Thursday, March 05, 2015 

A few quick comments on decision by Feld Entertainment to phase out elephants over the next few season RBBB shows. It's not the end of the world for traditional circus. Astley would certain remind us that the circus ring is the ideal circumference for an equestrian act. Barnum said that the center poles of a circus were elephants and clowns, but James Bailey knew better. Of course elephants and circus have been synonymous for nearly 150 years and they will be missed on the Feld shows (assuming overwhelming public outcry doesn't prompt Feld to reconsider) however elephants are disappearing entirely from every circus... at least not yet. Is this a big win for Animal Rights groups? It's a win but it isn't a knockout. From the beginning of this battle twenty plus years ago circus fans and some circuses (not...I should stress...the Feld shows) have repeated erred in thinking that this was a Left/Right political issue with "Liberals" opposing animals acts while "Conservatives" endorsed them. In reality the philosophy behind both Animal Rights and extremist environmentalism has cut across the Left/Right axis. David Foreman the founder of Earth First was a Nixon Republican. The first serious Congressional legislation proposed to take elephants off the road, the Farr Bill was proposed by a California Democrat and cosponsored by an Alaska Conservative. Fighting AR activists by trying to frame the argument in political terms doesn't work. It's a philosophical debate. As the activists rightly see it, its a market debate. Deprive shows of markets and you win. The activists don't have to convince significant numbers of voters, only a handful of local elected officials for whom it's a "safe" vote. It's hard for pro-circus voices to be heard if they show up ready to fight the wrong war. Are cats next? Almost certainly. Broad bans written to exclude all exotic animals of course cover cats as well as elephants. In places where narrower elephant restrictions are in place, cat restrictions come next. That said, the economics of cat acts are far different. At least in theory, absent Federal legislation cat acts can afford to play smaller less restricted markets and there's still a chance to fight local legislation. Where cat acts fall under "exotics" bans defining exotics becomes an issue. Broadly defining exotics creates grounds for court challenges while narrowly defining exotics leaves wiggle room for "native" species. Dog acts, horse acts, barnyard acts, even camels aren't going away. In the US consumers spend many billions of dollars every year to pamper their "pets." Taking away ligers is one thing, taking away llamas is quite another. That doesn't mean that activists won't try -- but it isn't a battle they can win for another couple generations. Opinions shift and cultures change. Insofar as Animals Rights debates go, demographics may ultimately overwhelm all other arguments. The AR debate is driven by mostly white, mostly middle class activists influencing similar politicians. A generation from now the face of America won't look the same. Want animals on a circus thirty years from now? Don't try to convince 20 year olds, convince children born tomorrow or next week. If activists scored some kind of "win" today the biggest losers may be elephants. Habitats continue to disappear in Asia and activists are vocal in proclaiming the ridiculous notion that extinction is better than captive management. Just as Polar Bears are highly charismatic totems for the climate change debate, elephants should be the totem for the survival of megafauna. As more than a few zoos give up elephants, the last best place to see living, breathing pachyderms has been the circus. Take that away and fewer and fewer people care about their ultimate survival. In better world we would be offered tradeoffs. No elephants on the road...but permits granted to zoos and breeding programs to import asian elephants and better management species survival and bloodlines. Absent that tradeoff elephants lose, circus loses, children lose and ironically at the end of the road AR loses to. What will AR do when they successfully kill off entire species? The particular Hell for that sin won't be a pleasant one. Maybe we'll get lucky and Rand Paul will fix it all... In the meantime..."Hold your horses, here come the elephants!" Don't miss them before their echoes fade away.

Thursday, March 06, 2014 

Time flies when it is always winter. In upper New York State the snows came early in the autumn of last year and have stayed ever so late. It's March and at dawn today the temperature was still well below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. In the Valley, in Texas circus tents are rising in empty lots but here, far away even the crocus dare not pop from the frosty ground with its thin veneer of mud when the sun reaches its afternoon apex. Where have I been? Around. Why so quiet? That would make for a very long story. It's enough to say that on a hot summer lot several years ago I decided that blogs, or pictures, long-winded prose wasn't always the best way to tell a circus story. And not every circus story needed to be told. It was time to wait for some new tools. Some might argue the tool of the moment, the ubiquitous Go-Pro cameras are just such a tool. Go-Pros are great inside a shark tank or tied to a weather balloon at the edge of space, but they remain an impersonal device -- God's unblinking eye -- just another box filled with images. Enter Glass. Two years ago Google -- either humanity's greatest champion, or worse enemy -- announce a product called glass. A bit of Star Trek technology beaming information directly into the user's eye and more importantly capturing stories exactly as the user sees them. No buttons, no tripods, no cumbersome helmets or headgear. For a year glass has been in beta testing, several thousand "explorers" playing with the technology to see what stories they can tell. Google doesn't make glass easy to come by. The price tag alone deselects casual experiments and the pickup spots in NY, LA and San Francisco -- where Base Camp training takes place -- adds another layer of complexity. Moreover glass can only be had by residents of a few countries. All right, I'm being longwinded again. The point is, next week I get my glass. And I'll look for a circus and stories to tell.

Monday, May 14, 2012 

Long, long year. The last pictures are this blog are dated May 2011 when Vidbel's Circus came to Ithaca to the Shops at the Mall. Three days ago Vidbel's came back again for five shows, two on Friday, and three on Saturday. It was nice to see a circus tent. Although I spent a week on Kelly Miller in July of last year, I chose not to blog about it. A few bits and pieces of news worth mentioning... Settled in Ithaca, NY area late in 2009 largely to enroll son Robin in high school after an academic year of home schooling on the road. On June the 23rd he will graduate. In August he's off to College of Environmental Science at Syracuse University on a pre-law track. If one is forced to spend several years as a "towner" it's nice when it all works out as planned. On a sadder note, friend Dave Huntington passed away yesterday. Dave was an Indiana welder out of high school before the draft sent him off to Viet Nam. After the Army he worked carnivals, eventually enrolled in an electrical engineering program, bought a drive-in movie theater, then at one time of another managed most of the cinemas in the southern Finger Lakes. Dave was the guy to call if you needed to coax a few few more weeks out of a three-phase generator, or wanted an original diagram for a kiddie scrambler. He was the last union projectionist in Tompkins County -- when there were union projectionists -- and since he was diagnosed with a tumor a year ago I have been "covering" his job, and doing it poorly. Anyway, it's May and the world is green and I miss the circus. And I will try not to0 let too many days pass before posting again.

Monday, April 30, 2012 

Tomorrow is the First of May... A date etched into the hearts of anybody who loves circus.

Saturday, May 21, 2011 

Clear skies sunny afternoon. Vidbel


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Thursday, January 27, 2011 

January 26th, 2011. Freeville, NY.

Last night here in the US we were treated to the annual State of the Union address delivered by the Chief Executive to the Congress. In the weeks running up the Stae of the Union we’ve all had our share of State of the State (or Commonwealth) addresses, State of the City pronouncements, and no doubt State of the Art(s) speeches at every museum large or small. The tone of these various moralistic lectures had tended to be downbeat, but hopeful. Of course what nobody has said is, “If you work in circus… Consider this…) Despite record revenues for organizations like Feld Entertainment, 2010 wasn’t a banner year for circus or carnival. Not exactly shocking news in the middle of a prolonged economic slump. 2008 served up the highest fuel prices the amusement business has ever seeen, followed by a meltdown of the credit markets and the banking system. Surprisingly 2009 had some bright spots. Real Estate was freefall, and unemployment soared, but diesel prices were reasonable and families stilled headed by those with jobs hoarded cash staying at home, and spent some of that money locally on entertainment like circus. Perhaps reality hadn’t entirely sunk in. By last year those who could were back at the theme parks and those who couldn’t were cinching the belt even tighter. In 2011 it’s tempting say that the only thing certain is uncertainty. While real unemployment inches down in some areas and consumer spending increases States like California remain crippled, Nevada with Depression era unemployment is in collapse, Illinois is racing toward a solid brick wall, and even Texas must consider new “fees” to fill the treasury. In the outdoor amusement business filling the tent or the midway is only part of the battle this season. Dealing with understaffed State Agencies, rising fuel costs, and myriad of new fees and penalties may require a whole new level of sophistication. We shouldn’t be shocked by stricter vehicle enforcement aimed not so much at safety as revenue enhancement. Likewise increased inspection fees, late filing fees for food service and other permits, fines for minor noncompliance whether from building inspectors, fire inspectors, humane officials, or village clerks. (Then of course there are fees for mandatory police/ambulance services.) In cash strapped States the price of doing business may be significantly higher in 2011. Worst gouging likely in CA, AZ, OR WA, in portions of the upper Midwest, and in the northeast where increased taxes on fuel may be ugly. By late 2011 TX and NC could jump on the bandwagon. As always WY may nickel and dime everybody at the state scales. Unfortunately the income remains too weak for much of a bump in admissions prices – and may stay that way until housing sees some recovery. We can learn from the mistakes of Hollywood. 2010 saw strong revenues for film, but declining seat sales. Most of the increased revenue came from 3D sales. Circus and carnival lack a corresponding “gimmick” and can’t afford to see a decline in seat sales. It won’t be a good year to skimp on publicity and marketing. Sponsors will work hard for what they see as assured profits, but they won’t put much effort into a show that doesn’t match their enthusiasm.

There is a bit of good news. Though the price of natural gas remains lwo, gas exploration and drilling is creating a boom in several parts of the country including PA and portion of West Virginia, parts of OK, WY and elsewhere. NY will see the same boom by the end of 2011, assuming the need for revenue is greater than the lioud voices of a small number of anti-drilling activists. PA could be strong for any show this season with some effort at selling the show.


January 25th. Freeville, NY.

On Sunday the temperatures in the Fingers Lakes of Upstate New York found it difficult to climb above zero degrees F, before plunging to almost minus 20 degrees F after nightfall. Sunday afternoon Billy Martin brought his Cole All-Star Circus to Penn Yan, NY, hometown of the show’s original owner James M. Cole. In winter Mr. Martin’s Olean based All-Star circus braves snow, and ice, and cold temps bringing circus to gyms, auditoriums, and community centers across the state. Unfortunately we missed the Penn Yan show when the Camry took one look at the temps and declined to start. Maybe next time. Meanwhile, the good news is, although it may be late January, Spring is coming. In Oklahoma the Kelly Miller Circus loads up soon for the long jump to Brownsville, Texas and a new season opening the second week in February. Shrine dates are underway here and there, Hispanic shows are open in TX and California, and in seven or eight weeks other tent shows will start the new season shaking off the sleep of winter-quarters and heading down the road. It’s 2011 and the circus is coming to town.


January 24th, 2011. Freeville, NY

Eighteen below zero at 7AM. Ouch! Looking out the window it was hard not to think that winter has gone on long enough. AVAILABLE for 2011.

Small 3 in 1 sideshow attraction with mermaid, Bigfoot, and “deadly spiders” (Tarantulas, scorpions etc.)

“Snake Hunter” 4-6 minute display suitable for smaller bigtop includes giant snakes and deadly diamondbacks handled by “snake hunter” in center of ring or at ring curb. Great lead up to reptile picture pitch. Already displaying a giant snake on your midway? No problem, can reframe your display for a rare albino rattlesnake to keep your pits how earning.

“Deadly Escape” Illusion 5 minutes +. Mailbag escape with a twist. Live venomous snakes are loaded into the bag with escape artist.

And of course I try to be generally useful in all areas of a show from marketing, media, tickets, animal supervision to announcing. Email mudshowmedia at yahoo dot com

Wednesday, December 08, 2010 

News out of New York City yesterday. Feld Entertainment's 141st Edition of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus will not play Madison Square Garden in 2011. The news is not likely as dire as it sounds. The Garden will be undergoing renovations. And since the first Barnum show palyed the Garden over 130 years ago, there have been several different "Madison Square Gardens," Including the incredible Moorish inspired twoer that was "The Garden" from 1890 through the Golden Age of circus in the 1920s. The show is exiled from Manhattan only for a season, at least so far as the press is reporting. And given the successful Coney Island summer runs in recent years, the Feld/Ringling title remains a New York favorite. That said, long gone are the days when the circus could play the Garden literally for months... If I remember correctly at least once the B&B show was forced out of the Garden by rebuilding during the Bailey era -- only to come back stronger the next season. And the Bailey filled the Garden with other titles when he took the Barnum show to Europe.