Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

New "GOLDEN AGE" for American Big Tops Forecast by Circus Historical Society Ringmaster-in-Chief


 Bruce Hawley, Circus Historical Society President, goes all uptempo on the circus.

One thing can lead to another – like a nudge out of nowhere -- to a link to a You Tube --- to a dive into cyber worlds I have yet to swim. Such was my recent conversion into a new area of knowledge.   “Afer reading your interesting review of Circus Extreme” e-mailed Culpepper & Merriweahter’s Jim Royal “I thought of something you might enjoy hearing.”  He directed  me to a Hideaway Circus Podcast hosted by two smartly curious souls, Josh and Lindsay Aviner,  featuring an interview with the Culpepper & Merriweather owners, Trey and Simone Key.

Thus was I finally dragged into the world of the pods.   Minus the thrashing vulgarity and flying graphics of commercials, there is only a stone silent background. Is anyone really there? Hello!   Credit the saner silence, also the long-winded running time of these, on their freedom from corporate control.

After The Keys talked about the all-importance of the advance promotions, etc, Trey admitted to a certain loneliness out on the mostly vacant midways of yesteryear, where he is the last and only show out of Hugo to follow the red arrows.  I can feel a similar feeling out here on blogger land, where most of the circus circus blogs are long gone.  We enjoyed a brief shining moment in open discussion. If only circus fans could/would freely debate like sports fans do. Like musical theatre fans do.  Like movie fans do!

Enter the President

Down the list of other Hideaway Circus pods I gazed, settling upon their visit with the new Circus Historical Society president, Bruce Hawley.  He is old enough and yet not too old enough to be a very good bridge between we who have seen circus in its heyday and those much younger  who know it from Cirque du Soleil.  Above, Josh and Lindsay

Hawley and the Aviner’s had a good time wondering when circus came into being, which strikes me as something of a non issue. It was as if Astley had never happened, as if, somewhere back even before bloody Circus Maximum, there was the first circus.   Okay, have fun going nowhere with that.

Hawley sees the roots of circus in the relationship of a man to a horse which is, bingo, an unacknowledged tribute to Astley.  It is so hard for some Americans to fathom the idea that we did not invent circus. Example: One of the talking voices on that half-baked PBS circus special pointed to Rickets Circus in Philly as evidence of what America gave the world!.  Does PBS even care?  Even three rings was an idea initially dabbled in by the great Brit tenting impresario, Lord Sanger. Barnum is thought to have maybe seen his short-lived efforts with  multi-performance action.   But Barnum and Bailey made it work — Americans, I believe, tended to lead the way in what I call presentational showmanship. More than the one-act-at-a-time recital format.

And then came a  rainbow from Hawley, talking up the golden age of circus in the roaring 20s as having followed the carnage of the 19l8 flu epidemic.  He can see  a repeat of this about to happen, following the long grueling tyranny of Coronia’s shut downs and mask overs.

A golden age, but of what?  Barnum & Bailey? Five Fingers?

What really is this thing called circus?                                                                                                 

When people argue over definitions, often they confuse production for core elements.  In fact, since Astley and  up until the PETA smack-downs,  virtually every  circus carried  the same three essentials: Acrobats, Animals and clowns.  Critics of new staging styles down through the ages have blasted those that even contained all the staples.  Some old timers hated the new three-ring spectacle.   Too large, no talking clowns!.  But the clowns adapted and were still fanny, maybe funnier.  Some blasted John Ringling North’s theatricalized make over, co-starring the costumes. Too much like a night club, they flippantly complained. Above, Zefta Loyal at C&M.  

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 But the same North imported some of the best talents in the world. (See the movie, Trapeze)  One season he paraded fifty five elephants around the rings.  He had a few dozen clowns out on the track. Whirling bodies over sawdust and in the air. The staples.  The staples.  The staples.   Some shows today are valiantly hanging on to them.  There is evidence of a public out there eager to patronize the real thing. This story is far from over.  

Trey Key and friend         

But this post should be, I suppose.  And where was I, if anywhere??  Oh yes, in podcast land.  Thank you Jim, for getting me there, and I am glad to hear, as you report in closing off, that “we are having a good season.” When last I checked, C&W still toured with a little cage act featuring a big live tiger.

This circus is still on parade!