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Sunday, November 05, 2006 

Observations on the Carson & Barnes Circus Blog 2006

In March of 2006 the Carson & Barnes Circus opened its season in Arlington, TX and an Internet link appeared on the circus website titled “Blog from the show.” Through the spring and summer that Blog (a kind of an Internet diary) followed the circus across fifteen states and into the autumn, creating something of a virtual daily route book. The Blog closed four weeks short of the end of the 2006 tented circus season only because as the spokesperson for Carson & Barnes, the media relations coordinator I am finishing the season in an office in California, and not on the road. The Carson & Barnes Blog (http://www.mudshowseason.blogspot.com) was and is unique. While a handful of other blogs have documented bits and pieces of circus seasons on other shows, they have been, to date, rather more personal diaries – more about the writer(s) and less about circus. At the end of this particular experiment I think it’s worth reflecting on the pros and cons of a circus Blog as a promotional tool, and how a Blog might be used effectively to help market a given circus in the future.

The Carson & Barnes Blog never started out to be a route book. Initially as I envisioned it, the Blog was to be a pure marketing tool chronicling the adventures and observations of the show’s twenty-two year old ringmaster, Aaron Broderick. Aaron was in his first season the show and did not come from a circus background. Because of his age, I assumed that like my own children (a bit younger) he was thoroughly immersed in the world of online communications forms, of which blogs are a big part. What I failed to consider that not everyone enjoys writing. The notion that the Blog could serve as an enticement to sell Aaron to the media -- promoting the show -- simply didn’t work. (I still believe it’s a viable idea for someone who does enjoy writing, or were the Blog entirely ghostwritten.) Instead, the Blog became my own. Technical issues plagued the effort in the early weeks in west Texas. The effort to get online to post to the Blog was sometimes vexing. Internet connectivity remained an issue throughout; particularly when it came it came to posting large photo files. Much to my surprise the Blog quickly found an audience among circus fans, then later, after a number of mentions in newspapers etc, among Blog fans. By late summer I was delighted to meet people who came out to the show not because they normally attend circus, but rather because they’d read the Blog. Blogs it seems can sell a few tickets.

Blogs are sometimes incredibly revelatory documents. Blog writers occasionally presume an intimacy with their audience bordering on the uncomfortable. Blogs document a life, though it may be the life of an unreliable narrator. A show Blog as a marketing tool cannot wholly eschew conventions – it’s still documenting a life, albeit of a circus. It still requires some degree of familiarity to hook the reader beyond the first few entries. Classical marketers versed in a tradition where branding a product means never saying anything remotely negative, or neutral, or gray are naturally ill at ease with intimacy. Moreover, circus historically has its secretive side. As an industry we don’t talk about the good lots or the good days, or reveal too much about the routes. We’re not keen on giving things away to the competition. The guerilla marketers, the viral marketers, the Gen-X/Gen-Y marketers who build brands on buzz have fewer reservations about gray areas. Personally, as the Carson & Barnes Blog evolved I came to the conclusion that shades of gray were sometimes necessary to retell the story. How can we tell a circus audience that a particular act is “death defying” and then pretend that no one ever gets hurt? A the same time a Blog is not reportage and a blogger is not a journalist. If a performer is seriously hurt there is no obligation to talk about it when it happens. (Unless the media is talking about it.) Fortunately through the fall of 2006 there were no life threatening injuries on Carson & Barnes, and the one mishap that I found myself writing about in a rather forlorned fashion come late summer, actually happened in the spring. We sell circus as magic, and magic sometimes exacts a price. Similarly you can’t write about a mudshow without mentioning mud, or a day of rain. Does intimacy diminish the glitter? I don’t think so. Part of the charm of the traditional tented American circus; the popular circus as I think of it is its ability (its willingness) to move through all kinds of weather to all kinds of places. If the only thing we can sell is glitter and glamour we can’t possibly play through a month of foul weather in Nebraska. Our performers really do take risks to entertain our audiences. The logistics of bringing circus to your town really are remarkable, and trucks breakdown along the way, and sometimes there are accidents. (And fantastic show mechanics make things right.) There’s plenty of glitter and glamour and spangles on top of all that.

In technical terms the Carson & Barnes Circus Blog circa 2006 was more of a "beta” effort than it was a finished product. A blog’s value in terms of selling circus to a circus audience or serving as a publicity tool for media is directly related to the quality of the content. While a text only approach is not without value, a picture is still worth a thousand words, and video and audio are worth even more. A five year old 1.5 megapixel digital camera plugged in to a ten year old Pentium II 166 megahertz laptop with a Cingular digital cellular network card is not the ideal way create a mixed media Blog from a place like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A real mixed media/multimedia Blog might be easily accomplished at modest cost with a bit more planning. The possibilities of a multimedia Blog are exciting, following a show from rehearsals through an entire season and really documenting the public lives of circus artists, and to a lesser extent bits and pieces of the more private lives of people behind the scenes. I wish that I had written more about people behind the scenes in 2006. Armando Rosales and his incredible property department deserved attention, as did Errol and Karen in the road office, and of course the amazing Cavalenni and Parra families, and Jaime and Lisa Garcia. A few words in a daily diary aren’t enough. Sometimes you have to see people at work to appreciate the roles they play. We like to tell the press, rightly, that a circus is a place of a hundred stories. With a successful multimedia Blog I think we can better market those stories.

The novelist L.P. Hartley wrote in “The Go-Between”, that “The past is a foreign country.” Through the spring, and summer, and into the fall of 2006 I wrote often of circus history. I am not a circus historian by any stretch. I’d rather be a circus futurist. A circus, as it happens, moves through history -- leaving its own traceroutes through the seasons, continuing and revisiting the histories of all the shows that have come before it – touching places marked by events and battles large and small. A circus in that respect embodies history; and as circus lovers we carry a bit of our own story to every circus too. Traditional circus, classical circus, popular circus from a mudshow to the BAC remains a bright recollection of childhood, and in our love for those circuses we so fondly remember, we want every show to be just as it was back then. Just as circus moves through history, as an enterprise circus moves into the future changing, creating recollections for other children, for other circus-goers.

I believe passionately in the future and in circus seasons to come.

I would like to think that in 2006 I learned something about telling a circus story, and telling other circus stories, more circus stories can be a part of that future with all of its successes on shows down the road.

Thanks so much for this it was so enjoying and hope to see you again next year please do try to add the people and face that make a circus if you can next season.

Thanks a million for the blog. Very entertaining. Hope to see you next season, as it was a pleasure meeting you this year.
Jim Elliott

Just a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed the blog. I didn't find it until more than half-way through the season, but it was still there for me to read back and learn from.

You are a wealth of knowledge, and I hope you'll write again next year, whether with CB or some other Circus.

Best wishes.

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About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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