Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV, No. 4

My Reading Goes Astray

and Finds the Circus Anyway

Since the entertainment pages of the newspapers I read do not always have articles of interest to me and sometimes delve into areas not directly related to the circus  business.  In the arts section modern dance has just about taken over the pages of the New York Times.  I have been dipping into dance reviews lately to get a feel of how modern dance is related to the contemporary circus.  And then sometimes I also look into the pages of the business section.

I was intrigued by a story that never specifically mentioned the circus or anyone in it, but see if you can pick up on the relevance it has to the powers that be in today’s circus.

Few business dynasties, a recent business article began,  last anywhere nearly as long as that owned  by the  Murdoch family.  “As Mr. Murdoch prepares to hand the chief executive role of 21st Century Fox to his son James, he is embarking on what is often a hazardous task—trying to transfer control of a company to the next generation while positioning it for future success.”

Many  family transitions strain under the patriarch’s reluctance to let go., the article pointed out.   For instance “Sumner Redstone who remains chairman of Viacom and CBS, tried to involve his children in the business.  But relations with both have been contentious over the years,  At one point his son Brent sued his father for $1 billion to gain a stake in a company and is no longer in the picture.”

Family dynamics do not have to be explosive, but in order to avoid becoming disasterous, they require a delicate balancing act.

Every generation needs to reinvent the business, Ted Clark executive director of the Center for Family Business is quoted as saying.  “Businesses that remain dynasties really go with the times.  If you try to keep them the same, the company will fail.   Only about 30 percent of family businesses pass control to a second generation successfully, and just 12 percent make it into a third generation, while only about 3 percent to a fourth according to the Family Business Institute.

While it may be a dynastic achievement, it is not clear whether family businesses are good for business.  A study found that in boom times, family businesses did not keep up with the market.  But during downturns, family businesses out-performed their peers.

Surely you have seen the connection to the Feld family.  It is now in the third generation and has successfully negotiated the aging process.  The circus continues to make a concerted effort to react to the times and to adjust to the social changes they have brought.  There is a fourth generation, waiting in the wings.  Nicole and Alana’s children are quite young, but I hope I am around to see if they make it to that 3 percent.

On an airplane to St. Louis recently I picked up the airline’s magazine and found an article about stand-up comics who were dropping in unannounced at various comedy clubs around the country.  The article  reminded me of an interview I did with David Larible several years ago.

Unlike other performing arts, the article pointed out, such as acting or playing music, stand-up cannot be workshopped or rehearsed without an audience, so performing live is the only true way to gauge timing and feedback on a routine.  Drop-ins therefore give A-List comedians the chance to work out new material in front of audiences that didn’t drop big bucks on tickets and baby sitters and therefore won’t feel cheated by a set that is not as tight as an HBO special.  Chris Rock often appears at drop-ins with a yellow pad with notes for jokes and to make other notes on the reactions he was getting.  It shows that the process continues no matter how long you’ve been in the game.

Larible, in talking about the process he goes through creating new material, had  much to say the same as this article.  Clowning cannot be rehearsed.  At the time he was working on a hip-hop entrée that was only just beginning to gel.  I believe he eventually dropped it from his repertoire and fell back on the routines he had played and developed before countless audiences, but he has always liked playing in  small European theaters during the winter months to develop new material for just the same reason established stand-up comics drop in unannounced at comedy clubs.