Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VIII, No. 8


Answered Prayers

Be careful what you wish or pray for. For years we have complained about the circus not being taken seriously by certain segments of the performing arts world, particularly those who write about it.  But now it seems our prayers are in the process of being answered, at least in certain segments of academia, particularly those promoting a certain style of contemporary circus.

That serious approach to circus criticism is sometimes on display on a certain website with a bias against traditional circus. For instance, in a review of last year’s Big Apple Circus one of the website’s critics complained that Adam Kuchler’s character had no arc. This is a total misreading of Kuchler’s act. His character, which is the unique and most appealing aspect of his performance, is found in his interaction with the audience and in the development (or arc) of his skills, which as all good circus acts moves from the simple and amusing to the complex and amazingly difficult, its rising action moving toward a climax and conclusion which arrive at the same time as it does in all good circus acts. That act was developed in rehearsals as the act was built from moment to moment.  This critic was unable to discern this development, because it was not meant to be seen.  That remained in the rehearsal hall.  The critic apparently missed the charm of the character and the performance and was instead too busy asking, in their own words “Where was the tragic?  Where was the sadness?  Where was the commentary on the failures life hands us.”

I have seen a number of different performers present this kind of act, including the greatest of them all, Kris Kremo, and in not one of them did I detect even the faintest whiff of the kind of angst this critic is looking for.

If critics are looking for that kind of drama in an act about manipulating cigar boxes, they are obviously looking in all the wrong places. What pretentious claptrap to think there should be such a tragic subplot. These are ideas the newly minted critics probably pick up in some classroom, rather than a circus ring. Did the critic expect or wish that Kuchler had paused Hamlet-like to contemplate how many boxes he really wanted to deal with? He might have—in the rehearsal room, but certainly not in performance. Perhaps the new critics subscribe to that old cliché that says behind the painted smile of every clown beats a broken heart, and they expect to see it.

In discussing another act a critic has said, “Were it not for the emotionally laden music it would be a flat demonstration of highly impressive and technical aerial work.” This reveals a failure of understanding of the elements that go into a circus act and how they all work together to create a single pleasing effect.   Take the music out of any ballet and most entertainments for that matter and what have you got?

If this is what the new critics want to promote, we need to turn a critical eye on the critics themselves. What are their credentials? How many and which circuses have they seen? What artists have they talked to about how they created their acts? What have they read and studied about the history of circus arts?

If this is the kind of criticism that the evolving circus is to be subjected to, it will turn something that can be an unalloyed joy and thrillingly exciting event into a dreary self-absorbed spectacle that appeals mainly to a shrinking niche of liked-minded individuals who would prefer self-conscious artiness to impressive skill and artistry. And then it will be time to say Au Revoir to the kind of spectacle that has thrilled audiences all over the world throughout the ages.