IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, such as the stack of notes and e-mails too long ignored on a shelf I lazily glance at now and then. But now for each, it’s gloss it or toss it time. I’m giving these little snatches of sawdust and spangly things one final chance to be something across my loyal 2008 Del Vostro keyboard, to which I am hopelessly attached, using it only for Word Perfect drafts.
LET THE GREAT HAROLD RONK blow the first whistle on this impromptu grab bag laid bare. And let this be the Ronk fondly revealed by Don Covington in an a-mail to me dated September 9, 2016. It was too too good ever to let languish. Now, finally, it’s up and ready to roll. Harold, shared Don, became “a vital part of my perception of circus.” While working on the Big Apple Circus, Don enjoyed hosting Harold whenever he came out to take in a performance during the Chicago date (yes, they once toured).
ENGLAND'S BELOVED RINGMASTER, Norman Barrett was one season Big Apple’s man in red. The retired Harold was Big Apple’s red letter patron in the seats, and after the show he approached Barrett with pleasure. “I have always wanted to meet you.” Likewise, too, from the other gratefully in return. Don added Paul Binder to the circle, and Paul recounted how Harold, under Madison Square Garden spotlights, had “epitomized the ideal ringmaster.” All of which “overwhelmed” Ronk, as Don remembers, the Ronk who by then wasn’t sure anyone would still remember him. He spent the afternoon with Buckles and Barbara Woodcock. “It was a magical day,” wrote Don. Ringling’s iconic ringmaster passed away the following year.
... I WILL FOREVER RECALL the stoutly commanding figure cut by Ronk for Ringling, the brief and fleeting time it took him, and his smooth soaring voice against a crashing follow spot or two, as if answering its cue, to officially thunder CHILDREN OF A L L L L L AGES ! Never was a circus more blazingly unfurled ... Al Ringling, when once describing the proper decorum of the man with whistle — “elusive yet vital” --- was describing the Harold yet to be. How lucky was I to have lived through his prime.
QUAD ROCKETS TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Next down the stack, from Anonymous (whom I know well), retelling with relish chapter two of quad mania over Ringling. Giddy Irvin Feld, seen here, in 1982 trumpeted the first star to nail the feat, Miguel Vazquez. Six seasons later, Feld's son Kenneth added Rueben Caballero, Jr. to the show in a cynical move to grab more headlines. Only once did both Miguel and Reuben spin four circles beside each other — what a spectacle to see! .... The tension between the two and their respective families became so great, that an explosion nearly rocked the Oakland arena, site of a “a massive brawl” backstage, and sent shock waves through the circus grapevine.
REMEMBERING THE BLOODY OUTCOME, wrote A, “Our old friend Marcks hanging around the lot had gotten the juicy details and found it quite humorous that the daughter Veronica (Caballero) had whacked Miguel in the face, sending him to the hospital.” A furious Kenneth Feld fired the Caballeros on the spot, but they eventually charmed a flight path back into Feld’s favor ... Does anybody still do the quad? ... There was a time when the flying trapeze dominated audience satisfaction. Fundamental to fabulous, they were the best way to bring the show to a rousing climax.
ABOUT MY BEST CIRCUS FRIEND EVER, Don Marcks (until we sadly had a wordless falling out), how I valued his company, we were so damn different, hut CIRCUS kept us viably and vividly connected, the phone calls were long, never boring, my visits to his place a frequent journey into another world more strict and settled. The New England born Don specialized in outward restraint, but he did let go a tad when up close and off the lots, venting his real thoughts on this or that act. And, as you can see from the above, he turned discreetly gleeful over backyard drama circling the rumor mills He loved to ride a juicy disclosure with a backward lift into an almost apologetic giggle.
FROM MY CAVE MAN SCRIBBLES on a piece of paper, I can now report, that in the higher halls of academically supported circus-type learning (non binary certified, I assume), it is claimed that in every state in this here union there is now at least one circus school. And what, may I inelegantly ask, do they have to show for themselves? They now have the example of Circus Jeventas, signed by Cirque du Soliel to serve as a “talent development center” for the Montreal monster .... This, if anything, will likely produce more fringe circus converts being taught how to give the public a few good circus acts — without the circus.
FROM CIRCUS SCHOOLS THAT MATTER, most of the best ones flourish in communist countries, maybe the harsher atmosphere is more conducive to the demanding discipline needed to produce something more than a few pleasant rollovers on the fluffy fabrics ... Can you spell Russia? CHINA? Even the very democratic UK, land of circus invention, has two major teaching centers --- London’s National Center for Circus Arts, and Circommedia in Bristol. And they're turning out committed young graduates, 93% of whom are still working in circuses three years after graduation. Now, I’d say this calls for one of ringmaster Ronk’s classic exhortations: W A T CH T H E M !
MCPHERSON KEEPS ME IMPRESSIVELY APPRISED on the sawdust scene his way, such as when he sent me a you tube of the complete performance of a wham bang show, Circus Xtreme -- the surprise highlight of my circus going in 2022, all of which occurred in You Tube land. Not under a real tent? How I wanted to take in the ever-lovable Zoppe Family, but not on the day they played 50 miles north under 90+ degrees inside a tent. I am no longer a kid who walks miles to see a circus while power-snacking on Ding Dongs and Twinkies.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST: The passing of a major critical voice in the circus arts was Ernest Albrecht, who left us this past year, and with him, his thoughtful magazine Spectacle. I will miss his voice. His perspective. I particularly enjoyed comparing his reviews against those of the sharp London critic, Liz Arratoon, when both reviewed Monte Carlos Circus Festivals. A double pleasure ... Albrecht’s last review may have been the one he did of Circus Sarasota, shortly before the outset of Corona, after which he was never heard from again. He had many qualms with the show, supposing the producers had drained the bulk of their kitty on two star attractions, with the rest being very ordinary. Here is one of them:
“A JUGGLING ACT CALLED GET THE SHOE never really got very interesting. While the title of the act suggests something creative and comical, the two young men who work the act are, unfortunately, almost totally lacking in stage presence ... nothing more than sloppy juggling mixed with marital arts."
HOW ARC IS YOUR CHARACTER? Beware what you may wish for: Albrecht covered circuses of all ilk, and was an advocate for what he called the New American Circus in his book of the same name. To its pages flocked the young, eager to get on with the times. But, the movement Albrecht helped give voice and printed page to may have gone too far even for his taste. He suffered a jaw-dropping discovery in the pages of Circus Talk when one of its more sophisticated reviewers complained about the muddled impression of one performer’s “character arc.” You did not wish for it to go this far, Ernest? The term is used in theater. Albrecht became nearly unhinged over the audacity of such an expectation. And by extension, I'd say, over how far the “new circus” movement had veered into theater land.
WHY HAD I NOT HEARD THE WORD Nuclear attached to circus? Perhaps I had, but ran into the word “Garden” and knee-jerk deleted the whole thing ... So ... I checked out reviews on Yelp, dreadfully savage one star slams for the most part. Free kiddie tickets lured parents into “a money pit.” $60 seats, ringside. $12 snow cone jobs, any side. Pony rides and paint-on faces cheering on the moppets to beg for more. "No ring leader," lamented some. Dancing dames in thongs sexing up space between acts. Disgusted parents baling at intermission. Some did grant satisfaction with the acts. Many ranted against animal mistreatment, a horse being whipped. Okay, let me wrap this here: This kind of a show does incalculable harm to public perception of the America circus, and it continues to drag down what’s left of it. And I think the American public at large has been talked into degrees of indifference or total rejection, possibly unmatched in any other country. Thank you Tim, for the inadvertent reality check.
NEXT YEAR SHOULD BE BIG, at least in the headlines, for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is coming back, in some form or another. Tim sees a train wreck in the making. I see Cirque du Soleil on steroids. Neither of us sees The Greatest Show on Earth. And You? Kenneth Feld fired all the animal acts, likely to win a gold medal from PETA. But he may lose a large and loyal audience base out there that has no problem with dogs and horses and may resent the total absence of a menagerie. How can you return if it's not you returning?
Let me me wish you all a happy New Year!
WHY I STILL MISS CIRCUS REPORT: Like a flickering light in the darkening shadows, it gave us the shows and the write-ups, the obits and those wonderful routes that made every fragile thing still very real ... Like a lone red wagon up streets of indifference, it kept on rolling. Like the single light bulb raised to illuminate Foley & Burke flat cars down by the old ice house, as late into the night its ride wagons came rumbling down the runs for their trek out to the fairgrounds ... The lots grew less crowded, the tents smaller, the parade thinner, but Circus Report kept that one flickering light aglow.