Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things You See at a Circus in 2008

Usually, YouTube editing of mainstream media are stupid. But this one is brilliant.

Tom Dougherty, Ringling's head clown, eventually got on my nerves. He was in fine form when he clowned around and did his pantomimes and mugging and pratfalls. At one point, he wandered into the audience and found a woman who was talking on a cell phone, took it from her, and led her into the ring. Then he spent some time hiding it from her in his pants, or playing tunes using the touch-tone feature of the phone. If she were a plant, she did a good job of pretending not to be, which made the gag all the better.

I can see why he rose in the clown hierarchy. But the running gag was that he wanted to usurp the ringmaster's job, mainly by stealing his hat, and that got old pretty fast. The ringmaster, Chuck Wagner, looked like the beefy fellow that his name implies, and was more of a song-singing ringmaster than I expected. According to his bio at the Ringling web site, he's a journeyman entertainer of long standing, and he seemed to enjoy this gig at Ringling. After all, how many people get to say, "I'm a ringmaster."

Otherwise the circus featured a lot of circus-like acts, such as a troupe of other clowns (but no clown car), acrobats and aerialists, and animal acts, especially the tiger tamer. A live band backed up the acts.

As you'd expect, the acrobats and aerialists were skillful, especially the fellow who practically climbed to the ceiling on what looked like a wide silken rope and did various twirling maneuvers, seemingly catching himself at the last minute using the rope -- with no net. The men and women of the flying trapeze, who did have a net, executed their amazing feats flawlessly, since it wouldn't be a circus without daring young men (and women) on a flying trapeze. Yet the audience was distinctly lukewarm in its reaction. That could be because most of us saw marvel after marvel of aerial precision at the Olympics this summer, and are otherwise used to such marvels. Too bad. It has to be tough for a circus to compete.

Still, there was one act that flat-out astonished me, and I hope the rest of the audience too. I'd never seen anything like it before, live or on film, and it was worth the price of admission by itself. More on that tomorrow.


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