Saturday, April 01, 2023

American Circus Roll Call, Spring 2023: Most Big Tops Defy PETA ... Don’t Count the Animals Out Just Yet ... Jumbo, Stand By!

                                      Zerbini Family Circus

How cheered am I to find that most of our commercial big tops still carry animals acts. 

As for the bigger question, are they all still out there? I was almost too afraid to look.  I have suffered about as many shut downs as any decent circus fan can handle in a single lifetime. But another spring is here, and so, too, must I go looking for the vital signs of arrows or posters, keeping my fingers crossed.  Pray that our trouping wounded are met with resurging crowds seeking relief from the harmful insanity of woke culture. 

 First of all: What IS circus?

My designation of circus by category honors the genius of circus founder, Philip Astley, and the fearless full-circus defender in our own time, Princess Stephanie and her Monte Carlo Circus Festivals.  Categories reflect three degrees of circus, from Legit, or simply Circus —   which include the three staples, and you know what they are — to Acro Circus (all human) and, finally, Fringe Circus,  itself as much ballet or theatre as circus (think Five Fingers, Circus OZ) . More about this at the end.

Drum rolls!  When I call your name, please answer  “Here!”



Here, now and forever!

“A real circus under the big top.” Upcoming dates take the show into Arkansas.  They zig zag all over the country.  In my view, they combine the best of legit circus with a small endearing family show. How I wanted to see them last year, but not under a basic tent in 90+ degree weather. Zerbini, come back!



The show’s routing is taking it from Florida, up through North Carolina and into New York state. From what I know, more of their cold dates than their Shrine-sponsored ones feature a wide mix of animals. Photos promise a captivating show.  



Show will tour for 32 weeks through 200 towns in 17 states. Their website gives off a lovely spirit of tradition., “We specialize in affordable, family friendly entertainment....   An action packed 90 minute show.” Which, I believe,  is how more shows should operate.


Ya all here!  Funky on in, guy!  Hey, we black owned ---- and (shhhhh!) we do have animals.

They’re jiving all the way out here through freaky California, now in Los Angeles, with the party hopping up to iffy Hilltop Mall in Richmond, starting May 8 through June.

Indeed, they do have animals, which they apparently exclude from advance ad copy.  This can take fussier patrons aback, causing walk outs. Heated debate on Yelp goes from the predictable rants against to some blasting good retorts for.


Hello! Anybody  there?  ... I see your website, but nothing about Lincoln Center or a return?

Going, going! ...Nik.??  Knock knock! Not a single phone number to call?  

A first in circus history? Have you ever seen the name of a circus directly followed by  “staring” and the name of a single performer?  Never have I seen it.  How desperate is Nik to reclaim the easy fame he enjoyed while crossing wires over the Falls and Times Square? This kind of ego does not generally  make for a successful show owner.



Bonjour California!  We are here!

They are making the spring segment of their  tour through So Cal, with dates listed  through the end of May.   Photos promise plenty of class and compelling action in and over the ring, set to a theme, “Bonjour Paris” They are only a few dogs short of going legit.


The Greatest Show on Earth is back on the road!

Show has lined up a season of indoor bookings for its “reborn Ringling,” which may come off sounding like gender reassignment... into what, trans Cirque du Soleil?  I fear too seriously concentrated a non-stop stream of intense acro action --- without the levity of clowns, the charm of animals, may wear down patrons. But. were the Felds to pack their stack in a single force without intermission ... no no, of course not, the concessions, stupid!


Here! Yes, all in!  Look at my new mechanical big top!

“The Little Big Top That Could” is westward leaning, into Colorado and Washington. And the guy who runs it, Ken Venardos,  is touching my heart with his boy-like zeal, like a kid with a new toy.  Here he is at the controls of his mechanical big top, watching the two "masts," as he calls them, lifting themselves into the air for the very first time.  And I recall John Ringling North, at the end of the line with his own  big top in Pittsburgh, 1956, issuing a release predicting the circus of the future would be “a completely mechanically controlled operation.” Maybe here, at last, what North had vaguely in mind is finally rising? 

This kid may also be clever at marketing outlandish ticket prices:  At  his one-truck circus, adults pay $27.95 to get through the door, kids $16.95. And that for, I am guessing, only a modestly talented show?  Contrast this to Family Zerbini, charging adults $10, children $5. But ringmaster Ken has  has only 300 seats to fill, and it’s easier to fill ‘em and ballyhoo sellouts — and a run at the ticket windows. Here at the controls, he comes off far more likable than did his ringmastering for other shows (what little I saw of it). “So exciting, one little flag! Look at that American Dream, yeah, make it happen!”  Yeah, and I am rooting for Mr. little big top that could (that is, if I can sidewall it into his Diners Club tent).  


I have none to report on at this time..  What makes it Fringe?  You’ll spot touches of it on almost any show, but none of these, to my knowledge, go anywhere near all the way.  It is more an attitude. A yearning to be more than mere circus.  To be seen as a well educated, superior artist who does more than stunts or death-defying tricks. And it extends into erotica. Circus acts, thus,  may be subjected to story telling, such as to be interrupted at intervals to advance “character arcs”or abstract posturing.  Think Leitzel being run through the act-reforming mills of Montreal.  Or Ethel Merman being taught to suppress her natural voice. 

Beware of the word “dramaturg,”a theater term for a person guiding script development.  This is the current mark of superiority among "new circus"snobs -- and the kiss of death under any legit big top.  

Any of these forms of circus, of course, can be terrific shows on their own terms, especially for those who favor their makeup.

Submitted for your yawning consideration.  I'm putting my faith in the common sense of Americans.