Friday, September 29, 2006 

The Carson & Barnes Circus continued it’s southerly route through Virginia this week. I’m fogbound in Northern California. We were privileged to play on two military installations this week. Thanks to the folks at Quantico and Langley for great circus days.



Manassas, VA to Quantico, VA -- 22 miles
Quantico, VA to Fredericksburg, VA – 25 miles
Fredericksburg, VA to Langley AFB, VA – 125 miles
Langley, VA to Powhatan, VA – 110 miles
Powhatan, VA to Charlottesville, VA (two day weekend stand) – 60 miles

Friday, September 22, 2006 

Manassas, VA. 35 miles. Grass. Fairgrounds. Nice weather.

We will be in Manassas for four days with two shows on Friday and Monday at 4:30 and 7:30. Three shows on Saturday at 1:30 4:30 7:30 and two shows on Sunday at 1:30 and 4:30. Coupons can be dound on the website.

Thursday, September 21, 2006 


Leesburg, VA. 83 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Autumn has arrived officially, the summer seems to linger here in the mouth of the Valley of Virginia where the trees remain green and the cold of the morning gives way to the warmth of mid-day. We are on the smallest circus lot of the season, the elephant trucks literally squeezed inside a horse barn. “It’s a good life if you’re tough enough,” says Barbara Byrd looking at the lot. Tonight we’ll tear down then jump again before morning into Manassas and suburban Washington, D.C.. Aaron Broderick, the ringmaster lives in Maryland. This country is home for him. On Route 15 there are arrows for another circus near Leesburg. In autumn the roads lead south back home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 

Greencastle, PA. 90 miles. Grass. Rural, Chilly.

Our final date in the northern ststes. Tomorrow, Virginia, suburban Washington.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 



Elizabethtown, PA. 20 miles. Grass. Rain likely.

Two full houses in Lancaster, PA and a visit from a great group of circus fans made for a nice return to Pennsylvania, a brief encore before we move into Virginia. (You know you’re having a good day when you run out of paper products with which to serve nachos.)

Many years ago in a small university town in the northeast I had a fantastic group of friends, musicians, and artists, and actors, and dancers, and dreamers, and dramatists, and a woman who talked of clown college. We all believe that our friends are gifted when we are eighteen, or nineteen, or twenty. Maybe they are. There was a old house in that town at the corner of two broad streets shaded with tall trees, yards hedged in juniper, or elderberry, or honeysuckle. It was a house with porches decked in potted plants and prayer flags and there was always the sound of someone playing a guitar, or a dulcimer, or a mandolin. There was talk one year of creating a minstrel show, a traveling ensemble with all that talent, and maybe some magic and some juggling thrown in. I was not a talented person, but I could build, and I could fix things, and I could put up a tent. Nothing came of the minstrel show, and in June I went off to the mountain towns here in Pennsylvania and did a reptile show and handled rattlesnakes and by July our fantasies had moved on to other things. We grew up and we became many things. One of us died too young. From that group of friends came teachers, and programmers, and librarians, and yes, a few musicians and actors and bookkeepers and a lawyer here or there. Some mornings as the show trucks pull onto a new lot, when the air smells of cut grass and apples and the new day is still and quiet I think about that minstrel show and about those friends. The urge to perform is as old as our kind, and the rituals we have created to channel that particular creative inclination have given rise to the arts, and entertainment, perhaps to faith as well. Are the elephants dancing today? If the elephants are dancing it says nothing of mastery over the animals and everything of the animistic ties that bind. The first art were tattoos, paintings on a cavern wall; the first magic, shadow puppets by the light of the fire. It isn’t hard to see where circus came from. There’s a bit of circus in all of us. Don't believe me? Come see the show.

Monday, September 18, 2006 

Lancaster, PA. 78 miles. Asphalt. Perfect circus weather.

Over the Deleware Memorial Bridge and through rush hour traffic in Wilmington this morning. Then across two lane highways back into Pennsylvania. We have been in and out of Pennsylvania four times this season. Last evening Darren Kerry an elephant groom said (as the generators were shutting down,) "You know, we could be standing here discussing Plato's dialogues with Socrates, or maybe the Republic. This is a circus, who would believe it if you said that's what were talking about." The siren song of circus lures in the wise woman and the fool alike. In three days we arrive in Virginia. Southbound.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 

Pittsgrove, NJ. 26 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Shows at 1:30 and 4:30. Final New Jersey date.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 

Somehow it seems only appropriate, on a circus lot this close to Philadelphia to say a few words about Adam Forepaugh and James A Bailey. While Barnum is the name we remember along with Ringling from the 19th Century circus in America, the men who made circus the most successful entertainment of the day were Bailey and Forepaugh. Adam Forepaugh was a Philadelphia meatcutter and real estate investor who put his first circus on the road in 1867. For the next twenty years Forepaugh shows would be as big or bigger than all their rivals, engaging in fierce battles over eastern routes, billing wars, and press campaigns that gave rise to the entire field of modern public relations. If not for 4Paw, Bailey might never have insisted that Barnum acquire Jumbo, a stunt that forever linked elephants to popular circus. James Bailey entered the circus business as an apprentice, an Ohio boy working as a billposter on the advance for a “flatfoot” show out of New York. Later, partnered with James Cooper, also of Philadelphia, Bailey would build a circus that toured coast to coast and abroad, when most American shows were still more than regional powerhouses. Bailey’s partnership with Barnum and the Barnum heirs would lead to the creation of the most successful circus of all time, truly The Greatest Show On Earth. Philadelphia was near a circus town, the way that Peru, IN, or Hugo, OK, or Baraboo, WI have been or still are circus towns. But Philly put out the really big ones.


Indiana Pintado & Franchesca Cavallini

Franchesca Cavallini

Woodbury, NJ. 50 miles. Grass. Rain.

Southern New Jersey playing our last northern dates before the jump into Virginia late next week. The Cole Bros Circus played this same lot in August.

In late September a circus is a thing chasing the last waning days of summer. In four weeks the first tented shows will end their seasons. In the yard behind the bigtop the circus changes with the seasons until in autumn it goes home again. The wife of a clown has left for Reno to await the birth of their child. A wire walker has returned to Oklahoma, and then Brazil.

A summer circus is gypsy circus, with wind and weather and a wild beauty to it. . Winter circus is a world apart, a grand and lavish production in heated quarters, tamed and fettered and predictably lovely. From the Grail story comes the tale of the Fisher King whose kingdom withers with wounds earned protecting the sacred and the secret. But the story of the Fisher King is older than that, rooted in the change of seasons and the folkloric premise that things born in spring will pass with the autumn – to be made again when winter’s icy hold is slacked. Like the Fisher King circus lives for the promise of spring, and in the autumn we are at our best, our most exciting and glamorous; soon enough we sleep again. Dreaming, planning for the season to come.

Friday, September 15, 2006 

Fort Dix, NJ. Day 2

Second day of a wet stand on Fort Dix. Last night much of the show celebrated Mexican Independence Day (Sept 16th) with a party in the cookhouse. Beneath the bigtop in the quiet of the afternoon before the first show, girls are practicing silks routines. In popular circus skills are passed down from parents to children, passed along from friend to friend. There are few limitations on what you might become with long practice and if you are willing to learn, and to ask for help. The polish of formally trained circus artists from places like Russia rub off rather nicely on informally trained children, future performers from elsewhere. Circus is a world where even the very best share their knowledge and talents with virtual beginners inside the greater family that makes up the show. First the skill, then the flash and style that sells the act.

Thursday, September 14, 2006 

Fort Dix, NJ. 40 miles. Grass with gravel. Rain.

Night jump into the Fort Dix military installation for a two day stand. The circus has now traveled nearly eleven thousand miles this season.

Ernest Albrecht editor of the lavish, beautifully photographed quarterly circus journal Spectacle joined us in North Brunswick yesterday.

I find myself considering nomenclature and casting about for clearer description of circus. A dozen years ago great debates raged attempting to define “traditional circus” and the increasingly well received “new circus.” To some extent they still do, Mudshow fans are not wont to call the imaginative productions of Cirque du Soliel “circus,” while “circus artists” who have never worked outside of a loft or theatrical space sometimes view “traditional” shows as little more than entertainment for kids and an excuse to sell popcorn and tickets for the moon bounce. I am not guiltless in these debates; generally applauding circus as a performing art, while sometimes decrying circus as a performance art. If I define myself as a “traditionalist” what does that really mean?

Lately I’ve been looking to the past to find a raw taxonomy for circus of the future. Astley was an equestrian. All that is traditional circus started with the horse. Certainly there many people who believe that a traditional circus has elephants and big cat acts, and they’re correct – a traditional circus can have those animals, but first and foremost somewhere on the show there’s an equine, even if it’s only in the pony sweep. Because traditional itself is an ill-defined word, I lean toward the term popular. Popular not in the sense of successful, but popular in the sense of broadly understood. If it’s not a popular circus, if there are no animals, it’s probably a theatrical show. Theatrical circus is as storied as the medicine show and the countless troupes that trekked across the frontier presenting Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A circus with an elaborate presentation, these days I see as conceptual, whether it’s a popular show or a theatrical circus. Likewise a show with less elaborate sets and properties is a utilitarian circus. Some circuses are clearly catering to grown-ups, while others cater to children of all ages. The former I’d call adult, while the later I’d suggest are juvenile. Juvenile not in the negative understanding of the word by any means. Adult explicit circus is another creature altogether, ribald, or bizarre, or erotic – performance art. Youth circus is not to be confused with Children’s circus. Youth circus teaches the circus arts (as does community circus) and young performers (amateurs) present a juvenile show. Children’s circus, generally theatrical and utilitarian seeks to entertain kids. Popular, theatrical, conceptual, utilitarian. adult, juvenile – if those are elements within a circus, maybe circuses can be better defined by describing a show in the order of their importance. The Carson & Barnes Circus might be described as popular, utilitarian, and juvenile. You simply can’t move a circus every day unless you are utilitarian. You can’t play small communities unless you are juvenile. I will certainly allow that in the days of great spectacles and street parades there were significant theatrical and conceptual elements associated with the best railroad circuses that moved everyday, but the economic model that paid for such grandeur is long gone. The incredibly successful Cirque du Soliel is a conceptual, theatrical, adult circus with only elements of the juvenile. Flora could be called theatrical, conceptual and juvenile with elements of the popular and utilitarian. Maybe the Bindlestiff Family Circus would be described as theatrical, adult, and utilitarian with elements of the explicit.

Arguing over what is circus has never been very productive. Examining what sustains and supports circuses of all kinds is the only way to assure that the popular, the theatrical, the utilitarian, the conceptual, the juvenile, the adult, and even the explicit are always with us when we really need a clown.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 

North Brunswick, NJ. 5 miles. Grass. Overcast.

The shorest jump of the season.

Two Headlines with stories in the New Jersey Star-Ledger today The first under series of photos captioned Elephants The Stars of the Show reads: One Big Top, Three Rings of Fun. The second headline in another section of the paper reads: Prison For Animal Rights Activists.

A year ago I posited that things were nearing a tipping point insofar as PETA attacks on circus were concerned. Events in the last ten months suggest that the tipping point may be getting closer.

One big top, three rings of fun
St. Matthew church is the site in Edison

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Tents mushroomed on the grounds of Saint Matthew the Apostle Church in Edison yesterday as the Carson and Barnes Circus came to town.

Hawkers sold hot dogs, snow cones, balloons and toys as young children and their parents streamed through the ticket booths to the three-ring circus.

Before they even got to their seats, audience members were treated to a real-life carousel with Shetland ponies and a petting zoo filled with a Noah's Ark of animals.

"They are old enough to eat my pants," Ben Trumble, circus spokesman, said about the baby goats.

A pygmy elephant lounged in a basin of water as children excitedly pointed at the beast and petted a zebra, the donkeys and the zebu, a small cow with a distinctive dusky hump.

In the circus big top, acrobats, trapeze artists and dancers whirled and jumped to the thumping beat of the sound system.

Antoly Huaman, 18, an acrobat, was getting ready for last night's performance. In the previous show, he landed on an elephant's back as he tried to make a somersault over the animal.

"It was embarrassing," he said, laughing.

Last night, he jumped from a ladder, took three big jumps on a trampoline, twisted himself across three elephants and landed on his feet to applause.

When the elephants were not in the big tent, they were taking people on short rides in their fenced enclosure.

Lisa Herendeen of Metuchen took her 4-year-old son Daniel on a ride atop Susie.

"It was a lot more bumpy than I thought it would be," Herendeen said. "He (Daniel) loved it. He laughed."

The 8,000-pound elephants have a serious sweet tooth. Kelly has a weakness for Oreo cookies. Susie has been known to take a sip from a soda can every now and then. Isa and Isla love cotton candy and doughnuts. But the treats are only used to entice them to perform tricks, said Randy Peterson, one of the trainers, who led Susie through the grounds with an ankus, a 2-foot-long stick with a small metal hook at the end.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argue that the ankus, or "bullhook," is used by the circus to abuse the elephants in their training and have set up a video on their Web site portraying a trainer attacking an elephant.

They sent a letter to Edison calling for the township to ban the use of bullhooks and other training methods on elephants, according to Lisa Wathne, PETA captive exotic animal specialist.

Trumble, the circus spokesman, argues that the video is heavily edited, the circus has never abused its animals and has a clean record with the Department of Agriculture.

As for the bullhooks, they are a guiding tool.

"It's like a shepherd's hook," he said.

The circus will perform again in North Brunswick today on Route 1 at the DeVry University campus.

Prison for animal rights activists
3 sentenced in organization's campaign to terrorize Somerset lab clients and employees
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
Three animal rights activists who organized a campaign to harass employees and clients of a New Jersey research lab were sen tenced to prison yesterday by a judge who said their commitment to social justice had morphed into frightening and sometimes violent protests outside people's homes and offices.

"The means used, the harm im posed, almost arrogantly, is serious -- and warrants serious punishment," Senior U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson said.

She ordered Kevin Kjonaas, the onetime president of the U.S. chapter of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, to serve six years in prison. Co-defendants Lauren Gazzola of Connecticut and Jacob Conroy of California received terms of 52 and 48 months, respectively. Three more defendants face sentencings today and next week.

The hearings signaled the end of a case that had drawn attention from social activists and their tar gets, and represented a clash of ideals. Law enforcement officials portrayed the SHAC activists as domestic terror threats; supporters claimed the prosecution violated free-speech rights.

The protests began five years ago, when members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty began showing up each month at Huntingdon Life Sciences' lab in Franklin Township, Somerset County, where researchers use monkeys, dogs, fish and other animals to test drugs and other products.

Following tactics developed by their counterparts in Great Britain, where Huntingdon Life Sciences is based, the activists then turned their sights from the company to those who kept it afloat: its employees, clients, investors, suppliers and firms with which it did business.

They descended upon targets' neighborhoods at dawn with bullhorns, spray paint and posters, visited their churches and encouraged supporters to flood their phone or fax lines.

No one was seriously injured in the U.S. protests, but Huntingdon and others claimed millions of dol lars in lost business, vandalism and other damage.

Prosecutors portrayed the defendants as young activists who in cited the activity by posting the names and addresses of targets on line then trumpeted successful at tacks. Using a rarely used domestic terrorism statute, they charged them with conspiring to intimidate and stalk victims.

During a monthlong trial, dozens of victims testified about the impact of the protests on their families. Jurors heard some of the hundreds of phone conversations taped by the FBI and watched videotaped protests before returning guilty verdicts.

Under unusually heavy security, more than 100 people crammed the courtroom for yesterday's sentenc ing, with dozens more waiting outside. Most were supporters of the defendants. A few Huntingdon Life Sciences officials filled the front row, alongside representatives of pharmaceutical trade groups.

The judge noted the defendants weren't typical. Kjonaas was the son of a former mayor in Minnesota. Gazzola was preparing to enter law school when she was ar rested three years ago.

"All of these defendants were bright, educated and resourceful and talented," Thompson said.

Kjonaas faced as much as 10 years in prison, a stiffer term than a rapist or arsonist would face, according to his attorney, Robert Stahl. He asked the judge for a lighter term, saying that Kjonaas was part of a campaign for "an honorable cause" that went awry.

"This is not a crime of greed, avarice or malice," he said.

But the lead prosecutor, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna, said Kjonaas wasn't motivated by compassion as much as the "sheer power" he felt by bullying international corporations. He noted none of the defendants apologized.

"There is nothing noble about what Mr. Kjonaas did," he said. "There is nothing noble about in citing the kind of harm that Mr. Kjonaas reveled in."

Kjonaas declined to address the judge except to say it had been a traumatic and learning experience for him and his family. Asked later about appeal plans, he said, "I'm pretty confident I'm not going to do five years in prison. I'll be back."

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie called the punishments "appropriately long sentences."

Leslie Wiser, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark divi sion, said the group's "terror tac tics" backfired and "in the end they only served to drive themselves into a prison cell."

Mike Caulfield, general manager of Huntingdon's New Jersey facility, said there have been occasional protests, but nothing on the scale of attacks like several years ago. He was buoyed by the sen tences.

"On behalf of the dozens of victims who have had their lives turned upside down by these crimes, we're grateful that justice was served," he said.

SHAC supporters insisted their movement still thrives.

Andrea Lindsay, who described herself as a spokesperson for the defendants, said Huntingdon oppo nents had launched a new Web site and planned two more protests this week. She said hundreds if not thousands of people remained dedicated to shutting down the testing company.

"At the end of the day, it's six people," she said.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 

Edison, NJ. 60 miles. Grass. Perfect circus day.

Early start out of the Sussex County Fairgrounds and into rush hour metro traffic. Twenty miles down Rt 206 Ithe yoke went on the differential and I didn't see the new lot until early afternoon. My co-pilot, Tony, a very funny Peruvian clown at least kept me laughing.

The St Matthews Parish School in Edison has been sponsoring circuses for a number of years. the wonderful Vidbel's Old Tyme show played here regularly in the 90's, the the Cole Show, and in recent years the Alain Zerbini circus. It's nice to follow good shows into a community that has learned to appreciate circus. We will look forward to coming back.

Monday, September 11, 2006 

Sussex County, NJ. 73 miles. Grass. Cool, clear.

On September 11th, 2001 the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros Circus was set up in industrial northern New Jersey. From the circus lot the smoke marking the destruction of the World Trade Center was clearly visible to the east.

In December of 2001 with the fall of the Taliban dictatorship in Afganistan a small circus opened in Kabul, playing in a threadbare tent with a handful of animals and of course, clowns.

Terror is a tool that seeks to defeat laughter, and peace, and dreams, and equality. Terror is defeated not just by force of arms, but also by joy.

Terror never really wins.

Sunday, September 10, 2006 


Hazlet, NJ. 63 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

East to the North New Jersey port cities in the urban corridor where all roads lead to New York. Hugging the Atlantic Ocean we can travel no farther to the east. A full colors newspaper wrap-around graces the Sunday paper advertising our next four dates. Leaving the mud for the industrial sprawl the circus looks beautiful, and sophisticated against a metro backdrop.

Saturday, September 09, 2006 

Harmony, NJ, 123 miles. Grass field. Possibility of showers.

Early horn for the trip through the Water Gap. Thick fog, the visibility is less than one hundred feet along the river on the New Jersey side. At eight o’clock, on the lot in Harmony the elephant trucks loom like ghostly suggestions in the diaphanous haze. Welcome to the Garden State.

Friday, September 08, 2006 

It seems that even the SPCA agrees that we are good animal caretakers when they take the time to actually observe us and investigate our real record.

Investigators find no signs of animal cruelty at circus

By: Kristina Martino / The Citizen.
Wednesday, September 6, 2006 6:50 PM EDT

When Cayuga County officials learned from an animal protection organization that the Carson & Barnes Circus allegedly abuses their elephants, officials quickly planned a local investigation held at the circus in Emerson Park, Aug. 25.

Investigation results compiled by the Finger Lakes Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals show positive care of elephants by circus employees during the event.

"Investigators were impressed by the care given to elephants and horses," said Legislature Chairman George Fearon.

Prior to the circus, Fearon received a letter from an animal specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a non-profit organization for animal protection, asking the county to pass legislation banning devices used to inflict pain on elephants. PETA accompanied their letter to the county with a videotape allegedly showing a Carson & Barnes employee attacking an elephant with a bullhook.

Fearon inquired with the local SPCA who informed him that state legislation already banning the devices existed, but SPCA members would conduct investigations at the circus.

During the circus, the SPCA sent members from their Humane Law Enforcement Division dressed both in uniform and plain clothes to investigate the treatment of all animals at the circus.

According to a report from the SPCA, an employee inspected the elephants by physically touching them.

The report stated no injuries were visible and that the animals were very social and responsive to the trainer's verbal commands. Investigators found only a training staff and electrical fences in the trailers.

According to the report, the elephants had a clear bond with the handler.

Lisa Wathne, Captive Exotic Animal Specialist for PETA, said that the laws that exist are very lax and circuses have very broad rules to comply by, Wathne said.


Comments are now allowed! I've decided to allow comments again. The rules are simple; anti-circus posts won't be allowed. Intelligent debate is welcome, but this isn't a forum ideologues. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, September 07, 2006 

Drive Time!

1 -- There’s an apocryphal story in the mudshow business. One winter an aerialist shows up that the quarters of a tented circus down in Florida. The owner of the show is in the changing the oil in a payloader.

“Sir, I am the best flier in the world,” the aerialist says. “My specialty is quadruple somersault off the trapeze. My brother catches me, and I never miss. We own our own rigging. We love your circus more than any other. Because we are fabulously wealthy and already famous we will work for almost nothing. I have a tape.”

“That would be pretty impressive,” the circus owner says, sliding out from beneath the loader. “A quad might really bring’em into the tent. And you’re a star, everybody knows you.“ He smiles, “I’d like that. It all sounds good. Tell me, any points on your CDL?”

“Sir, I’m an artist. Sorry, I don’t drive.”

“Buddy, you’re nothin’ but a damned liar,” says the circus man, suddenly turning red. “What the Hell are you wasting my time for? Get off my lot. Who’s gonna believe there’s a flier who doesn’t drive!”

2 – Okay, I made the CDL story up, but it sounds like something somebody would say. On a mudshow everybody drives.

3 – In two days we’re moving into New Jersey. We may be the largest tented circus in America, but we’re from Hugo, Oklahoma and driving in suburban New York with sixty odd show vehicles is a logistical nightmare.


Wilkes Barre, PA. 73 miles. Gravel. Overcast and cool.

From the Delaware we have moved into the hard coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania for a two day lot and license date at the Wachovia Arena. A century ago Scranton and Wilkes Barre were mining and rail towns, the scene of bloody battles in the labor wars that led to the emergence of the United Mine Workers. These were Barnum towns, where it was said by troupers that the big show fought its way onto the lot, then fought to leave it again. The miners as interested in brawling as they were in circus, and a melee could be mighty entertaining. Years later in Scranton a strike by hostlers on the Ringling show inked the final chapter for baggage horses when thereafter tractors replaced teamsters moving wagons from rail to show grounds and back again. Today Wilkes Barre and Scranton are college and university centers. In the hard ground it takes two hours to drive the stakes for our tent.

Way back in the 1980’s I was a zookeeper living on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and working at the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx. There was a ritual to my mornings then. Each workday I would ride the train uptown from Houston St, drinking coffee from a deli and reading the Times or the Daily News. From Fordam Road I walked to the park, and when I slipped between the gates I entered another world. The park I supposed then, in the early morning just past dawn was quiet the way that a church is sometimes quiet, the silence occasionally broken by the raucous noise of animals, or the first tentative sounds of rakes on gravel. The park was my cathedral then, the paths by Cope Lake a place of Spirit and Profundity, and the Sacred. Today, sometimes, I sense that same Grace, that same yearning for the spiritual inside the circus tent in the early afternoon when all is silent and empty like a Cathedral before the first Mass marking the day. It’s not my intention to delve into the mystical here. On any given evening a splash of Islay whisky seems profound. A spiritual experience is an experience ripe with possibilities. And beneath a bigtop, or on a stage, or along an empty path in tree filled park, the possibilities are endless. On a circus like this one nothing speaks of possibility more than the talented children who appear in our show. Watching ten years like Ashley Felix or Franchesca Cavallini work the hula hoops, or the web, or a teeter board act I can only begin to imagine what these girls will do in another decade. For children watching other children perform I think there is a connection that adults just don’t “get.”

Children see themselves reflected in the artistry of their peers.

“If she can do that, what can I do?”

What indeed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006 

Matamoras, PA. 80 miles. Grass. Overcast.

Two blown trailer tires on Rt 209 through the Catskills this morning, giving me a full hour to wonder at the miles I've driven since Texas. Late on the lot, but still time to drive back to Walden, NY to visit the Big Apple Circus quarters. BAC quarters was everything that Disneyland promised to be when I was a child. A magic factory. Oceans separate a mudshow like ours and BAC set up at
incoln Center. But the commonalities are greater than the differences. The commonalities in circus weave the strands of childhood wonder, fine threads in a luster of hues into the fabric of the mat, real or imagined that marks the center of each and every ring. In those rings, on every show, ideally, fantasy is born. Some days it's hard to marvel at fantasy, contemplating a blown tire. But after the mechanics ride to rescue, and when the tent is pitched on a green lot, then I remember that it's always there. Or at least I hope I do.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006 

Some places just feel like home. For me the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley sing enchanting songs stirring long dormant recollections. I was young here in places like Saugerties, and Woodstock, and New Paltz in a time of utopian ideals and ideas. Revolt found fertile ground in these hills and in this valley. In Saugerties I phoned an old, old friend to say the circus was in town.

“Don’t you get tired of circus?” said she.

How can you ever get tired of circus, I wondered?

Entertainment is by nature a subversive business ultimately subsidizing radical art forms. Even the most staid of movie studios will on occasion surprise us with cinema so startling in its examination of social conditions it literally changes the way that we see the world. We like to say that circus is the friendliest of family outings. We like to say that beneath the bigtop we are a traditional entertainment. Both of those statements are true. Traditional circus is exciting, and magical, and family friendly, and at it’s best dazzling, and unforgettable. Each day we try, we work hard to be at our best. What’s unsaid is that circus, even the most traditional circus is ultimately revolutionary. Circus encourages us to dream that we too can fly like a sixteen-year-old boy on the trapeze even when we are feeling very earthbound. Circus suggests that any one of us can learn to balance on our fingertips when every day life leaves us otherwise unsteady. Circus reminds us to sometimes question authority, particularly pompous overbearing authority. Circus allows us to revel in beauty, and in fantasy, and sometimes teaches us not to turn away from the grotesque, for that can be human too. Circus, our circus is about mud, but it’s no less about wonder. All circus is a business with the cyclical ups and downs of business and sporadic paradigm shifts. We work to make the business work and every now and then because the business works we are entitled to remember that we are changing the world here. One child – young or merely young at heart – one child at a time.

How can you ever get tired of circus?


Saugerties. NY. 80 miles. Grass and gravel. Rain.

The first modern elephant came to America in 1796. She never had a name, she was simply “the elephant.”. The second elephant in America arrived in 1804. We know everything about her. She was Old Bet, the “mother” of the American Circus. The man who made Old Bet famous was a farmer from Somers, N.Y. in the Hudson River Valley, by the name of . Hackaliah Bailey. So successful was the exhibition of Old Bet, Mr. Bailey took on partners, including his neighbor Nathan Howe. In 1817 the partners imported two more elephants to add to a growing menagerie. In 1826 Mr. Howe partnered with another aspiring showman, Aaron Turner to produce a combination menagerie and circus, exhibited for the for the first time in a canvas tent. The circus tent changed everything. The bigtop was born. Today, playing here in Saugerties the circus has returned to the spiritual home of every mudshow. The circus today is digital sound, and theater lighting, with performers whoses skills far exceed anything imagined in 1826. There is a glamour to the circus today -- even on a wet Tuesday in September -- unrivaled by the homespun of those early pioneer shows. Our artists have traveled the world.

But Old Bet would still feel right at home here.

Circuses have changed dramatically, more exciting than ever.

Elephants have always been just fine right out of the package.

Monday, September 04, 2006 

Old School

Delhi, NY 89 miles. Grass. Cool. Overcast.

When our stakedriver busted an oil line today our intrepid tent crew were more than up to the task of pounding stakes old school. Even Aaron Broderick, the ringmaster drove some steel.

We are deep in the heart of the storied Catskill Mountains today. A century ago famed wagon shows like Sig Sautelle’s circus played the towns here. Tomorrow we will pass through Kingston, originally the home of Charles Hunt’s Hunt Bros Circus, a wagon show that moved to trucks and traveled the eastern seaboard for eighty years. In our own 70th season and producing what we believe is the best, most exciting circus we’ve ever taken on the road, we appreciate longevity.

Friday, September 01, 2006 


Albany, NY. 83 miles. Gravel, pavement. Sun, then rain.

Night jump into Albany for a three day stand on the riverfront beneath the Dunn Memorial Bridge. We’re on the Hudson now, on the rail route into New York City.


Whitehall, NY. 86 miles. Mowed field. Cool, perfect circus weather.

Can seven girlscouts host the largest tented circus in the US? They did in Whitehall.

Driving south along the eastern front of the Adirondacks, then east between Lakes Champlaiu and Lake George, there’s little doubt that on this last day of August we are in New England, even if the Vermont border is beyond the treeline. Here the hills are called the Green Mountains, and a bit to the south the Berkshires. Passing the battlefields of the French and Indian Wars, and later the Revolution it seems that America was born here in these somehow British villages along narrow canals. A sign suggests that the US Navy launched its first ship from Whitehall, sailing beneath the guns at Ticondaroga. Sixty years later circus men carried whole shows on packet boats from the Hudson as far west as Buffalo and as far north as Canada. Today seven Girl Scouts brought this show to town. In the 19th Century a school of landscape painting evolved in eastern New York State. Although the paintings themselves might depict the hills and hollows of the Adirondacks or Massachusetts, the Hudson River school, as it was later called offered the first quintessentially American take on landscape oils rivaling anything from Europe. Today the same landscapes viewed through the window of a circus semi still look like oil on canvas as haunting as they were when the first circus men and the first painters saw them from bend in the river .


Au Sable Forks, NY. 115 miles. Grass. Cool.

North along the St Lawrence River and the border with Canada. Vermont in the distance across Lake Champlain. Despite the date on the calendar it’s fall here. The leaves are changing and farms offer fresh cider. At Plattsburgh we turned south on the interstate. A man on a street corner sells Maine lobster from the back of his pickup. We are closer to Portland than to New York City. Here in the Adirondack Mountains the whole town turns out for circus day, but for the fly fishermen intent on native brooks and browns. For the early show families drive in from Lake Placid and Saranac.

I have been meaning to write about Harold Ronk. Mr. Ronk passed away last month at his home in the Midwest. Harold Ronk was the quintessential ringmaster, the embodiment of Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus as it appeared in New York for more than thirty years. The role of the ringmaster confuses audiences sometimes. Artist or administrator? That depends. Harold Ronk with his baritone Broadway voice was certainly an artist of the highest caliber.

In the years after the American Civil War a talented circus owner and clown named Dan Costello stepped into the center ring both as the equestrian director (performance director) and the announcer of for his show. (Eventually he would take on the same roles on the Barnum circus.) Later Al Ringling served said functions for the Ringling Brothers. The notion that sometimes the ringmaster owns the show, or that the ringmaster directs the performance isn’t entirely misguided.

Why the confusion then?

Because when all is said and done as often as not, the ringmaster is the show’s announcer, pitchman, and peanut vendor; and the equestrian director or performance director is waiting by the back door. Sometimes the ringmaster is a performer too. Maybe the ringmaster sings, as did Mr. Ronk, sometimes the ringmaster performs magic and illusions. Good ringmasters can wear several hats.

In Europe and on some shows here in the States a circus may do without a ringmaster entirely. The program speaks for the show, the equestrian director serves as a fall guy for the clowns, and the concession manager sells the nuts. Increasingly a ringmaster might be a ring mistress. There are some very talented ringmistresses. Strictly in terms of marketing and demographics it’s hard to beat an attractive bilingual woman who can announce a show in both English and Spanish. On our show Aaron Broderick has a great voice and enormous self assurance.


But there will never be another Harold Ronk. Nobody can define the role of ringmaster as thoroughly as Mr. Ronk did, and few will ever sing as well. The circus as an art form was poorer the day Mr. Ronk retired. With his passing we are left with the memories.