September 5th and 6th , 2008. Glendale Heights, IL. 24 miles. Grass. Overcast. Cool – feels like autumn.
Jumped last night out of the mud onto an asphalt parking lot. Spotted the show when the danger of rain was over. Two day stand in Glendale Heights. Excellent business anticipated. Famed lion presenter Larry Allen Dean visited today.
Food for thought I suppose. Mr. Cainan notes that once upon a time show owners sought out the best, the most unique, the most awe inspiring acts in the world for their particular show – and nobody asked if they could drive a truck.
The show itself was the brand. That’s a notion that still exists watching some Cirque productions, or various editions of Big Apple – but it’s not seen on many mudshows. Mudshow managers would probably argue correctly that the issue is economics.
Savvy marketers might counter with a product like “circus” that you build a “brand” on excellence.
When was the last time that a “mudshow” tried to brand itself by being simple the best? Not the biggest, or the oldest, or the show with the most elephants. Hiring acts simple because they were phenomenal, not because one family or another was affordable and looking for work? Could a tent boss like Capt. Bill Curtis – one of the great geniuses of modern circus even work on a show today? He spoke no language but English and he didn’t have dozens of friends or neighbors or cousins who would work for him in low wage jobs. Was Cliff Vargas the last guy who actually raised the bar and wanted that kind of excellence? Is that why the name “Vargas” is still remembered so fondly so many years after his death? Other mudshow tycoons may be recalled and beloved by circus fans, but not by the public for whom “Vargas” still means “circus.” When President Jimmy Carter was original seeking office his question resonated – Why not the best? Why do we look for anything else? Why not the best tiger trainers, the best clowns, the best lot bosses, or aerialists, or acrobats? (And I should note that I’m not the best anything.) How many of the problems associated with traditional circuses today are rooted in the notion that shows can “get by” with what is easily available and leave greatness to somebody else? This by no means is meant to imply that that anyone working on any show isn’t talented, or skilled or dedicated. But there will always be degrees of excellence. If a circus, any circus isn’t “fresh” with new faces and new acts whenever it comes to town is it any wonder that the audience thinks, “I’ve seen all that before.”
Kelly Miller is the best traditional show on the road this season. It’s a good circus. Down the road can it raise the bar and really become “America’s One-Ring Wonder?” Absolutely. And it would be nice to think that it will.