Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The New Ringling: What the Public May be Saying

Following are a string of comments left on a Washington Post story about the new Ringling show. Since they reflect a fairly wide range of views, I am posting them here.

 The animals were mostly a cross between clowns and elephants. They were busy avoiding a shutdown. Their circus never left town, while their ringmaster is being sued all over the place.
The best circus act I ever saw was trained house cats.

Can it still be a circus without animals, clowns, or a ringmaster?

It's better without the animals. Like the 'robotic'dog!!

The horses were fun, I don’t see why they were eliminated and what about the original “dog and pony shows.” ?

So dumb. Woke circus is going to fail.

Cirque du Soleil has no animals, and they have been thriving for 30 years.

 HUMAN PROGRESS!! This is huge! Now if only Sea world would shut down...

How would humans like it if animals locked humans up and made them do dangerous tricks for their supper???

With the efforts to remove animals from venues like circuses and zoos, there's the worry about children losing any caring or relationship with the animals and the environment. Strong support the ethical treatment of animals is a must but too many activists don't understand or undervalue the role of a child actually seeing, touching, smelling an elephant, a bison, or a bear. There is the fear that disconnecting children and nature is that they will stop caring about it. Zoos and these other venues serve a critical role in exposure, education and connection for the people and survival and propagation for critical species that no longer have natural habitat or have been killed to the point of extinction. There needs to be a balance and acknowledgment of the benefit.

As a child in NYC, I attended the circus yearly from the front row with my grandparents. I loved the elephants and the clowns, especially Emmet Kelly. I will always remember it that way, with cotton candy and awe.
Good news about the circus freeing the animals. They belong in their natural habitats - not as performers for our amusement.

Their natural habitats have disappeared — why they live in zoos and nature preserves.

Do people still go to stuff like this?

Of course. I just went to Paranormal Cirque a few weeks ago. Entertaining.

A circus without clowns? Without Ring Masters? I can see losing the elephants, even though is there a more iconic symbol for a circus than an elephant? Maybe a clown?
E O lives!

Change is inevitable, and it's good to see people who can change with it and still put on a good show.

Having seen the circus behind the scenes.... I think the animals had it better than the humans.

Good, I always thought their excuse of No Elephants = No Shows was a "F.You" to the animal rights people. Of course you can have a profitable circus without animals, Big Apple Circus and Cirque manage fine *** without monkeys and elephants"  .

No more animals. Very good.

Evolution! So good to hear this.

“The circus is back in town — but the animals aren’t”
Thank God.

can't the modern circus have horses? Horses are transported without animal rights problems (that I know of) to races, shows and such. The ladies riding them and standing up would bet a cool thing to see as acceptable throw past to the traditional circus. Think kids would love it too.

n 2023, it's sickening and indefensible that any circus is still hauling animals around in fetid, sweltering tractor trailers, beating them into submission, and forcing them to perform. Just last week, UniverSoul gave up the animal acts - about time! Here's the few left still exploiting animals - including the Shriners!

Sanity prevails. On behalf of all animals, thank you. 

***debatable. Is Big Apple circus doing "fine" when the best it can do is manage an annual run at Lincoln Center of only two months?  It once played a full season.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Creatively Rich Zoppe Family Circus Trumpets Tradition, Touches the Soul


Legit Circus Review
Zoppe Italian Family Circus

Redwood City, CA
Seen October 14, performances run  through November  27
tickets $15 to $25.00

Note: the Zoppe website does not list the names of performers, nor has a message I sent them requesting such yet been answered.

How do you review a circus so different, one that comes at you eccentrically poised, surprises you in small subtle ways and leaves you not missing tired old cliches it has wisely left behind.

On paper, the lineup is inarguably slim.  Yet in action, a number of winning assets — classic clowning,  novel programing surprises, and a few popping good acts wrapped in a warm family spirit —  combine to make this a delightful confection greater than the sum of its parts.    

Zoppe shuns strobe lights and motor bikes and droning musical soundtracks. It leaves behind three humdrum bargain basement yawners (aka: filler), seen too often on too many shows these tepid days, items I could forever go without: Clunky roller skating on pedestals, sleep-inducing rollovers on “bed sheets” (Kenny Dodd’s nickname for the fabrics); and hula hoops ad nauseam. Here is a show with no patience (or space) for motorcycles in a cage — blame my indifference to this thriller on the Chinese having spoiled me in Shanghai with eight bikes in motion.  Eight.

Under their 500-seat tent, Zoppe unfolds over a simpler, older fashioned ring, which gives it an other-worldly mystique of its own. You are not in any old arena. Nor in a chic designer tent.  Best of all, you are patronizing a company that favors domestic animals, doubly impressive to the point of unthinkable, here in the State of Insanity. Here where the nearby San Jose Mercury News (in an unrelated news item) smugly culture signals its support for “animal free circuses.” The same Silicon Valley social media giants who are inflaming the world with live streaming of murder and rape and mayhem -- and wreaking unconscionable havoc on countless young lives.

Show owner Giovanni Zoppe, above, who plays Nino the clown, embraces you upon entering his festive village. From atop a small stage, he regales early comers with his family’s history through time up and down old sawdust trails.  

And on the midway, you may feel his warm heart, too, when you are ready to lay down four or five for a bottle of water, and are changed only a buck.  You might also be doubly impressed by his far above average restroom accommodations on wheels. Best I’ve ever seen.

Inside the  tent,  I’m glad I went for a front row chair, for it put me close to the  ring curb, itself so high and sturdy, so worn, I could almost feel an old-world gaggle of daring-dos waiting back of the tent to bring it alive. Yes, Zoppe, take me back.  They call this opus Carnival de Venezia.  It opens in the old commedia del‘arte manner, the cast filing the ring in a carefree Felliniesque spirit that is infectious.  The cheerful music is inviting.  Indeed, most of it stays bright and relevant during the entire  show.  Among the highlights:
* Clowning takes off with a hat that has a will of its own, sometimes sitting on Nino’s  head, other times on the tip of his hat stick, or down on the ground playing hide and seek. A little kid (or plant from the front row) is lifted into a hug and carried off to help Nino find his hat. It’s perfectly charming.

* Kiddie star for the kiddies:  A little boy, likely a Zoppe, turning into a rag doll to play Pinocchio,  ending up in a round ball of arms and legs tightly wound, rolling over and over.  Priceless.    

* This being a real circus which also shuns robotic animals, here you’ll get a team of very real, very talented dogs, under the deft direction of their trainer. Their big moment is truly big: a walking four-high mount behind a fifth member in the lead  — a pony rearing up on its hind legs.  There you go again, animal kingdom — stealing the show!

       Quirky abstract images tickle the imagination. 

* Nino tickles the crowd after getting hoisted by the seat of his pants up to a high bar, from which he executes hand stands.   A work up to: How can I get back down?   His only exit is to jump. Down below, a small pad is being inflated into a big billowing pillow while Nino is shivering aloft in fear, the audience egging him on. Finally , he  takes the plunge, instantly flattening the pillow (first gag) out of which (second gag) explodes a sea of paper confetti, showering the audience.  I was knocked over by the fun of it all, my trousers white-flecked. Might this be what Juliet Feld calls an “immersive” moment (my iPhone failed to record).
* A fiercely accomplished  ball bouncing juggler.   And not a single flub.

A tip of the hat  from their kindly and silent ringmaster, who holds gentle court spreading cheer on the sidelines.  He's a keeper.

* After a  brief intermission during which photo ops with a pony are sold, the slow-motion poetry of today’s ballet circus  makes a cameo in the figure of a young contortionist, above, bending and posturing with elegant grace.  Purist fans of this  genre should find him fulfilling.

* Another amusing trick. Three acrobats banging away on drums while erecting an obstacle gate of  bars  — how low can one of them go under the lowest bar without his body touching it?  The smallest among them shimmies horizontally through, and I shimmed out a giggle.  Cracking good.

            Refreshing prop in search of a payoff

A few of Zoppe’s variable offerings fail to click: Among them, labored Chinese pole climbing never really takes off – show is woefully weak on acrobatics. A bicycle rider, above,  has no challenges to meet.  Most disappointing of all, solo horse riding all too basic and brief. And yet, and yet – out of this last entry before finale, in symbolism alone, my soul was deeply touched by the surreal image of the lone horse and rider with flaring American flag,  circling the ring and keeping it as true now as it was back when Astley began circling it for the circus he gave us. So very fitting for today.    

Paul Binder often spoke of wanting to foster a joyful connection between artist an audience. And now I feel what he means.  You’ll find it under this tent. I was left wanting to see this remarkable troupe again, if only they weren’t so far away.  How long has it been since I have felt that urge?  

We are living through an age of competing delivery systems for circus acts, legit big tops offering all the three staples, to slices of circus during symphony hall concerts, on cruise ships and stages. In performance art.  Summer parks.  Strip clubs. TV.  Zoppe has 80 performances slated for Redwood City, in the library parking lot where it has shown for 16 seasons in a row.  Last year they ended up adding another week.  How I would love to see this show before a full house.  These performers poured their hearts out to us, as if the tent was packed.

Au Revoir, Zoppe Family Circus.


Sunday, October 08, 2023


"That's not the circus I grew up in and not how I want to carry on" 

 -- John Ringling North II, to The Oklahoman in 2017, referring to circuses without animals on his decision to leave Kelly Miller.   

***updated 10.9 

Two major big tops recently passed each other going in opposite directions.  One was holding its own, honoring the roots of circus. The other, having given up on itself, was following instead a road to Montreal in a final act of self-annihilation.      

First, to Baraboo.  I recently read of Circus World retiring its two elephants for good, no surprise.  A little sad, yes. But sad turned to glad when I read this from its pied piper-in-chief, Scott O’Donnell,  above, that: “Circus World will continue to have equine acts, as it did this past season. Future animal act options include cows, pigs, dogs, cats, zebras, camels and other animal stars awaiting their turn in the center ring.”

YES! You warmed my heart, Scott.  In my book, what you are doing defines a reasonable road to preserving one of the key elements of true circus, and why some shows, like UinverSoul and Royal Henneford, still daringly feature them — PETA haters and media morons be damned.

Another gift from Baraboo, by way of Greg DeSAnto at his International Circus Hall of Fame and Research Center, itself now back in full giggle mode, is the return of the late Pat Cashin’s Clown Alley blog. Best of all,  they’ve handed the steering of it to board member Steve Copeland.  Great News.  I have missed Steve’s blogging when he clowned on John Ringling North II’s Kelly Miller Circus. His was a big part of what is now seeming to feel like our newest good old times — the last days of Ringling and Cole and Binder’s Big Apple, of Carson and Barnes and Kelly Miller. And of so many blogs then on parade.

Steve’s blogging was full of emotion and revealing, and his boss had no problem allowing the day to day details of trouping, as he reported them.  I am hoping that Steve will re-charge, re-boot, and revive the best of himself to regale us once more.  Surely, he should have much to say about the state of clowning today.  

Okay, onto the state of circus in America today.  To the new “Greatest Show on Earth,” which no longer calls itself a circus — give them credit for honesty in advertising. No clowns. No Animals.  No Ringmaster. Breathtaking.  Covington Connected, I linked onto a 27 minute sampler of action, put out by Ringling. Here are my first raw impressions, based on those 27 minutes and 27 minutes only. Taking in the full spread may be a totally different affair. Nor do I have any idea how this stream may have been edited. And, of course, I may have missed what others give higher marks to.

It’s visually stunning, with set pieces changing colors, brilliant costume design and lighting effects. Overhead LED screens strike me as lamely superfluous  I did not feel the “immersive” experience  promised by Juliet Feld.  Sometimes there is more than one act in motion, conjuring up the old 3-ring mystique. The action is well paced (or well edited in this video), solid and sufficiently pleasing, without for the most part and to my great surprise, being remarkable.  I could usually count on Ringling for a few world class acts. I can see at least two here --- One in a photo on the show’s website of an ensemble Mongolian  three-high jump roping act that looks sensational.  Another to follow shortly.

 *** And since posting this, a few others not wishing to be identified have sent me videos I did not see.  There is too little of a high wire act to comment on.  Another is  the Flying Caceres cross-trapeze act:  Notwithstanding the excellent work of the individual flyers,  on balance the concept itself comes off as something of a long drawn out fizzle, and I can see why it was not included on the 27-minute sampler. 

This mostly ground-bound edition sells gusto over substance.  Casting and springboard send offs destined to land on large pads yield the strongest response.   Contortion in various forms are all on the slow side and quite respectable.  Juggling with fire is basic, there’s flashy foot stomping gaucho dancing.  Youthful extreme bike riders up and down ramps struck me as not very daring for the sport — complexity is in short supply here, especially given Feld’s touting having scouted the world over and over again for the very best. (Maybe the very best did not want to sign.)  Second big moment: Hands down, the big star was our own Wesley Williams on his sky high unicycle. The kid is finally getting a big national audience he has long deserved.  I overheard a smitten young girl chanting “Wesley! Wesley! Wesley!"over and over.

A moody musical score, some of it sung,  is vaguely unmemorable. And no wonder, turns out it was taped!  Good grief, no band, too?  This ringmaster-less, carefully controlled production, smooth as a Swiss watch, could use a little more humanity. Overall, there is a slightly cold and impersonal feel to the long-awaited rollout, all of which, in the abstract, can have the effect of dwarfing the performers.

In a supreme act of irony, the most down-to-earth, older fashioned circus moment comes in the famished figure of a scroungy little dog, down to the bones, as if having side-walled it into the show, lonely to be a part of it again and desperate to show what smart little doggies can really do. But our mutt is not a real mutt. Our mutt is a robot.  As poignant as it is hypocritical, the "dog" it is said to be stirring a controversy, and it may only remind audiences of what is not there and make them ask, why?  Yes, Mr. Feld, why?

Cutting through all the mumbo jumbo talk about intense creative deliberations (if only they could have channeled in Aristotle), I think what Kenneth Feld was all about was producing the perfect fit for his existing Disney mice-on-ice audience base, and here he may strike gold —  now without the antagonists mucking up  the midway.  He might have taken other less profitable routes to preserve the circus.  He might have led the way.



 John II's Kelly Miller in 2015

Returning to the words of John Ringling North II quoted above, I think of being taken delightufly aback by that  robotic dog stirring up such a fuss, and remember the last Ringling “circus” I saw, back in 2017. Four of its acts perpetually live on in my memory:  The magnificent lion and tiger act of Alexander Lacey, possibly the greatest display of its kind that I have ever seen;  the flying Tunizianis completing two perfect triples simultaneously; thundering horse riders from Mongolia; and a barnyard pig — another Lacey offering –  sliding down a slide and bringing down the house.       

Now, that was a circus.  That was  the Greatest Show on Earth.  Goodbye, Big Bertha, goodbye. 


Just wondering,  Visits to this blog have skyrocketed, sometimes into the thousands, over the last few months, making me wonder more than ever who you are. Circus?  Musical theater? Still, virtually nobody leaves a comment.  Has no one out there a pulse strong enough to post a peep?

Or ...  are my sky high stats a fluke of AI?  

Just wondering. 

Have a nice anonymous day!