To face another ring. Another crowd.

You'll never read about this in Don't Quote the Weather.  A showman to the end, Paul Binder spares us a sad closing parade.


Act creator Paul Binder gave artistic birth to the clown Bello Nock, after watching him perform with his family on sway poles, and offering to help him create his own solo act. 
 
Originally posted, July 12, 2014

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Morning Midway: Women Now Dominate in College and Other Fields -- And the Circus, Too? ...

On the news, woman outnumbering men in halls of higher learning by as much as 60 to 40%  ... Men being squeezed down to a softer breed, and some are retreating.  Shamed into defaulting down to the kind of work they are better endowed to do, and giving up on the old B/A degree.  

Situation so dire, that some colleges are actively trying to lure them back ----the very opposite of what it was thirty or forty years ago when the drive was tto get more girls on a career path. Do you remember "bring your daughter to work day"?

Might there now be a bring your son to work day?

The circus has been ridiculed and shamed too, off the lots by the culture of deconstruction.

Under the big tops in heydays gone by, women held their own in the rings, despite modern day feminism, rampantly alive in San Francisco, arguing blatant bias.  So little do they know or care to know about the real world of the circus.  Modern distortions in fact are gobbled up by a brain dead media that has little interest and sees only a quaint relic of another time too out of sync with today.

And, thus has the circus suffered from a distaff side increasingly louder against animals acts, even those creepy clowns, more critical by implication of the circus's raw connection to reality. For an irretrievable past, read The White Tops. For an unworkable future, read Circus Talk.

Only when the nation pushes back, only when the American people come to their better senses and take on the Woke crowd, will the circus, too, have a chance to be what it once was -- like so many other things that have been hounded and harassed into the shadows of a new world disorder, where store fronts now feature plywood rather than glass.

Other than that in your way, do have a nice day!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

You're Not Welcome Here, Nik! Upitty Koch Theatre and City Ballet Order Big Apple Circus Posters Off Construction Walls ... A Fearless Wallenda Blasts Back On Eve of Show's Opening ... ...

This is one for the ages.  Remember when the circus came to New York in the spring and the press covered it as tantamount to a holiday?

Remember when crowds stormed the ticket windows at Madison Square Garden to grab the best seats for the greatest Greatest Show on Earth?

Today, it seems that even New York’s own circus can’t get a pass on plastering plywood walls encircling a construction site with posters directing customers to its hard-to-detect box office, and then to its tent, somewhere back there.  Good luck on this shipwrecked midway.

Heartbreaking to listen to the show's new producer Nik Wallenda spill out his heart — a great spokesman for the growing disdain in general that many circus artists are being made to suffer in a land that has gradually been talked out of its love affair with spangled wonders under billowing white tops.

Yesterday, a day before opening, there in a bizarre affront to a tradition once embraced by the millions, was the lonely figure of Wallenda removing his own ballyhoo sheets ---as if the show had already come to town and was leaving. 

The famed wire-walking grandson of Karl Wallenda  told Page Six, apparently a wing of the feisty New York Post, that construction in front of the building was  “completely blocking our box office.”  So he raised the posters in order to direct customers through the makeshift maze. 

Can Wallenda turn this ordeal into a public backlash --  swelling the coffers and filling the seats? So far, media coverage of the shows third reincarnation since fumbling out of bankruptcy has been anything but boffo. In fact, hardly aware at all. Told silence from The New York Times. 

This is potentially one hell of a human interest story, and how it may play out  in the Big Apple could have some effect on America’s nearly brain-dead indifference to true circus.

Said righteously articulate Nik, “We’ve trained our whole lives, and to be treated and beat up for who we are is heartbreaking.  It’s like our art form isn’t worthy — which is obviously offensive. It’s green mesh construction barricades. What are we hurting by having signage, so people know we’re here?”

Show uncorks tonight.

Stay tuned.

Thank you, Don, for the link

Friday, November 05, 2021

I Wrote Some Books ... Do Any of Them Still Sell?

I get sentimental over typing machines that serve me well. On the cusp of a new millennia, I typed out a love letter to my loyal royal portable. I still use it for short notes.

Here you see me getting tear-eyed over my dying (or then I assumed) 2008 Dell Vostro, which I still much prefer typing drafts on.  A few months ago, it was acting very erratic and weak, seeming to wobble and lose focus, so much so that I knew its days were suddenly over, ready to force myself to get a replacement.  But then, Vostro (maybe down with Covid), made a total recovery, back to its old reliable self, and I value it more, turning it on in the mornings when I write,  and then off for a day long break.

My best selling books were born in circus rings. Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus, moved almost 4,000 copies out of the warehouse. Still in print, it virtually never sells a copy. My latest royalty statement from University of Illinois Press showed Total Taxable Royalties: -6.96.  Does Uncle Sam owe me? 

Behind the Big Top, my very first book, put out by A.S. Barnes in New Jersey,  sold out its first printing of 2.500, and was slated for a return trip to the press when its new west coast publisher, Oak Tree, a house that catered to kids, went under.

Now here comes Broadway Musicals: A Hundred Year History, my third best selling title, of which I am amply proud. (An entire chapter on Stephen Sondheim was reprinted in Gale's annual Drama Criticism.)  After the initial rush of good strong sales, it might sell 10 to 20 copies most years, then something unexpected happened: What I regard as possibly my best written work has rebounded at the registers.  

Now nearly 20 years in print, the book is now selling closer  to a hundred copies a year, and it ain't being given away.  McFarland, who knows how to move books,  lists the paper version for $49.99, the kindle for $19.95.  I have come to believe that when somebody really wants a book, they will pay what they have to to get it.  But, if the interest is low, you can't give it away.  May I be pardoned from mentioning any of my own indie titles that fit this woeful  category? 

I had, yes, past tense, given the self-published world a good try, and  have little inclination to go back.  My first book, Riding Amtrak: The Rise and Fall of American on Rails (under a pseudonym), did remarkably well given totally no media reviews and a ragged bag  of split consumer comments, selling so far around 250 copies.  Not bad for me in Indie.  A few indie titles later, with zero sales humbling me, came another bright exception ...

I have always felt I got super lucky with this marvelous cover design, by Brian Pearce, which in my biased opinion, deserves some kind of an award.  By far the best cover of any of my six books on the spangled subject.  Believing it would be impossible to find a publisher willing to go with a narrative that candidly covered my dealings with various publishers and editors, I did not even try, but decided to self-publish. 

And  I was proved right by the half raving, half damning review in Publishers Weekly, which went ballistic over my gall to be honest.  What bothered me the most was how blatantly PW misrepresented and/or invented what I said with respect to my travails at publishing houses.  However, they did grant that, for much of the way, "circus fans will be thrilled." A red hot quote.

Of course, had a traditional house brought out Big Top Typewriter, it would easily have sold three to four times as many copies, if not more.  But it did sell decently well off the press, and I am cheered to see that rarely a month goes by without a few copies still moving off Amazon shelves   In the indie world for me that is big.

There is one big flaw in Typewriter: The irrelevance of the three-chapter middle section that covers my two books on musical theater -- the one you see above, and Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals.  When recently I reread Typewriter, I was so happy about the whole thing that when I got to the Broadway chapters, I jumped them completely to keep the circus parade going.  Were I to do it over again, there would be but one brief chapter about my interval on the stage away from the sawdust.

Almost always, there are things I find that I wish I had done differently. But there is one book of mine that I feel comes as close to a thoroughly unified work as I have ever been able to bring off:  Inside the Changing Circus. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sunday Over Light ... Why I love my old Canon -- when it's in the mood ... The Mystsery of Photography Can Surprise

 Walking the streets of Piedmont, gazing at houses and trees sharing space.  Favoring lone objects. Looking up.  Looking down. 

 


 

 

 

 


 

  


 

 


 

 Okay, I'm not being shy about this lucky snap.  I think it deserves some kind of an award. I love you, Canon!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Risky Resurrection for The Greatest Show on Earth: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Owners Promise 2023 Return ... Radical Revamping Raises Deflating Questions ...

There were tears in my eyes when I read this  And there were tears in the eyes, too, of a "choked up" Juliette Feld Grossman, seen above, breaking the news to an applauding audience in Seattle that they are "casting for a new version of the Greatest Show on Earth." 

She was seated next to her father, Kenneth Feld, who shared a vision of renewal for the most famous name in the circus world.  They talked of a "reassessment of the operation with an eye toward doing things Feld Entertainment has been doing for decades, only better."

"We looked at our company like a 50-year-old startup," said Kenneth.

Juliette, who looks at the moment to be the heir apparent of the family throne, stressed  the perpetual value of live entertainment before families, of how for decades, many voices had been telling them that virtual reality and artificial intelligence would "replace what we do." 

But there was something conspicuously missing, however, from her following quote:  "There is nothing like going to an arena, theater or stadium and being part of that momentary community, to be swept up in the excitement and the action and the experience of it all."

The word "tent."  In fact, not the theater or the stadium or the arena are central to the still-operating circuses in the UK,  not even to the once, and maybe still, powerhouse on the lot, Cirque du Soleil, which once tried to sell its shows under hard tops and struck out.  They could fill up maybe 3,000 chairs. A whole arena?  Not even close.

But most conspicuously and ominously missing from the headline came through in two words I wanted to push back -- two words that instantly deflated the bright victorious balloon of this announcement:

"The circus is coming ... back.  Feld Entertainment plans an animal free relaunch of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 2023." 

And how empty and impotent the occasion felt.

And by the morning after, the tears in my eyes have dried, as I am left wondering if they are not once again charting a major reboot with a built-in fatal flaw.  When four years ago, Kenneth Feld, in a concession to the animal rights movement, removed his elephants from the show, at the same time by not removing the big cage acts, he nullified the action, leaving the door open for PETA to stand firm at the front gates with placards and pamphlets in hand.

And now, "animal-free" feels like a rash sell out to modern culture -- a kind of pandering to the crowds that may or may not still fill up the tents of Cirque du Soleil and of, it would appear, the majority of circuses across the pond.

So, at the moment, to quote an old song, I guess I'll hang my tears out to dry.  One thing feels certain: This should be one heck of a story to follow.  The Felds have millions to spend. They have vast resources at hand to draw from.  Kenneth Feld is one of the smartest showmen who ever lived. But he, too, is human and prone to making wrong decisions, as all the mighty are. The next steps he takes may be the most critical in his career.  Pray he gets this one right.  Innovation will always be a big factor. So too, tradition. 

Thanks to Don Covington tor linking  the news release my way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Amtrak Sinks to Lowest Point Ever in Customer Service – Denys Coach Class Passengers Access to the Diner ... A Showbiz David On-the-Scene Exclusive ..

    DATELINE AMTRAK, en route on the California Zephyr behind mask — having both shots count for nothing. Yesterday through Colorado, my mask-free windows glowed with the blossoming yellows of fall, train now three and a half hours late on its way to Chicago.  My next train, the cozy Cardinal for family in Culpepper VA (who earlier appeared here in April), leaves 4 hours after this one arrives, when it’s on time, and I fear an overnightmare of boredom in this great big city that feels so alien to me, waiting to get out and back on the  tracks.  My Grade A car attendant, Greg, believes we will make it.  As you can see, we did.

    DAMTRAK’S INFURIATING delays are caused partly by its kowtowing to freight trains barreling through as we wait on side tracks like old-school peasants accepting whatever will be. Now and then, a spectacular vista reminds me of  why I put up with our national railway.  Still, I am not ready to embrace a bullet train that blurs the landscape to nothingness.  Slow does have it advantages, does it not?  Service so far is exemplary.  Much easier these days to dine in your own compartment and not be made to feel like a snob or a difficult loner.

    HAVING SAMPLED on a few previous trips  the “bedroom” suites, I am happily for now, tucked back into the eminently doable economy compartments, where everything can be within arms reach, and where you will avoid the difficult-to maneuver shower and toilet combo.  The solo community restrooms are much easier to navigate and more comfortable.

   FOOD IS A MIXED plastic plate — the salmon divine, the baby potatoes for breakfast hard and clumpy.  Flat Iron was a tad tough The “garden salad,” an insulting joke, more aptly titled Dead Leaves of Wrath, some strands bearing odiously unhealthy colors.  Three or four small grape tomatoes, dry chicken breast pieces can be added. But other items satisfied, if overly rich.

    THE MORE MY sleeper rumbles and jerks about, the better, it seems, I sleep.  Sometimes.  Which makes me wonder if I was lullabied to sleep in a tilt-a-whirl crib.

   SO JOE BIDEN gave Amtrak a whole lot of play money. Then why does the diner, in a shocking and callous move, refuse to serve the coach set?  I ask them.  Covid is why.  Covid is so easy an excuse for any why.  The audacity of denying all coach passengers food in or from the diner, and ordering them to the hell pits of the sodium and sugar dispensary (aka: the lounge car café), is an outrage.

   THE COACH CLASS are doomed to a sentence of deprivation.  I have close up and with horror examined the glossy packages of these dastardly “café” offerings.  The lady at counter asked if she could help me.  I said I was looking for something on the low-sodium side. She said, “I don’t read the labels."  Okay, now my turn to toss around that nauseating word, Equity.  Joe, knock knock: Are you or one of your under-lords reading this?  Where is the equity in dining options on your pampered railroad?  How would you feel, Joe, setting out on a 3-day train trip and learning that your dining choices have been reduced to 7-ll junk food?  I would scream abuser of public health! You’d spend trillions on catastrophic nonsense, and leave stranded the people in coaches?

   WITH LUCK, there will be time between trains to type this out on my maddening Dell that features a wild jumping cursor, which not infrequently runs away from where I am and sneaks into something already typed ... At Union Station in savvy Windy City, there is a great subway style place that puts out the most fabulous sandwich, the  ingredients on a sheet of paper which contains info for this trip, the ONLY thing I forgot to take! ...  Maybe I can get them to pry it out of me with key words. I could use a break from Uncle Sam’s hit and miss menus. I'll wait for my subway-like moment upon my return through, and for now wallow in the thrill of having not been too late on Amtrak, again!  We don't ask much of it these days.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Yawn of Posting These Days ... The Vile of Anonymous, Alive At Least ... The Gore of Booming Brit Tops, Thrilling the Crowds, At Least ... Le Freak! -- Let's Dance! ...

                    The defining element of true circus? Risk

    LAZY OVER HERE. How can I make much out of not much?  I cover skimpy midways.  I wonder as I wander, how much longer a dry drill? ...  Even five years ago, I had stuff to knock around, laugh at and run with,  blow up or toss out ... Hardly anything left but scraps and peanut shells, even screwed-up documents in e-mail, such as, from Carson & Barnes to me, a print out I can' read that I am suppose to approve for my 'earnings" during 2021, under the name of Wang.  Did I tell you how dead it's getting out there? ... Tenting in the Twilight Zone ... Hugo, what were you thinking?

   BEAR WITH ME, or giggle in front of my back.  I'm scrambling around here, like poking in sticks under the old cedar of Lebanon in my boyhood front yard, looking for something to play around with ... Trying to kill time cobbling together a posty.  It's a drag when what you have to work with is the sad spectacle of the trouping wounded managing to keep their shrinking canvas in the air, smiling to the public and it smiling back, wanting to believe still in circus day. Can you hear the beat of Chic in the background ?... 

   A FEELING OF being stranded in a morgue ...  There was a rare streak of life from our beloved visitor, Anonymous, reveling in the darkness, declaring Big Apple Circus, yet to open, "garbage."  Well, it felt real, at least ... and I ponder about Big Apple Circus Comeback Season 3, to be produced by Nik Wallenda. Why do I already feel uneasy over its prospects? Stay with me here.

   NEW YORK PRESS  & MEDIA not turning even fake somersaults over the news, possibly worn down by resurrection fatigue ... What the Hook This Time? Comeback Producer 1 (the doctor) offered us stodgy, Comeback Producer Number 2-3, sleazy. And what from Nik?  Here's my queasy: Can the 7-high wire walk be really that much a pull, since it was performed in the first comeback, and anyway, as executed under so small a tent on a wire closer to low than to high, the feat may be unable to achieve maximum awe  ..  A trapeze act would be a better draw.   Production Values: Show's creative staff shows a composer and a sound engineer, but no musical director or band leader, which hints of money problems at the outset ... To Manage and Perform: Nik himself will still be walking the wire (his life). thus, his focus on managing (new to him?) may be severely compromised. Lean Line-Up  ... The solo-intense cast leaves me feeling a bit, what --recital-ish? ... Circuses for the most part thrive on the family or the partner(s) factor. Or animal friends.    

    MAKE 'EM SCREAM across the Big Pond!  Can you feel alive? Can you feel a crowd? Gore is the new freak show, and it's knocking 'em dead. Crowds so great at Circus of Horrors, producer's sending out a second tent, relays Douglas McPherson from dare-to-terrify Over There.  This may be good news, kids.  Hear me out: I do believe that the public, whether it knows it or not, is hankering for something far closer to what circuses where (as in sideshow kink and true daredevils) than to another recycled acro-ballet bore.  In other words, CIRCUS.  I saw a You Tube of another edgy UK offering that dares to call itself  "the daredevil circus," Circus eXtreme, giving acts of great skill and dangerous risk-raking.  The gall of it all!  Big crowd in the tent.  Yes, a mass of live bodies, some wearing masks.  While I'm not advocating  a Stephen King bloodbath, I do exult in the kind of authentic circus that can raise the pulse and hit a visceral nerve in the human spirit.  And when I see such a venture drawing a crowd, I can still see a future out there. We are still at least hanging on. God bless our dedicated troupers who endure against all odds ...

   FEW HOURS LATER.  Back at this whatever post, I'm now listening to Chic's 1978 disco hit, I want Your Love, and it feels good. No, no, I'm not going off my rocker, only grabbing a few vibrant bars of some of the best pop music ever composed, for inspiration. Monte Carlo is coming back in January, and that's good, right?  Who was big when Chic was big?  Cliff Vargas was in the early stages of his career, on the mad rise to something really big ... The Felds had Ringling riding high. So many solid American shows out there posting arrows, following arrows onto and off of grass and mud and weed and cracked cement. Crowds lining up to embrace the tattered magic.  The animal hysterics had not yet formed.   Some of the best tunes were composed pushing disco onto dance floors and kept it there for years ... I'd like to hear more of it under a tent ... It was always about the music for me.  And for you?  And where is this going? It's Saturday night, tomorrow is Sunday, and I may post this then ...Or maybe, NOW.  Yes, it's 9:06 pm PST. They want our love. So, let's give it back ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Big Apple Circus Roars Back, Gunning for Gotham Return Under Nik Wallenda Control ... Solo-Heavy Lineup Awaits Phillip McKinley Direction ... America's Got Talent Alumni Promise Populist Media Eye ...

Once more rising from the ashes of bankruptcy -- a form of endurance it has become adept at outlasting --- the long-beleaguered Big Apple Circus makes yet another comeback. This third time around to uncork at Lincoln Center on November 11.  Pray they make it to Queens next April or May – and I’m going.

Alan Silva's umbrella intrigues me. The silks could use a good prop.

This time out, gone is any mention of Compass Partners, the Sarasota-based angels who bought the circus out of bankruptcy in 2017, and may now be dining on food stamps behind sad faced clown masks.  Gone too is Remarkable Entertainment hired by Compass, which not so remarkably blew its chance at Comeback Season 2.  You may remember a retired spinal surgeon who took on Comeback Season 1.  The media chirped.  Will they replay the chirp for Comeback Season 3?  Their patience may be running low. So far, little evidence of hometown media running with the news

Johnny Rocket.  He makes me laugh already. A runaway Nock?

Enter new lead man Nik Wallenda, whose name alone should guarantee ample New York press coverage.  The nephew of legendary Karl Wallenda is partnering with a conglomerate of entities too fuzzily reported on to make complete sense of.  One is called  “S2BN Entertainment,” another Grand Slam Productions. Remarkable is nowhere in sight.  I’m not wasting any more time trying to untangle this web of murky control, only wondering who really is in charge. For the moment, I’m going with Nik

And just in the nik of time, when Big Apple Circus looked eerily close to a fire sale  Shall we count on three being a charm?  Heck, I’ll even go for four, or more.

Singing swinger Eli Huber, yes she sings, too! And oh, how daring you don't look with your iron mechanic.  Nik: You booked her?  

And what to look forward to? Most impressive to my eyes are at least the first two of these three promising elements, all of which speak well to Nik’s showmanship:

1.  Show to be directed by Phillip William McKinley, a former Ringling knockout stager with a gift, when it is turned on, for brilliantly shaping and pacing circus action.  His Ringling unit at Coney was the best damn circus show I have seen in many seasons.

2.  America’s Got Talent contributes as a valuable tie-in, thanks to the populist exposure it has given to a few of the show's acts.  This gives Nik’s PR department ample human-interest material to push on the media.

3.  The Loner Edition? On paper, a slew of solo artists from around the world — perhaps too many solos —  promise a vibrant spread of intense novelty. Houdini Illusion to tiny dachshunds.   Some have worked on Cirque du Soleil shows, but none tout Monte Carlo medals. Should we be surprised by the lack of Asian faces? I am disappointed but not surprised, given the simmering US-China tensions.  The bios on them are wordy, and two do not even spell out what the artist actually does!  Excuse me?

Classy: Katya Nikiforova

From Cirque land, James, Gonzales: Let's see, at least we see some kind of a prop, and since he toured with Cirque's Kurious (the last good CDS I saw), perhaps he learned to go super abstract.

Golly, have we a duo?  Count them two solos in one! Ethiopia's Yab Brothers.  So, what exactly do they do, bio writers? Yet to be determined?  Risley, maybe.

Okay, so three’s a charm, a good theme for now.  Nik’s forebears tried taking out a circus of their own, and the tents fell in weeks. Has happened to other performers, too.   But ... but, the Ringling Brothers were performers before they turned themselves into circus kings. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen performed before they produced.

Yes, they are not miniatures but real!  And they rocked America's Got Talent.  I saw the You Tube. Pure gold, kids

"We can't wait to reveal the new show that will certainly mix traditional circus and modern updates," said Wallenda to AMNY.

On balance, I see Nik making some very smart moves at the outset. Not sure he can be both star performer and effective CEO. But this I think:  We can rest assured that “character arc” does not count much if at all in his mind.  Pray he keeps the dramaturgs out of his tent.