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Thursday, July 08, 2010 

Pretty damned boring, but as some folks have wondered what happened to my CM season...

The great monastic traditions, whether Trappist, or Buddhist, a cloistered convent, or the Order of St Benedict all teach us to learn to leave ego at the door. It’s so hard to listen and to learn from silence when the voice of self is screaming between our ears. That said, our egos define us, or at least mine defines me. Growing up, with any luck, most of us get past the temper tantrums or a sense of entitlement – a conviction that the world owes us a living. Coming of age we shy away from the blame game, or a feeling that we are victims. We know that we must work and often work hard for our daily bread. We accept that life isn’t always fair and not everyone will see us as special, or unique and we grow comfortable with that. We judge, but with luck, not harshly. I love a circus. I may not love a circus in the unequivocal way that a fan loves a circus, but there is no place in the world that I would rather be than on a circus lot, even knee deep in mud. That said, now and then I am the worst of critics. I could claim that it’s all about “tough love” or holding circus to a high standard – but who am I to set those standards? By and large nobody has ever cut me a paycheck to gripe about every little thing that’s “wrong.” There’s much to be learned from silence and picking one’s battles carefully.

Several months ago, five weeks into the season I left the Culpepper Circus. It wasn’t one of those disagreements that led to screaming and yelling, or profound disagreement – I’ve done that. Nor did I leave CM because of some immediate crisis on the home front – I’ve done that too. I packed a bag and walked off the lot. In point of fact I should have rethought 2010 the day I arrived in Oklahoma. It was apparent from Day One that events over the winter kept circus owner Trey Key busy with relatively little time or money available for framing the show. A little paint and a lot of sweat can cover a multitude of sins – but paint was in short supply. A cold snap, snows, two days shut up in the sleeper and missing our opening day likely contributed to my own apprehension. You’re either with it and for it, or you aren’t. I wasn’t. Mechanic Scott Moss worked hard for a couple weeks in the fall and early spring on the show vehicles, but clearly several were ill-equipped for a season that would include a long stretch in the mountains, -- and replacing those vehicles on the road might mean a season of dogged financial hardship. Any money left over from 2009 after paying for wintering the cat act in Wynnewood, OK was mostly gone before March. Staffing problems suggested that early 2010 could require double jumping vehicles for days or weeks on end. The program remained in flux when the show opened placing much of the burden for the entire performance on the Ron and Robin Dykes family. Trey’s cats still opened the show, and “Melvino” the clown performed several acts, but largely the show was built around the Dykes. Part of the strength of the 2009 performance reflected the very talented clowning of Jessi Wonderfool, and a good wire act as a closer. Neither of those acts was back for 2010. While small town audiences for the most part remained pleased with the CM show, audience criticism in 2010 was far more vocal than in 2009. The Dykes family’s signature unicycle act, Simone’s strong trapeze, and April’s well- executed rola aren’t enough for a whole circus. The web act was a nice touch. The quick change was lovely. The bird act was really a filler. The gorilla comedy act -- while it worked for some audiences didn’t make up for a lack of strong clowning. New acts would arrive later, and the show, a work in progress, would improve – but knowing that somehow wasn’t enough. Agree with him or disagree with him, Trey Key is an honorable guy. Pay days might be late, but no one went unpaid. The tent might leak in the rain and shows might be cancelled when the wind was more than a breeze, but Trey never suggested it would be otherwise. A year ago when the show was flush after the California run Trey stated quite frankly that either he wanted the cash in hand for a new, high quality bigtop, or he would stick with the tent he had until he left the circus business. He wasn’t interested in a tent from Miami, OK, or from Ohio, and he wasn’t interested in a used bigtop. To his credit Trey didn’t apologize for the tent.

I left CM because I was frustrated and saw little of no point in discussing that frustration. I did want to apologize. I wanted to open my eyes one morning and see the paint, and spangles and love for circus that Red Johnson once showered on the show the first time I ever saw CM in California. That’s on me, because I know better. I love the business of circus and expecting anybody to spend an extra dime on cosmetics in the middle of a recession is likely unfair. It’s enough that nobody genuinely cares about his cats as much as Trey does, that no family works harder than the Dykes, that in most towns where the show plays circus day is still better than the day that came before it or the day that follows.

So it comes back to ego again. Mine. I was a horse’s ass. I owe everyone on Culpepper a mea culpa. I’ll try, next time, not to think less of any show – I haven't built one myself and succeeded in juggling all of those same responsibilities. The one thing I generally do well is my job. There’s pleasure enough in hard work. Time to let go of all that ego and get that job done.

Ben - would you send me your email address to ssrob@tpg.com.au. Thanks

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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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