Hammondsport, NY. 80 miles. Grass lot. Rain.
Back to the Finger Lakes for a stop at the foot of Keuka Lake. The first seaplane flew on the waters of this lake more than eighty years ago, and long before the Napa Valley the American wine industry was born. Beneath the eaves of a rambling cottage six miles up the lake at Marlena Point I remember spending portions of nearly every childhood summer reading by the light of a six cell flashlight about the exotic animals of Africa. New York State is the cradle of the circus in America, and moving north and east from here this circus will cross the traceroutes of those earlier shows that once played the rough and tumble in the Mohawk Valley.
Auburn, NY. 78 miles. Grass. Rain.
Rain through the night in Hammondsport, and a wet jump north through Geneva, then east to Auburn. Cole Bros Circus played Auburn in July. It appears that Cole Bros is moving away from the seaboard route that has defined the show for many years, reaching out to communities further west that were once a part of the “historic” Beatty-Cole routes of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I’ve written much on this already. In my opinion, which along with a buck might buy you a cup of coffee, 2006 is a transitional year for traditional circuses. A pivotal year. Routing, promotions, equipment, it seems that this season (and certainly next season) everything is on the table as we learn to live with higher fuel and insurance prices and look for enticements that will successfully lure the audience – also battered by fuel prices – into the bigtop. Though we all (circus enthusiasts) seem to dwell now and then on the mistakes made during this transition (ringless circuses, etc) there’s probably much to be learned from the economically healthy regional circuses that exist elsewhere. Again as enthusiasts it’s taken us twenty years to embrace the idea that smaller circuses can be as good or better than larger ones. Awed by size sometimes we overlook issues of quality. Few would argue that the outstanding Fled shows of the late 1970's were incredible, but so were the single ring Big Apple offering of a decade ago. Five rings isn't better than three, nor three better than one, but one isn't better than two. It's what happens in those rings that really matters. On this show, this season, we’ve tried hard to improve the quality of our performance while shrinking modestly to cut costs. In the future I would hope that we will improve the quality of the performance even more, reducing costs through the natural process of retooling and rethinking equipment. A a rainy day in Auburn at least, I’m cautiously optimistic that the next generation of circuses that emerge from this transition will be smarter, better, lighter circuses retaining the traditions that make circus special while finding new faces that breath life into those elements of tradition that can sometimes seem cliché.