Letters to the Editor Vol. VI, No. 6

To the Editor

Always a pleasure to read Spectacle and your insights into the world of circus. Especially the new, New Circus. I first crossed paths with the old New Circus in San Francisco in the early 80’s. I ended up on the ‘corporate’ circus, Ringling, after a stint with ‘Make-a-Circus’ and clown classes with Bill Irwin. The Pickles had just reached their apex it seems but New Circus was still growing.

And now everything old is new again. Or is it? I found it distressing that animals weren’t even mentioned at the Smithsonian Folkfest. Not even an image much less a performance. Flora has removed their namesake elephant from their logo, promo, and graphics it seems. It’s as if history is being rewritten without animals. I suppose it’s a bother to have to answer to the bullies. I know I have grown very weary of it. However, in my mind and memory animals have names and deserve recognition for who they were. I will never forget Tommy, or Karen, Sophie, Flora and others I’ve had the pleasure to have personally known. Out of sight, out of mind. Elephants? Nevermind. They’re better off somewhere else.

And then gender. It was funny to me as I read your article about Cirque’s new, new show, I counted the gender of the names of the lighting, special effects, music score, scenery, direction and more. Then there’s the addition of the Blue Man Group which adds that many more men to the mix. What happens to the women? I can count on one hand those that have moved up into management and direction. Why is this?

So I had to laugh when you mentioned Raz referring to clowns in the female. (I worked with Raz on Make a Circus back in the day btw.) And I remember how a light bulb went off when I realized how much fun the clowns were having dressing in drag and how the circus was a safe haven for men of the gay persuasion. I’ve always thought someone could research and write an amazing historical account of the circus’ role and gay rights.

It sure seems at this point in time we are back where we started and I hope that the new, new, new circus brings animals back into the fold and strong women once again to the forefront.

Thanks for your publication. I most certainly enjoy it!

Lynn Polke RTC Productions


To the Editor

I get annoyed when people complain that Circus “doesn’t get no respect”as Rodney Dangerfield used to say. But upon closer examination, the circus’s attitude towards it self brought that on.​ How did the 3 ring circus start anyway? Was it for some highly aesthetic concept of beauty? Hardly. Or was it because some bright person figured out that making a bigger tent would make it possible to have more seats and the increase in audience size would make a lot more money. Of course they would make a positive out of it. Think of the grandeur, the spectacle, [the money]. Of course there is something to be said for capitalism and in this case I wouldn’t call it an altogether dirty word.

But the greed didn’t just stop with that. There were grifters traveling alongside the circus hoping to make a buck with games of chance, i.e. gambling. Circuses also took advantage of a repressed population by offering “girly shows” for an extra fee to the manly men in the audience. Circus women were beautiful – still are – and I think such shows were a hit. But getting cheated out of money does not contribute to the reputation of the circus. When banks closed and businesses shut down when the circus came to town in the late 1800s and the early 1900s it gave people permission “to be bad.”

This also brings us to the question of how much “looks” or physical appearance make in the circus. How far does someone have to go to get a job performing today?

Contrast that to the attitude of Russia. The circus remained one ring so that each act commanded the attention of the audience. The Russians do tend to the melodramatic but they can and do pull it off. They always knew the circus is an art form and treated it as such. Not so with the US in which it always bordered on the tawdry and the sleazy. Acts that were not very good took off their clothes to disguise that fact years ago.

So I posit that the US brought the unfavorable criticism upon itself mostly and it is incumbent on American circus to set it right.

Of course I’m not always consistent in my own attitudes. I confess to having an affection for even bad acts, sleazy and tawdry ones. I love the circus as an entity. And I think the Smithsonian Folklife Circus Festival did a lot to advance the idea that Circus is an art form. But you can see just how long it took..

Judy Finelli