Editor’s Fanfare Vol. III, No. 3

 To Fake or Not to Fake

The Editor’s Fanfare in the last issue, dealing with faked misses and  other egregious behavior by circus performers drew some interesting responses, especially from people who have experienced a lot of circus.

Judy Finelli set me straight in regard to my expressed doubt  that jugglers intentionally miss a trick.  “Actually some jugglers do miss on purpose a lot, every show,” she wrote and then added  “Hovey [Burgess]  and I never resorted to that but some jugglers and juggling acts do it all the time because they know audiences will give them a bigger round of applause if they look like they missed it first.  One of the most obvious tricks is the one where everybody has a set of pie plates.  They stand in a semi-circle across from the catcher. Each throws one of  his or her pie plates, and the catcher catches each ‘feed style.’ There are usually about 20 pie plates thrown. This trick is fairly easy for good jugglers so many acts miss on purpose once or twice and get it on the third try to better applause.”

I saw one of these acts at the recent Monte Carlo Festival do just that.

Finelli’s opinion was confirmed by Don Covington:  “I saw the pendulum swing both ways while at Big Apple.  Juggler Kris Kremo [one of the world’s most respected jugglers, by the way]  had a “miss” built into his act that occurred like (Swiss) clockwork and was never mentioned by the directors.  On the other hand, an attempt to build a staged miss into a risley act was quickly axed by the directors as an unnecessary plea for applause and below the dignity of the BAC ring.  Interestingly, some of the longest applause I remember was for the Flying Pages when Jill Pages caught the triple after two missed attempts.  In her case, it was obviously not staged and the audience realized it and was with her every time that she climbed back up to try again.”

Finelli was more forgiving than I was and provided this rationale for the custom: “I think the reasoning goes something like this: the audience  might not  appreciate the tricks and do not necessarily know which trick is difficult and which trick is easy.   How could they unless they studied juggling? And I think the performers are rightly picking up on the fact that increasing suspense does build the sense of a tension and sense of relief that is welcome. It’s a way of creating a sense of  ‘danger’ because in an aerial act for example, the danger is present. But in a juggling act, it has to be to some degree, ‘manufactured’  For me it isn’t that problematical unless the juggling act isn’t that good in which case it is boring to miss on purpose. But I have seen it work. I’ve also seen acts that make difficult tricks easy looking and this can work also. It’s a different acting problem for the performer.”

Finelli then makes reference to plate spinning acts in which the performer deliberately allows his plates to wobble precariously thereby adding suspense to the act and even a touch of comedy as he saves them from falling at the last possible second.  Here the performer must do some convincing acting to make audiences think he is on the brink of disaster.

I also saw an act like this in Monte Carlo this year and it fell flat because the performer wasn’t actor enough  to convince the audience that he was in trouble.

As for high wire acts, Finelli says, “I don’t care for faked ‘falls’ on the tight wire either. But I understand them  in a way. It does appeal to that unfortunate human  reaction “look out! He’s going to fall!’  I ask myself: does circus have to be about this to be successful?


A Critic’s Dilemma

The current issue’s Passing Spectacle contains a review of two different one-man shows created and performed by individuals with whom I have enjoyed relationships that go beyond  the otherwise anonymous confrontation of critic and artist.  There are many circus artists whom I am happy to call friends.  These are people with whom I have spoken at length on various occasions over the years.  In these discussions we have talked about their careers, their approach to their work, various projects and circus in general.  These discussions have helped deepen my appreciation of the circus arts in general and the artists in question specifically.  Inevitably, however,  there always seems to come a time when I must step back from such  relationships and offer as best as I can an objective  critique of people I know and like beyond their individual performances.   It makes for a difficult and even uncomfortable situation when, on occasion my reaction to their work is less than positive.  How do I  maintain my integrity as a critic and my friendship as well?

Fortunately most of the artists with whom I have forged a personal relationship tend to produce work that I can always endorse without hesitation.  But once in a while, rarely in most cases, I am disappointed, and I have to find a  way to make my criticism as constructive as possible, so that I and the artist can come away from the occasion with our  friendship still intact.  I hope that is the case with what I have written in this instance.