Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VII – No. 3

The Past 25 Years Have Never Been Dull

When I learned that Cirque Éloize was celebrating its 25th anniversary I decided to do an interview with Jeannot Painchaud one of the company’s founders.  In researching material for that piece I realized I had been witness to almost every one of their productions.  That is quite a bit of creativity to experience over the years.  That set me to thinking about  all the other anniversaries I’ve shared in.  The Big Apple Circus is now celebrating its 40th season.  Cirque du Soleil is in its 34th.   Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey closed in the middle of its 146th edition.   And Spectacle has been around for 21 of those years, a period of enormously fervid, almost relentless activity.

I began publishing Spectacle in 1997, two years after my book The New American Circus came out.  I was interested in observing where the movement I had chronicled in that book would take itself, and I wanted to bring it to the attention of a wider audience, especially since it had been all but ignored in segments of the traditional circus establishment.  It has proven to be an exciting ride.  I have never wanted for innovative people or circuses to write about for the past twenty years.

In recent times the changes in some of the principle characters in this saga of the circus have been going through the most dramatic changes we have ever seen since I began this publication.  As noted, Ringling is gone.  The Big Apple Circus is under new management.  The wunderkind Guy Laliberte holds only a tiny financial interest in  Cirque du Soleil, which under new management has set its sights on far reaching projects that will take the circus into new areas of our culture.  One of these is a touring circus on ice, which has been well received wherever it has played so far.

John Ringling North II has given up his dream of recreating the circus of his youth, even after fearlessly battling and baiting animal rights activists at every corner.  Kelly Miller, the circus he fielded for a few seasons, has a new owner Jim Judkins, whose animal free Circus Chimera burst upon the scene during this period only to eventually throw in the towel.  Judkins, it now appears has not only decided not to fight but may have actually joined the protestors.

Carson and Barnes over the last several years has down-sized from the world’s largest big top, to a single ring entertainment and is struggling mightily with the problem of what to do about its elephants.  Must they follow the Ringling herd off the road?   Meanwhile Circus Flora is experimenting with a new set of dates for its performances in St. Louis, hoping to boost attendance.

There have also been circus companies that have come into existence during this amazing period.  The Canadian company 7 Fingers  has spread its fingers into a remarkable array of circus-related projects, and it has done so by raising both its skill level and its artistry to astounding levels.

During this period the American Youth Circus was born out of a meeting I attended with Kevin O’Keefe and Rob Mermin.  O’Keefe eventually became the founding president of the organizations.  Of all the circus related activities currently alive, AYCO seems to be the one experiencing the most robust growth along with its attendant problems.    The number of local organizations offering training in circus skills is nothing short of phenomenal.

I have seen the influence of the creative artists that have been a part of these stories spread literally around the world.  Some of them I saw for the first time in a tiny cabaret staged by the Bindlestiff Family Circus at the very start of this adventure.    I have seen students of San Francisco’s Lu Yi starring in productions of both 7 Fingers and Cirque du Soleil.

As I have said it’s been an exciting and eye-opening ride.