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Saturday, August 23, 2008 

August 18th, 2o008. Scottsville, MI. 35 miles.. Mowed field. Warm.

Shortest jump this week according to the route card.

Still not seeing half houses in rural MI.

There’s a theory pretty common in circus routing and booking that suggests, given one hundred towns, if a show does very well in twenty, and poorly in only a dozen, the remainder of the towns can be relatively neutral, either paying for expenses, or at least not losing much – and the show will still end up in the black. Most towns under that formula and waypoints, places to park the tent. It’s a very practical theory, and not unique to circus. The downside is that it’s theory that sometimes goes wrong if the good dates aren’t all that good, if there are more bad dates than anticipated, and especially if any significant number of those neutral towns slide into decidedly negative territory. It reminds me of the way that the Miami Dolphins played football in the 1990’s, clinging to a slight lead rather than risking much to extend that lead. Dan Marino never won a Superbowl. Kelly Miller certainly benefits from the strength of its appearances in many suburban markets. However in the small towns in rural areas where presumably it once prospered there appears to be a real weakness. Local economies play a role. Both Michigan and western Upstate New York are mired in deep recession. But the character of small towns themselves has changed. A community of 1500 people a decade ago had more families with children than the same community has today. Younger wage earners move away to strong job markets and raise children there. While the ideal “town” for a show this size might have been twenty-five hundred people in the 1990’s it’s almost certainly twice that size now. Understanding the demographic shift in the “graying” of small town America has to be a piece of the routing puzzle for every traditional circus in the years to come. If the target audience requires a larger population pool, and if the “nut” the cost of doing business is increasing, shows can’t afford long runs through small towns. That doesn’t mean abandoning small towns – some continue to perform exceptionally benefiting from great local hosts. But it does mean that no show can assume a town is playable based on a visit five years ago, or even three years ago without a clear picture of trends in that town. And that should be part of the job of a strong booking agent. The information is available. Every traditional show needs to stretch a bit when it comes to passing on too many easy bookings in towns that no longer fit the profile.


ADDENDUM: Business was slightly better in Scottville. Well known circus/carnivalist Jim Elliot came by in the evening.

About me

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