Sunday, February 28, 2021

Big Top Bits: Ringling Risks Blue States Fallout ... Chinese Risk Higher Flights ... Rampaging Gorilla Risks a Tour of America. ...

 From Out of the Past ... Guess when?

Answering Connecticut’s drive to outlaw use of the billhook (ankus) by bull handlers, Kenneth Feld threatens to ditch every date in this blue blue state. Now, that takes guts. And may it turn Connecticut truly blue. New Cole Circus’s Renee Storey is taking a tough rhetorical stand against the bill’s co-sponsor, one Diana S. Urban, accusing her of false statements (which, indeed, she has made) and undue action. The circus big shots are suddenly going constitutional. Here’s Storey citing the Equal Protection clause under Section 8 of Article 1. Go, Esquire Storey! ... Kenneth Feld’s daring threat could also backfire: What if he ditches Connecticut and nobody makes a fuss? Might other states and/or cities follow suit against elephant acts? ... Then bourbon for Ms. Urban?

Let’s chill out for a wee moment, okay. Can Feld afford to start a blue-state trend against his three touring units? A few thousand miles away out on bluer than blue west coast, there’ll be no Bellobration at San Francisco's Cow Palace this summer, marking the second season in a row without a Ringling visit ... Who could ever have guessed? All I can get from Cow Palace tickets agents, who grant that Feld ditched them, not they him — is a generic excuse about Ringling wanting to play Stockton instead. Stockton? This year in the labor day slot that for fifty years belonged to S.F., Ringling makes a round trip to Portland between Northern Calif. dates in San Jose and Stockton ...

While America’s big top moguls continue struggling to figure out what their vanishing audience base really wants — if anything at all — the fringers appear to be having a ball out there making hay of traditions in peril .... Up in Portland, there’s the Wanderlust Circus, promising 3 Leg Torso and DJ Global Ruckus, AND "ecological and educational amusements..." Also purring through pc-perfect Portland right about now is the Moscow Cats Theatre. The fluffy eqiuilibrists started out on sawdust and are now the queens and kings of stage. "Direct from Broadway!" spiels an add ... Go, kitties, go! ...

Other oddball offerings that intrigue: San Francisco’s eccentrically kooky dinner-circus under a tent by the bay, Teatro Zinzanni has cooked up a new concoction that sounds deliciously off kilter: Ukranian illusionist and original cast member Veronin returns. So does juggling chef Michael Davis ... Between bites, sample the "sensual power duo" Vertical Tango, opera diva Svetlana Nikitenko and German aerial acrobat Crystalle. And while your chasing those little cable cars half way to the stars — or the bars -- you might check out Circus Center’s first-year aerial program students on high, Ethereal Bodies and Crazy Clowns. Slated to perform June 2 at 7:30.

From hoops to traps, the Chinese are more and more pushing their flawless artistry skyward, and isn’t that a heady turn of events ... The Shanghai Swingers gave UniverSoul's 2005 opus true gold ...Another example of Asiatic stratospherics are the rambunctiously inventive Yunnan Flyers with Ringless Bros. On a stage, I find the various so-called "Chinese Acrobats" from here and there a little predictable and boring. In a ring and in the air, and mixed together with a diversity of performers from far and wide, these gymnasts add guaranteed zing and luster. Soar, China, Soar! ...

The Return of Gargantua? That would be our 400-pound male gorilla, Bokito, who is on display at a Netherlands zoo when not out on escape scaring the living daylights out of zoo goers. Now, what will Peta do about this? Bokito got loose and rampaged all over the grounds, sinking his teeth into a woman and dragging her around, panicking dozens of patrons. Our manic-depressive big ape only needed medication, so they say. In his break-out wake, four people were injured, that’s nothing to laugh about. Everything else — well, Bokito’s news-grabbing behavior marks him as a natural for an American big top in needed of a crowd. Jim Judkins, ahead of his Circus Chimera in an effort to bolster a weak gate (things are "very very difficult," he writes in a humbly haggard tone) might see about importing Bokito for a season or two ... There’s a lovely "jungle condition" cage in Baraboo — maybe for rent.

And that’s a gargantuan wrap!


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Now Available on Amazon! Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical ... How True to Life Might it Be? ... Drawing From the Hints of History

"A show that is basically better than Barnum" -- VARIETY

Making musicals fly can take a toll on history.  Some of our most cherished hits (My Fair Lady, Carousel) resort to feel-good endings unfaithful to source material. The Sound of Music is nearly a total fairy tale. 

Starting from the facts 

On solid ground, the through line --- my central theme --- follows five young brothers who take on a corrupt circus world by refusing to condone or sanction all manner of grift, and win the hearts of Americans.  

But there are other areas in their story, ill detailed in history, that left me free to fill in with some creative dramatizing.  In particular:

When and how did Al and Louise Ringling actually meet?  

(Please note: See the post following this one for much more on the subject)

I find this the most puzzling of all the things we do not not know.  After all, how many couples do not remember how and where they met?  Of course, Al and Louise would know, but may simply never have shared it with others -- or with writers. In his book Circus Kings, Henry Ringling North states that Al met Louise "during his travels."   By the most persuasive accounts, she, Eliza Morris, was a widow (of 2 children, assumed to have died in their early years) and a dressmaker.  I vaguely recall reading somewhere that Al met Louise while both were working on a circus. No other account in the several books I  have verify this.* More likely is that they could have met each other when both, in their childhood years, lived in McGregor, Iowa.  It seems clear that Louse became a versatile performer after she met Al. They were married in December, 1883. But, then again in  Hoboken, NJ in 1890. I sometimes think of her as the stronger willed  of the two.

What was the relationship between Al and Louse?  

They were childless, as were both Otto and John Ringling. Might their so-called second marriage in Hoboken been taken to more firmly establish marriage, because, I am speculating, Louise became pregnant?  Did Louise, in fact, want what Al did not want?   Might they have ever taken in or befriended a young boy, running away with the circus, as a substitute figure?  She had a (possibly young) chauffeur, and rumors alluded to an affair between the two.  From one very reliable source a few years back, I was informed of Louise’s once telling a friend that Al, as he became more prosperous, became “boring.”

Why did Al offer Louise $100,000 to retire and move away?   

The incidents above may play into this rumor.  And, if true, it suggests to me  that Al was more in love with her, and on a deeper level, than she with him.  All of these elements influenced my adaptation.

What did the brothers think of P.T. Barnum?  

It’s doubtful that Barnum knew or had much reason to care about the boys in their early mud-show years.  He lived only a year after they went out on the rails, in 1890. But they surely would have known everything about the celebrated “prince of humbug.”  In fact, on March 28, 1884,  two months before the boys started up their own circus, Barnum unveiled his sacred white elephant hoax in New York city.  And his famous elephant, Jumbo, died the following year.  So, on their way up, the brothers would likely have joked about Barnum’s showmanship, and even started blasting away at his tawdry attractions — by implication, linking them to grift.

Anything goes with John Ringling

He was bigger than life, the Ringling who grabbed all the attention and bullied his brothers around  until he got his way, a self-made circus king who looked back upon the people of Baraboo, where he had grown up, as  “Baraboobians.”  

This youngest Ringling brother once audaciously booked space for their big top to rise directly across the street from the Barnum & Bailey’s Bridgeport winter quarters!  Or so it has been written.  Quintessential John Ringling.     

John in his big wooden shoes song, featured in the Rnglings' winter vaudeville shows, and likely in their first circus, from The Life Story of the Ringling Brothers  

Free and independent
advance man on the run
By day, a bid for business
By night, a run for fun!

“Oh, Johnny I’m waiting
with arms you were made for!”

Ho, ho, what I’ll trade for
garters going down
Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows
are coming to town!

“We think the script is really wonderful”
– Tyler Dubrowsky
Associate Artistic Director
Trinity Repertory Company 

Published by BearManor Media

Buy on Amazon, google "Those Ringlings"

or at the publisher’s website:   


* Sources drawn from: Harlow’s The Ringings: Wizards of the Circus; Circus Kings, by Henry Ringling North; Ringlingville, by Jerry Apps; Life Story of the Ringling Brothers, by Alf. T. Ringling, 1900;   Plowden’s Those Amazing Ringings and their Circus


Sunday, February 07, 2021

Sunay Pause: Will Summer Be Another Bummer?

 I like the way they have of filling up the ring.

When will it ever end? And when it is said to, how long to get people under the tents? All the viral spin-offs out there keep me on edge.

Circus being a big thing still for little tots new to life and too young to spin conspiracy theories or cry social injustice to media whores, I'd guess, barring the teachers unions banning big tops, too, that the kids should be good to go by June. Biggest reason: the critical kiddy demographic had been thoroughly immune to corona's touch. I am deferring  to SCIENCE.

Of course, the parents might not be so okay with it. Which poses a conundrum (my first time using that word, and maybe the last). 

If I had kids, I would want to go, but inside a warm stuffy tent?  Outdoors surely is the better, safer option, requiring only the raising of the sidewalls. In the wake of the horrific Hartford circus fire of 1944, Ringling returned to the road under the open sky and the crowds came  The smaller community shows that already thrive in parks should have an easier time recapturing an audience.

Let me right now check out the Big Apple Circus website to see if I can detect a telling difference over there, one way or the other. Be back in a jiff!

Glumly unchanged, as like an empty storefront awaiting a new tenant:.

Big Apple Circus is not currently performing due to COVID-19 safety and assembly precautions.

Far more promising is the cheer and hope from Smirkus up New England way:

"Last April, when for the first time in Smirkus' history we announced the cancellation of the Big Top Tour, we never thought it could happen twice. However, public health guidelines will still not allow us to travel throughout New England, and even if the world begins to open up this spring, it will not allow us the safe and effective window needed to plan a traditional Big Top Tour.

"But the creative thinking and optimism that are part of the DNA of Circus Smirkus remain unaffected by the pandemic! ... We will have more for you in the months ahead: more virtual programming; more messages of hope and excitement from Greensboro; and more ways for you to engage with us. Let's embark on a re-imagined 2021 together!  

Wishing you joy and magic,

Jennifer Carlo, Executive Director

Now, doesn't this not  make you feel a little more hopeful?

P.S. Do you ever inside your own living space catch yourself wearing a mask, or pulling up a sweater over your nose?  Would this, too, be a conundrum? I need to look up the word.