Saturday, June 27, 2009

CIRCUS CAMP '09: Week One, Pie Day

Photos courtesy of The LaMarra Family

Last Thursday morning we had all 31 students sit down and watch Laurel & Hardy's Battle of the Century and the Greg DeSanto's Ringling Bakery Gag to get the kids ready to head out into the courtyard and discover the simple beauty and joy of throwing, and being hit by, a big foam shell filled with shaving cream.

In years past I've always used cans of shaving cream for Pie Day but ended up with 10 - 20 spent cans at the end. In an effort to make Circus Camp more environmentally conscious, this year I decided to grab two 5 gallon buckets, some shaving soap (generously donated to us by the Williams Shaving Soap people) and my best cordless drill and whip the soap up circus-style.

What did I learn?

1) Mixing soap in two alternating buckets still does not yield the same results as a single, standard-size garbage can. Next week we use a garbage can. We may have soap left over but we won't need to spend a much time mixing.

2) Even the very top-of-the-line cordless drill, plugged in, won't do this job as well as a plug-in. Next week I take the other drill.

3) Kids L O V E Pie Day!

Teach... your children well...


Shane was unsure about throwing so I taught him how
to slap my hand so that I hit myself with it.

And he was perfectly delighted with the result.

Everyone got to throw one, all but the youngest two got hit and one very
lucky little girl received the slosh bucket over the head, Nickelodeon-style.

And a grand time was had by all!

Now someone get the First-of-Mays in here with brooms and sawdust ; )

BILLY VAUGHN: The Triple Somersault

One of my life's great pleasures is watching Billy Vaughn at work.

Billy loves being a clown and children clearly adore what he does.

THIS is what it's all about.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Me, Shane and Elmo Gibb after the show that culminated the first week of Michael Rosman's Circus Camp this week on the stage of the Roland Park School in Baltimore, MD.

We taught several classic gags during the week but today the kids performed You Can't Play That Here (re-written for 10 kids), The Washer Women (re-written for 5 girls) and, in tribute, Buckles Woodcock's very favorite clown gag, The Atomic Hair Grower. For next week's camp it will be fully emblazoned with the words "Buckles' Atomic Hair Grower" on the front.


MICHAEL "COCO" POLIKOVS: Stiltwalking on Ringling (1964)

CLOWN ALLEY: RBB&B; Danny Chapman & Corky Corbett (1970)






Thursday, June 25, 2009

HERMAN JOSEPH: MIlls Bros. Circus (circa 1960s)

CLOWNFEST: Clarification from Vince Pagliano

There were several comments asking for further clarification of one of the quotes used in the trailer for the new documentary, Clownfest: Five Days in the Alley. I received this from Vince Pagliano...
Hi Vince,
Judging by the emails, it appears there is a little confusion regarding the movie trailer...particularly the "evangelical" quote at the end of the clip.

Indeed, this quote is taken out of context. As I'm sure you can appreciate, the purpose of the trailer is to grab people's attention and spark interest in the film, which it appears to be doing. Naturally, when using a 30-second trailer to summarize a 38-minute film, many of the quotes/footage will be taken out of context. That quote is in no way meant to imply that everyone who attends Clownfest is evangelical. As someone who has seen the entire film, you can confirm that the "evangelical" quote goes on to explain in greater detail ministry/gospel clowning's place in the world of clowning.

We are very pleased with the way the film turned out. Our team spent two years filming Clownfest ('07 & '08), and we feel the end result is an honest depiction of what takes place during the festival. Once people see the film, I think it will all make sense to them.

I hope this clears up any confusion there might have been. Please let me know if there are further questions.

Many thanks, Matt (Weber)

RUBE SIMONDS: Hamid-Morton Circus (1948)


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I just felt my son kick. Really kick.

IN MEMORIAM: Stuart Thayer March 27, 1926 - June 24, 2009

Forwarded by Erin Foley:

We've lost the greatest of all circus historians.

For those of you who may not have heard, Stuart had been quite ill for some time. However, of late he had started moving around using a walker. He was making a trek to a nearby village area when struck by an automobile, suffering multiple fractures - - ankle, leg, and ribs. At the hospital he had been unable to breathe on his own and was on a respirator.

So now he has gone on to the great lot in the sky where he was no doubt warmly greeted by his old circus history colleagues - -among them Tom Parkinson, Orin King, Joe Bradbury, Bob Brisendine, Dick Conover and others who led the way in the learned pursuit of our shared passion.

Richard Reynolds

SHANE: Washer Woman Gag (Circus Camp '09)

Shane and a partner performing the classic Washer Woman gag for the very first time today after watching several archival videos and getting coached by Michael Rosman, Dean "Elmo Gibb" Chambers and me.

He got a very nice laugh by starting off with his "Why I oughta..."

Yesterday we did the Boxing Gag, tomorrow we have Pie Day. This is my first year as stilt instructor and we have a great group. All 31 kids (ages 6-14) were walking by the end of Monday and today 10 kids progressed from "stiltz" to real peg stilts.

More photos to come.

COCO and PERCY HUXTER (Circa 1950s)

Bertram Mills Circus pals, Coco (Nikolai Poliakoff) in makeup and Percy Huxter in his Sunday best.

CLOWN ALLEY: Franzen Bros. Circus (1990)

Photo and comments courtesy of Ron Yarborough

Jellybean, Boo-Boo and a young fan...

I did a short stint with Franzen Bros. Circus back in 1990. I found this picture of Jellybean and me that made the front page of the local town paper. We were doing meet & greet during intermission and I remember this child was not at all happy to have his picture taken. Great memories of the good ol mud show days.


IRV RUDLEY: The Hildans

Monday, June 22, 2009


I had the chance to peruse some of the other circus blogs tonight and thought that it was worth clarifying some things about my earlier Kelly-Miller post before they get misquoted or misconstrued any further...

"You said Kelly-Miller wasn't a good show."

No, I didn't say it wasn't good. I said it parts of it weren't very good and that it could very easily be much better. Kelly-Miller is one of the better traditional circuses on the road today. Is it a good value for the money? Yes, yes it is. Could it be a better value for the money? Absolutely. There is much more right with the show than wrong and it is maddening that what little needs to be fixed hasn't been by this point in the season.
Small elements compromise the greater whole and leave the show grounded where it could, and should, soar. It is a serviceable show where it could easily become an extraordinary show.

"You only went there to go see your friends' acts."

Yes. Yes I did. I expected to enjoy those and I did enjoy them very much. The rest of the audience did too.

"None of the other acts were worth mentioning?"

Fridman Torales' rola-bola is also a stand out. I thought that the show would have been greatly improved if he'd done the aerial number that he'd done last season as well.

"So you won't mention the acts that you didn't like by name?"


"And you won't be specific about what you didn't enjoy about them?"


"So you didn't like any act that you didn't mention by name?"

I didn't say that. I said that I saw my friends and that I really enjoyed their acts. I also mentioned that I think are doing an outstanding job.

"This is just sour grapes. You have some axe to grind."

No, no I don't. I have several friends on the performing side and some on the office side on the show. That doesn't mean that I have to enjoy the show.

To be very honest I've found every show that I've seen this year to be a disappointment, but this one in particular because it is so close to being really good. Again, there is more right than wrong on Kelly-Miller.

Above all, it is especially great to see a show where classic American-style clowning is done and done very well. Steve and Ryan are doing something really incredible and you should absolutely go and see them if they are anywhere near your area.

"If you're so smart, why aren't YOU on a show right now?"

I am not available this year. I need to be home with my family. I will not be available next year either. In fact, depending on what happens when my son is born in October, I expect that it won't be feasible for me to be away and working in traditional circus much at all anymore.

"If you're so smart, what do you think Kelly-Miller needs?"

Off the top of my head I'd say that they need to seriously rethink and retool their approach to pacing and presentation and to abandon unnecessary production elements that bring a good show down to the level of amateurishness.

Kelly-Miller needs a director. Someone to tighten up some of the weaker acts and help push the stronger ones above the level of simply meeting our expectations and into the level of exceeding them and delivering something truly extraordinary.

"So, what you are saying is that they need to hire YOU?"

No. I am not saying that at all. I am NOT a director. I am saying that they should find one and hire him or her.

"What, specifically, could be done to improve the show?"

Hire a director. They can tell you far better than I ever could.

But I would suggest the following for free...
Kelly-Miller has a performer on the show who plays guitar and sings pretty well. The show also travels with a live drummer.

A live singer, accompanying himself live, in the center of the ring is a far stronger anchor for an aerial web display (and would be a lot more interesting for the audience) than listening to a recording of a number from a movie that the they have never seen or even heard of.
And a country/western number as a close for the first act would help make a lot more sense of the "Salute to Cowboys" finale that isn't supported by any other part of the performance.
Is that performer even interested in singing in the show? I have no idea but K-M should explore and exploit as much of the talent on hand as possible.

Or does no one else see the potential in writing and recording an original song that could be sold as a CD single at the concession stand?

I bet Mr. North's uncle would have.

"You expect an awful lot from a one ring mud show from Hugo."

Yes. I do.

"Why do you hold Kelly-Miller to a different standard than other shows?"

Because, unlike most shows, I know that Kelly-Miller is fully capable of doing something amazing. They have a great staff and have some really great acts over there. The elements are all in place and just waiting to explode. I saw it last year, I see it this year. There isn't a show on the road with more raw potential than Kelly-Miller.

I hope this helps clarify, without the snarkiness of the original post, my feelings and I apologize for the ruffled feathers of anyone except Doug Terranova.

MIKE POTEETE AND ?: Hamid Shrine Circus

Anyone know who this whiteface is with Mike?

ABBOTT & COSTELLO: Crazy House (1952)

Season 1, Ep 13

Peace and Quiet

Lou sleeps all day but can't sleep at night. Bud takes him to see a psychiatrist. Eventually Bud checks him into a sanitarium for a night's rest. The classic burlesque scene "Crazy House" is performed.