FYI Vol. III, No. 8



What the World Needs Now…

are more people like these tireless innovators.


One of the most innovative and indefatigable proponents and practitioners of the social circus movement in America, a movement that abounds in such characters, one is likely to encounter, and just as unlikely to forget is Paul Miller.  His circus, based in Ludlow, Kentucky of all unlikely places, is aptly named Circus Mojo.  Paul has mojo enough to keep a circus and a beer brewery continually whirling with activity.  In fact the Bircus Brewing Co. is his latest who-would-have-ever-thought-of such- a-thing?, and he will probably make it work, after all he was clever enough to see the potential in a town that had nowhere to go but up and which has consequently embraced his efforts with open arms.  He has already succeeded in turning an abandoned movie house into a wildly successful circus studio which he has managed to persuade city officials to get on the National Historic Registry.

To make this new project work he has already gotten the city to make zoning changes that allow for a brewery, which will be run by his new-found partners Second Sight Spirits, run by former prop builders of Cirque du Soleil.  He has also applied to the city for a tourism development loan, the money from which will be used to redevelop a church near his current base of operations.  The redeveloped site will then house both Circus Mojo’s circus operations and educational efforts.  Miller also secured another loan of $250,000 from the state, and is seeking private investors before purchasing the needed equipment to make all this happen.  He already has in hand all the licensing and insurance required to turn the theater into a brewery and event space.

The idea is not entirely original.  While traveling in Europe recently Miller came across such an establishment in Ghent, Belgium.  It was called a Bircus, and the circus earns money to support its programs by selling beer.  He gained permission to license the concept and beer recipes.   “It will be a destination where people can watch a circus and drink beer,” Miller has said.  Its name is Bircus, Ludlow Brew Hall.

Meanwhile Miller is not the only activist with big dreams and boundless ambition.  Judy Finelli has devoted fifty years of her life as a performer, teacher and director of what she calls “body poetry.”  Among her most important accomplishments were serving as director of the Pickle Circus, co-founder of the Circus Center in San Francisco and getting Lu Yi to come to the West Coast and serve as the Center’s artistic director and principal instructor in Chinese acrobatic technique.  Now she has a new project she intends to bring to life.

“I confess that it’s difficult for me to dream small,” she told her fans and supporters recently.  “I have so many plans and ideas for what I hope will be the San Francisco Bay area’s first variety arts theatre.  A world-class city like San Francisco deserves its own Wintergarten or Lido reinvented for the digital age.”  She has named her new venture “Notoriety Variety” and in addition to presenting the best artistic talent anywhere, it will run workshops to uncover talent in unlikely places.  Future goals include a new physical variety theater, a Society for the Preservation and Development of Variety Arts and a Variety Arts Hall of Fame.   Notoriety Variety is sponsored by the Intersection for the Arts, contributions to which are wholly tax deductible.

Undertaking such a project is testament to Judy’s courage and indomitable spirit.  She is a quadriplegic as a result of MS.  She is able to operate a computer normally using Dragon Voice activated software.  “Just because one is disabled,” she says, “doesn’t mean you have to be completely lamenting.  However much my limitations are physically, my mind is as sharp as ever.”  We have seen the latter at work in her reviews which she often contributes to The Passing Spectacle.

Thanks to a “pre-crowd funding” appeal she quickly raised the $2,400 needed to launch a major crowdfunding campaign to mount her first show.

We wish both of these dreamers who have spent their lives being doers, success in the realization of these new projects.


Viktor Kee another innovative artist who, thanks to his unique style, has exerted a greater influence on juggling than any other juggler in decades, is also full of ambition and the fervor of a philanthropist.  He and a group of his friends have founded the not-for-profit Viktor Kee Foundation.   Its motto “Art Helps the World,” is aimed at creating a “world without poverty and distress.”

Among its multi-faceted approach to this mission is a program called Open Circle, “empowering children through creativity.” Other programs include the Open Circle Ambassadors, a network of teachers who will share their passion for the arts; Art Publishing, which seeks to republish rare circus history books and create  a platform to support authors and historians of circus art; Juggling Therapy, to help people improve their health with this creative and enjoyable activity, and finally the Help Ukraine project aimed at raising awareness and funds to help families and their children affected by the unfolding tragic events in Kee’s native Ukraine.    Creating, managing and producing fund-raising events to support the foundation’s activities is another of its goals.  It will also stage a master class for jugglers wishing to enhance their juggling style.

The foundation is interested in hearing from individuals who would like to participate in these programs by donating their time, professional skill and knowledge, as part of a team that already includes, besides Kee, Aurelia Cats, and John Satriano.


National Circus School to Hold Auditions

Auditions for entry into the Montreal, Canada based school will be held on Montreal. Vancouver and Toronto in February 2015.  Those wishing to audition must first make written application by January 15, 2105.  The application forms are available at the school’s website


 New Victory Theatre Honored for its Work with Youth

The New Victory Theatre of New York City has received the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for the New Victory Usher Corps, the 42nd Street Theatre’s creative youth development program for city teens that excels in developing learning and life skills in young people through the arts.  First lady Michelle Obama made the award in a ceremony this past month at the White House.  “You teach kids more than just skills in the arts and humanities, “she noted in her remarks.  “You light a fire in them; you help them grow emotionally and socially, and as all of you know, that has an impact on our kids not just their success in the arts and humanities but on their success in school and life.”

The New Victory Usher Corps provides paid employment, job training, academic support, mentorship and an introduction to the performing arts for 50 young New Yorkers each year.  During the three-year program the teens serve as ushers at each of the theatre’s performances and work as teaching assistants in the arts-based workshops for families.  Between shows they get to interact with professional artists from all over the world, participate in job and life skills workshops like time management, resume writing, personal finance and even theatre management.  For many of the corps it is the first time they are experiencing live performances, committing to a job and considering going to college.

The 20 year-old program has given employment to over 500 New York City teens.  Thanks to the award, in addition to the recognition of its work, the program will also be the recipient of a $10,000 grant to be used in supporting its programming.  The New Victory Usher Corps was chosen from more than 350 other nominated programs.


A Terrific Christmas gift, From Barnum & Bailey to Feld is now available at all major book outlets and the publisher McFarland Books.

Check out Don Covington’s review from White Tops. Sept./Oct. 2014

Ernest Albrecht’s newest book is an erudite examination of America’s most enduring entertainment empire. Author Albrecht mentions in his preface that he saw his first circus as a very young child perched high in the balcony of Madison Square Garden in 1942. That early visit heralded a life-long fascination with circus in general and the Greatest Show on Earth in particular. During a long career as a New York City theater critic, Albrecht returned to the Garden every year to see the latest edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, reviewing the circus with the same professional perspective that he accorded Broadway. Two of the author’s previous books concentrated on contemporary or “new circus”; this latest volume distills the acknowledged circus expert’s observations and opinions as to why this one particular circus remains vibrant and viable in twenty-first century America.

From Barnum & Bailey to Feld wisely limits its scope to the creative evolution of an obviously complex enterprise. Readers anxious to explore logistics, day-to-day events or railroad interaction will find reference to specialized documents in the extensive footnotes accompanying each chapter. This book zeroes in on the owners and managers who shaped the spectacles that ensured that this particular circus was worthy of P.T. Barnum’s grandiose claim that it was “the Greatest Show on Earth”.

book coverThe author carefully chronicles each season from 1871 to 2010, mentioning featured attractions, star performers, innovations and critical response. The first half of the volume is a historical review that serves as background for the meat of the discussion, a fascinating look at the influence of the Feld family as they guided the circus into new and unexplored territory. Ernest Albrecht uses to his advantage exclusive interviews with three generations of Felds who candidly discuss their personal philosophies, corporate strategies and visions for the future. Augmenting these segments are telling quotes from circus professionals, featured artists and creative consultants that give their own perspective on the evolution of the show.

Eminently readable, the book is filled with details that bring the history alive. Both serious circus historians and casual readers will be rewarded with surprises throughout.

Who knew that one short lived proposal was to “deodorize” the big top to remove the “circus smell” or that eccentric director Richard Barstow bragged that he wore three whistles during rehearsals, “one is used for getting someone’s attention, the second for general calls and general cues. Then I have a very, very tiny whistle I use to call the midgets.”

Insightful and revealing, this volume is a must for circus enthusiasts of all stripes, masterfully balancing meticulous documentation of a mammoth commercial enterprise with critical evaluation of the unique personalities that held the reins of power.

From Barnum & Bailey to Feld, The Creative Evolution of the Greatest Show on Earth

By Ernest Albrecht

308 pages with historic photographs and color plates

published by McFarland

available in print and e-versions

ISBN 78-0-7864-9524-5

eISBN 978-1-4766-1777-0 (800-253-2187)