Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VIII, No. 6

American Circus a Confusing Collection of Possibilities

What’s happening to the American circus these days, especially when talking about the traditional circus with animals it seems to be a tale of two circuses. According to the Circus fan’s magazine White Tops, the Shriner sponsored shows in the mid-west are playing to straw houses.  Of course these are individually mounted shows that have a limited run and almost no tour.  On the east coast there is nary a sign of a circus of any kind anywhere but for other Shriner show’s ion New York state, the Big Apple Circus’ extended run in Lincoln Center, and the occasional limited runs of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in what amounts to off-off Broadway venues.  The Bindlestiff productions are more inclined toward vaudeville or cabaret than circus and the Big Apple is in such a precarious situation presently we won’t know what its future will be until sometime toward the end of this year.  The animal-less Kelly Miller was a fiasco in New Jersey and may have ruined its reputation in the state forever.  Other mud shows pop up here and there for brief visits.  So it is difficult to make a generalization about the circus’ state of health.  It seems to be taking the theatre’s place as the “fabulous invalid.”

The one area of circus activity that seems to be booming is the youth circus movement. New studios, schools, and social circuses seem to be turning up everywhere, with no shortage of instructors and students and no sign of slowing down.

The titles Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and The Greatest Show on Earth carry such iconic heft that it is almost impossible to consider that they will fade away into oblivion. Kenneth Feld himself confirmed this idea in a documentary “The Final Farewell.”  He said, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will live and at some point in time Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey will reappear, and it will be quite different.  It will set the standard for the time and the future.”  This idea was confirmed for me in part recently by a source that I consider to be wholly reliable.  So hold on tight.


Something New Here, Too

With this issue we will begin periodically publishing reminiscences by Michael Christensen, the co-founder of the Big Apple Circus. Before he and Paul Binder founded the Circus in 1977, they performed a comedy juggling act across Europe.  This introductory piece about that act is excerpted from Christensen’s autobiography which has been published in German, but is yet to be published in English.  For those of you who read German, here is a link to the book: http://www.hcd-verlag.de/buecher/wie-der-humor-i-die-kinderklinik-kam.htm

Christensen points out that when the Big Apple Circus toured there was a yellow security fence around the lot. Since his stories take us inside the circus we are calling the column, Behind the Yellow Fence.

In addition to this first installment of Behind the Yellow Fence, Christensen, now retired and an avid gardener, shares with us a charming piece called the “Circus Garden.”