Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV – 8

 Is That All There Is?

In the course of a long and revealing interview Chris Lashua, founder and creative force behind Cirque Mechanic, made an intriguing statement when asked about the difficulty of finding and keeping talent for the somewhat erratic and abbreviated tour he is able to offer artists. One of the things that makes it a bit simpler he said was that there are not a lot of opportunities for talent to find interesting and sustaining work. In addition to Cirque Mechanic there are opportunities to work provided by the various Spiegeltent offerings around the world, “appearing at a festival near you and me anytime soon,” as letter writer Jane Mullett opined, who then wondered “Is this all there is?”

Apparently so. The difficulty of sustaining medium to large contemporary circus companies is a world-wide problem, not one limited to those countries where there is little to no public (read governmental) support of circus.  But even where the government is an active supporter of circus (read France) there are numerous tiny groups who hardly deserve to be called a company or a troupe that come into existence, flash across the festival sky and then disappear.  This phenomenon can be seen in the contemporary festivals that are cropping up around the U.S. as well.  The so-called “troupes” are usually groups of artists ranging in number from two to five.  The reason so many young artists prefer forming their own performing units is that they seem uninterested in touring with any of the traditional circuses.

So what is there out there? San Francisco’s Circus Center which spawned both 7 Fingers and Cirque Mechanic both of which debuted as one of the Center’s annual holiday shows, and which, due to financial constraints, are no longer produced. 7 Fingers has several companies touring the world so they are always on the look-out for new talent, which they usually find at the Canadian National Circus School. Cirque Mechanic as noted earlier offers performers a fifteen week tour.

A similarly sporadic touring schedule is what Ciro Zoppe Europa can offer, but they are looking for only one or two acts each year because most of the company is made up of family members. Circus Flora has an even more limited playing schedule, just a single month in its home town of St. Louis.

The Flynn Creek Circus, centered in Mendocino County, California is an “events based production company,” which I take to mean they produce special events for various sponsors. It does tour to nearby cities in California during July and August. Similarly, The

Actors’ Gymnasium, based in Evanston, Illinois, produces shows on demand for special events. It does occasionally produce shows which are given brief runs, and as a professional training center stages evenings of “Circus in Progress,” for those who train and teach at its facility.

A recent start-up is Venardos Circus, founded by ex-Ringling ringmaster Kevin Venardos, the show’s website says it “offers Broadway-Quality Circus production and consulting services to clients around the globe.” In other words it is ready to custom make a circus production to meet any sponsor’s needs.  Its main claim to distinction is the Broadway reference.

All of the above, but for 7 Finger and Cirque Eloize, offer few opportunities for extended engagement, so Cirque Mechanic has the appeal of interesting work and a tour considerably longer than most. The other option as noted by Jane Mullett is the Spiegeltent management which has installations at festivals around the world.  Their home office is in Australia.  This company tends to hire favorite acts again and again for each new festival. The alternative would be to get two or three friends and form your own company and/or go to Europe.