FYI Vol. IV, No. 6


Circus Conservatory of America Suspends Operations in Portland, Maine

It certainly came as no surprise in this quarter that the grandly named Circus Conservatory of America has suspended operations. It has canceled its fall classes and is temporarily moving out of its facility on Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine, the school’s director Peter Nielsen has recently announced.  In what appears to be an effort to save face Nielsen, has also said that the board has decided to focus its efforts on developing the school as a degree-granting program for people pursuing careers in the circus arts.

The idea of a professional conservatory program seemed doomed from the start for all the same reasons the Big Apple Circus soon abandoned its original intention of creating a similar program in New York City, and use it as a source of talent in the way the New York City Ballet Company has used its school. The chances of the Conservatory’s rising from the dead seems even more unlikely given the fact that it has severed its ties with Thompson Point developers, Forefront Partners, leaving the Conservatory without any financial backing.

The one aspect of the program that shows some signs of life, its after school recreational program, was, according to Nielsen, becoming a “distraction” to the work of becoming a full-time, degree-granting institution,  “The only reason we’re doing this is to focus on developing the college,” Nielsen said.

Having spent nearly forty years teaching in a college, I know what goes into acquiring and keeping accreditation. You can’t get it for something that does not exist. So how that effort will proceed is something of a mystery. Nonetheless, Nielsen said last week that he would continue his efforts to launch the Circus Conservatory of America in Portland.
Nielsen first announced his organization’s intention to create a circus college on Thompson’s Point more than two years ago. The school had been touted as an important piece of Forefront Partner’s development of the former industrial buildings on Thompson’s Point into a mix that would include arts groups, retail, a hotel and residences.

A short time after making this new development public, Josh Oliver, a former staff member of the Circus Conservatory has announced that he would create a new school, Circus Maine, in the conservatory’s place. It will offer classes in acrobatic circus skills to “students of all levels and abilities,” but it has wisely decided to forego becoming a degree-granting institution. The new school will continue to have the support of Chris Thompson, a principal in the group that is developing Thompson’s Point.

Thompson has told the local press that he continues to support the efforts of Circus Conservatory of America and its plan to become a circus college, but Circus Maine would fill the “void” left when Circus Conservatory of America canceled its recreational classes, including a slate of courses planned for this fall. The new school’s staff will include instructors and others who had worked with Circus Conservatory of America. As a recreational program it certainly stands a better chance of success, as witness the number of youth circuses that keep popping up and thriving around the country

Circus Maine will offer classes in the same leased space Circus Conservatory of America had been using, 6,000 square feet inside an old brick building. The new school’s “master coach” will be Sellam Ouahabi, who has performed for years throughout Europe and has taught at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Vermont.


 Big Apple Circus Brings “The Grand Tour” to Lincoln Center

 The premiere of the Big Apple Circus’ new production, The Grand Tour, which kicks off the company’s 38th season, opened Oct. 21 and will run through Jan. 10, 2016, at Lincoln Center.

The Grand Tour was conceived and created by Joel Jeske. Mark Lonergan directed with associate direction and choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo. Musical direction is provided by Rob Slowik. Clown material has been created and directed by Jeske.

Circus performers include ringmaster John Kennedy Kane, clowns Joel Jeske and Brent McBeth, animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, aerialist Sergey Akimov, juggler Alexander Koblikov, Chiara Anastasini, the Dominguez Brothers, Chinese hand balancers “The Energy Trio,” African acrobatic troupe “Zuma Zuma” and the Dosov Troupe.

“The Grand Tour,” according to press notes, “transports audiences to the Roaring 1920s, the advent of the modern travel era, when the most adventuresome began to tour the world in ships, planes, trains and automobiles. The troupe sets off on its own whirlwind adventure, accompanied by the live, seven-piece Big Apple Circus Band.”
The show will open in NYC without the usual break-in engagement in Virginia. Last season the show was restaged and packaged as a stage show and had a successful three week run at the conclusion of its tented tour. Perhaps the same will be done after this year’s abbreviated tour which will include only two dates Boston and Queens.

The show is obviously experiencing severe financial problems, resulting in the layoff of key public relations personnel Joel  Dein  and Phil Thurston .   Marketing and communications functions are now being outsourced.  A dangerous step.  Adding to the financial woes is a $100,000 bill from the city of Boston for costs incurred during its previous run in Bean Town.

If one were to chart the earned box office revenue over the past ten or so years I think you could detect a steady decline beginning with the season the company decided to stop showing elephants.


 Circus Center Announces Premiere of its Monthly Cabaret Series

 San Francisco’s Circus Center has announced the opening of its monthly Cabaret series with Curtain Up , a professional entertainment staged in a uniquely intimate venue where the audience is never more than 50 feet away from the performers. The Cabaret Series will be directed and cast by Circus Center’s new Creative Director Steve Smith , who brings more than four decades of showmanship to the creation of this new series.

The Circus Center Cabaret features the music of the Roger Glenn Trio and the voice of Kelli Crump, Cabaret Chanteuse. With bar and refreshments, the cozy cabaret theater at Circus Center calls to mind a vintage era with a modern twist. Each month, a rotating cast of guest performers ensure that each show will dazzle audiences with a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience of circus at its best. Among the world class artists who will appear are Joel Baker, Jennings McCown & Xiaohong Weng, Ross Travis and Veronica Blair. The first pf the Curtain Up shows ran at the Circus Center Theater on Saturday, September 26 and 27 .

Originally the training arm of San Francisco’s legendary Pickle Family Circus, Circus Center is today an internationally recognized circus training and performing arts center, offering circus productions and recreational and professional training year round. Its international faculty has performed in featured roles with elite circuses around the world, including the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, Moscow Circus, Cirque du Soleil, Big Apple Circus, Teatro ZinZanni, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

 The schedule of upcoming performances has Come Hither, Zombie on October 23 and 24 at 8 pm. November’s show will see A Roll in the Hay, Friday and Saturday, 13 and 14 at 8 pm. January will feature Champagne and Starlight, on the 15th and 16th at 8 pm. Through with Love is slated for February 12 and 13 at 8pm. Losing my Mind is the offering on March 18 and 19, and the season concludes with Take Me Away on April 15 and 16.

The Circus Center is located at 955 Frederick St., San Francisco. 94117, 415-759-8123.


Cirque du Soleil Continues its Hither to Unrequited Love Affair with Broadway

Cirque du Soleil’s latest effort aimed at the Big Apple, titled Paramour, is set to open in June, 2016 at the 1800 seat Lyric Theatre, which recently housed the critically acclaimed, but box office disappointment On the Town. Prior to that it was home to Spiderman, Turn off the Dark, whose history of injuries to performers and its failure to recoup does not bode well. The theatre has yet to host an unalloyed success and is generally perceived by Broadway insiders as a difficult house to fill.

Cirque’s own history on and around Broadway is not much better. Banana Shpeel was pretty much a disaster at the Beacon Theatre in 2010. Zarkana staged at the Radio City Music Hall was much more successful artistically, but it never generated the kind of box office enthusiasm that justified its living out its originally planned multi-year run.

The team that will bring Paramour is deemed capable of delivering the kind of high-art elements that neither of the above efforts produced. Certainly Cirque is counting on a production team heavy with prior Broadway and New York credits to do just that.

The French director/choreographer Philippe Decouflé has worked with noted American choreographer Merce Cunningham. Decouflé will head a team that includes American Shana Carroll who will provide the acrobatic choreography. Carroll’s most recent New York coupe was her production Psyche which garnered rave reviews at City Center this past season.   She was also the creator of Traces and Cuisine and Confessions, and the acrobatic choreography in the big city’s most talked about (but rarely seen, what with its ticket prices) Queen of the Night. Also involved is the American West Hyler who directed two productions for the Big Apple Circus, and boasts the gold-plated Broadway credit of a directing fellowship on Jersey Boys. Subsequent to that stint he has staged seven companies of that smash hit on five continents, being in charge from first rehearsal to opening night. So unlike it previous efforts to crack the Broadway code, this time the Cirque creative team is larded with people who have significant Broadway chops.

This assault on Broadway also unlike previous attempts is taking a two pronged approach. In addition to their solo effort with Paramour, Cirque du Soleil is also partnering with NBC-TV to create a live TV production of the musical The Wiz, which will be broadcast in December, after which Cirque will adapt the work to the stage aimed at the 2016-2017 season. If all goes well, Cirque could have two shows running simultaneously on Broadway