Archive for the Circus Category

Vaudephone #28: Adam Kuchler

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, Jugglers, PLUGS, Vaudephones, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on March 12, 2014 by travsd

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Hello and welcome again to Vaudephone, your one stop shopping for all the best contemporary variety acts, viewed through our patented retroscope.

Today we feature the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus’s Adam Kuchler as he rocks as his classic cigar box juggling routine. Look for the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus March 13-16 in their 20th Anniversary Show at Brooklyn Lyceum.

And please note as always the swell theme music, by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Don’t miss Vince and his swingin’ band for dinner and dancing every Monday and Tuesday at Iguana.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ4Pm3t3uRY

Vaudephone is a co-production of Travalanche/ the American Vaudeville Theatre, and Vaudevisuals.com.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And then there’s my new book to buy: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Vaudephone #27: Keith Nelson

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, Jugglers, Vaudephones, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on March 10, 2014 by travsd

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Hello and welcome again to Vaudephone, your one stop shopping for all the best contemporary variety acts, viewed through our patented retroscope.

Today we feature the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus’s Keith Nelson as rocks as his classic glassware balancing feat. Don’t sneeze, Keith! Look for the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus March 13-16 in their 20th Anniversary Show at Brooklyn Lyceum.

And please note as always the swell theme music, by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Don’t miss Vince and his swingin’ band for dinner and dancing every Monday and Tuesday at Iguana.

Vaudephone is a co-production of Travalanche/ the American Vaudeville Theatre, and Vaudevisuals.com.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And then there’s my new book to buy: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Bindlestiff 20th Anniversary Show This Week!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on March 10, 2014 by travsd

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Apply for the Bindlestiff First of May Award!

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , , on March 5, 2014 by travsd

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This just in!  You’re crazy if you’re in the variety arts and don’t apply!

 First of May Award 2014

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus welcomes variety and circus artist to submit proposals for First of May Award – $500 development grant for full-length variety arts production.

For 20 years, Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc. has been enriching New York City’s variety arts culture by producing and presenting unparalleled circus, sideshow and variety arts performances.

Bindlestiff is pleased to announce the third annual First of May Award, which will grant $500 to a variety artist or group of variety artists to support their development of an original full-length production. Previous recipients include Unmasked, created and directed by Lady Aye and Mistress B and Solomon the Perplexer, created and written by Tanya Solomon and directed by Corn Mo.

Submissions are now open to solo artists or troupes wishing to apply for this year’s award.

Submission guidelines:

1. Proposals must include:
•       a 1-page project description
•       links to videos of past work (up to 3)
•       resumé and/or bios of participating artists
2. Proposed productions must be at least 40 minutes in length.
3. Productions may be either solo or troupe-based projects. If submitting as a solo artist, applicant must be a NYC resident. If submitting as a troupe, at least 50% of troupe members must be NYC residents.

By submitting a proposal, applicants acknowledge that if the award is granted, 1) development of the proposed production must begin prior to June 30, 2014, and 2) at least one public performance of the production must be presented in New York City before December 31, 2014 (a work in progress performance is acceptable).

Deadline: Submissions must be received before midnight on April 1, 2014.

Proposals should be submitted via email to firstofmay@bindlestiff.org.

Submissions will be evaluated based on artistic merit, unique perspective, and variety arts relevance.

The selected grantee will be announced on May 1, 2014.
Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
PO Box 1917
New York, NY 10009

1-877-BINDLES info
http://www.bindlestiff.org

Bindle, Bramble, Baby, Bumpus

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS, Vaudephones with tags , , on March 4, 2014 by travsd

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We stopped by Dixon Place last night to tape a couple of Vaudephones with company members of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus during the exciting preparatory moments before their monthly open mike showcase. Be sure to catch their 20th anniversary mainstage cabaret show at the Brooklyn Lyceum March 13-16!

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Stars of Vaudeville #861: Ella Bradna

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great equestrienne Ella Bradna (1879-1957). The daughter of a circus family from Bohemia, she came to the U.S. with her husband Fred to perform for Barnum and Bailey in 1903. In later years she was to become one of the stars of the circus with her “act beautiful”, in which she emerged in a spectacular chariot drawn by spotless white horses. They were both to perform for the circus for 40 years, with Fred becoming equestrian director in 1912. When not otherwise engaged by the circus, they would take dates in big time vaudeville. Their niece, Olympe Bradna was a film actress.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man

Posted in BUNKUM, Circus, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by travsd

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Today marks the anniversary of the release date of what may be W.C. Fields’ best remembered (certainly most iconic) film You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939).

Artistically, Fields’ career trajectory went the opposite of most of the other so-called classic comedians of the early sound period. Whereas the Marx Brothers, Mae West and Laurel and Hardy all LOST all creative freedom and artistic control over time, Fields actually had the opportunity to go a little crazy (in a good way) toward the END of his career, due to leverage he enjoyed through his popularity on radio. Where his Paramount pictures of the 20s and 30s are certainly enjoyable, the Universal period (1939-1944) is a surreal free-for-all. You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man was the first of these. It builds on Fields’ many previous performances on stage and screen as carny Eustace P. McGarrigle in Poppy and Sally of the Sawdust, here casting Fields as shady circus owner Larsen E. (i.e., larceny) Whipsnade. Despite his best efforts as a crooked showman, Whipsnade is forever on the verge of losing his circus, always dodging the sheriff. The plot, such as it is, concerns his daughter’s plan to marry a stuffy moneybags to bail her father out. Fortunately the plot gets short shrift here — that’s one of the many positive aspects of the Universal period. The focus is on the comedy, which just keeps on coming. To bolster the box office, Fields is teamed up here with his frequent radio rivals Edgar Bergen (with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd). The trading of barbs and quips between them comes fast and furious. Also in the cast is Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, acting in a similar capacity to his role in Jack Benny’s ensemble as Fields’ Man Friday. There’s an elephant named Queenie who sprays water on command, a pair of bearded twins (one of whom is the world’s tallest midget, the other of whom the world’s smallest giant), and much more nonsense like this. One of my favorite parts is when Bergen is AWOL from the circus so that he can pursue Fields’ daughter (whom he loves), forcing Fields to do a ventriloquism routine himself. I’m biased, but I think this is a film every human being on earth should own.

 

For more on comedy film history don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #860: Madame A. Strakai

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Russian, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Anna Christiansen (1886-1953), better known by the professional name Madame A. Strakai.

Born Anna Annisman in Magilure, Russia, she was second generation circus folk who learned trick riding, wire walking, trapeze and ballet dancing from childhood. Her stage name came from her first husband, with whom she had a bareback riding act. Her second husband was Jorgen Christiansen. With him, she had a bigger horse act (that included over two dozen stallions), and also developed the act known as  Madame A. Strakai’s Siberian Spits Dogs. They performed with the Moscow Circus until forced to flee the Revolution.  They then gradually worked their way through the capitals of Western Europe, eventually making it to the U.S. by 1923. In the decades that followed, they played big time vaudeville, and Ringling Brothers and Cole Brothers circuses. By the time Madame Strakai passed away in 1953, the pair had settled in Fulton, Indiana.

For more on vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #859: Professor Louis Sunlin

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Clown, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on February 1, 2014 by travsd

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Louis Sunlin (born February 1857) was a clown and comedian who worked with a succession of trained animals, both in vaudeville and circuses. A second generation performer, he was born in Ohio and became a professional in 1880 under the employ of Sells Brothers Circus. He later worked for the Ringling Brothers and Wallace shows among others. His four footed partners included a pair of trained donkeys named “Pickles” and “Peanuts”; a troupe of trained dogs; a trained horse named Mizpah; and a singularly sagacious bull named King Bill, who could lie down, sit up, roll over, etc, just like a dog. If you’ve ever spent any time with cattle you know that they are truly dumb beasts, thus making Sunlin’s feat as a trainer all the more impressive.

At this stage there is some confusion about whether he is the same person as Lew Sunlin, who apparently had a song and dance act with his brother Charles, billed as the Sunlin Bros., and which operated its own circus “Sunlin Bros’ Great R.R. Shows” for at least one season.

In his last years he appears to have done the vaudeville world one last service by taking in the out-of-work female impersonator Mansel Vardaman as a household cook. Sunlin passed away in 1935.

For more on the variety artsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

 

Requiscat in Pacem, Topsy

Posted in Animal Acts, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Circus, Coney Island, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2014 by travsd

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We were induced to take a break from our moratorium on reviewing indie theatre shows by a variety of factors in the case of Edison’s Elephantnow at Metropolitan Playhouse through January 25. There’s the subject matter (circuses, early cinema, 19th century American culture, Coney Island, etc), there’s the venue (a favorite of mine), and a number of the artists involved; but there’s also the synchronous coincidence that I read the book it seems largely based on only last week.

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Former Daily News columnist Michael Daly’s Topsy is a masterstroke idea for a book. Essentially Daly used that famous 1903 Edison film of the public electrocution of an elephant at Coney Island as a touchstone for the investigation of all the forces that made that appalling moment happen. After all, the mindset that made the event possible appears (on the face of it) to be so alien to ours…but is it? We’ll return to this question! You can see the footage for yourself if you choose. It’s available on Youtube. I won’t insert it here out of respect for people who don’t want to look at such things. Daly unravels the context for us, starting with the self-evidently relevant and radiating outward. We thus get not just Topsy’s story, but the entire history of performing elephants (and their treatment) in America, previous elephant deaths and tragedies, the broader human and animal rights landscape at the time (including human slavery and the use of corporal punishment), the corporate history of commercial electricity, and (where it all comes together) the development of electricity as an instrument of death.

While Daly does gets a little carried away by tangents sometimes, he does a splendid job of getting us close to the reality of these particular events by making us experience the personalities of the elephants. He humanizes them. I won’t say “anthropomorphizes”, which implies the superimposition of human qualities on a beast that doesn’t have any. Elephants mourn their dead, they paint pictures, they make friends. And dogs (which an operative working for Edison killed by the dozens in barbaric experiments) are similarly smart and sensitive creatures. For us, knowing what we now know about elephants, their high intelligence, their social natures, their rich emotional lives — treating them with an indifferent cruelty seems unthinkable, until you remember how some people treat other people.  The main value in a book like this is in raising awareness, not necessarily about any particular political issue, but in treating all creation with responsible humanity. The issues Topsy brings up can hardly be said to be behind us, no matter much we want to pat ourselves on the backs for certain systemic reforms and improvements.

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There was a time when I was under the spell of Wilde, when the idea of all didactic theatre was anathema to me. It usually is bad, after all. I can’t think of anything worse than television movies about one or another particular social or political issue. But ultimately, like all Americans, I’m a sucker for all sorts of naked preachifying when it is effective, and above all when it is not stupid. I watched Twelve Angry Men at three o’clock in the morning the other day. I like to sit there and go, “Which guy would I act like?” (I feel like I’ve behaved like all of them, except maybe the old man, at one time or another. And the old man is creeping up on me).

And then there’s this, and it’s something I touched on a little bit in No Applause. Among the secular institutions, I don’t know what else we have but theatre to effectively arouse sympathy in people. Cinema, while uniquely able to show evil in documentary form, must be artfully assembled  in order to communicate that what we are seeing IS evil. A case in point is that Edison film of Topsy’s execution. Most of us look at it and are sickened. It could even produce nightmares. But as presented by the filmmakers the event is morally neutral. You just know it’s porn for somebody. They can look at this heinous act and feel free to like what they see. The theatre, by contrast is, social. A playwright, a director, and actors all interpose their points of view, and we are privy to the reactions of the audience members around us. The theatre was born in a church. It awakens social instincts. But that still doesn’t ever give it license to be stupid.

Edison’s Elephant never is. Playwrights Chris Van Strander and David Koteles appear to have made Topsy their Bible, and they quote it chapter and verse. They’ve adapted it much like certain other non-fiction books (e.g., The Right Stuff, A Prefect Storm) have been adapted, by focusing in on a few key players rather than trying to transpose the entire universe to the stage. Structurally they’ve made an interesting choice, weaving together a rope of three separate strands: those of Edison himself (John Thomas Waite), Topsy’s last keeper Whitey Alt (Kevin Orton) and a hapless, fictional typist who has the unpleasant chore of typing up the notes of the Edison lab’s dog electrocuting experiments (Lynn Berg). The play takes some liberties (Alt’s part is a composite and greatly exaggerated here for the sake of story; so, too, for that matter is Edison’s). The play relies far too much on inactive first person narrative and could stand to be trimmed back by as much as a quarter or a third. But, much to its credit the writers don’t shy away from the richness of 19th century language, and I only caught 2 or 3 glaring anachronisms, and those seemed there for intentional theatrical effect.

I was also impressed with David Elliott’s direction, which struck the right note from the very instant you walked into the theatre (or should I say “nickelodeon”): a rag time piano player (Sean Gough) accompanies a show of Edison film shorts: acrobats, boxing cats, Native Americans on display — this is the context of the real life horror show, it’s all show biz.  (It’s easy for someone with a roving mind to make the equation to reality tv). I found Elliott’s work with the actors to be impeccable, from the aptness of the casting right through to the finished performances. Alyssa Simon, who plays two very different characters, in wildly divergent styles, was a particular stand-out. The guy who plays Edison, John Thomas Waite, sort of made my jaw drop. He really looks just like one’s idea of Edison. And there’s a kid! (CJ Trentacosta). We never get to see kids in downtown theatre; it’s almost as great a production value as a performing elephant.

And we watch all these characters grope their way towards some truth about their common experience; all are uncomfortable about it, though some are in denial. (And one little old lady, played by Wendy Merritt, is clearly a psychopath!) And in the end, he gives us that film (how could he not?) thus making us complicit in this crime, making us feel a little dirty for what we’ve just seen. And it kind of makes you wonder what atrocities we’re contributing toward with our time and our talent and our money in 2014. That is, if you’re the kind to worry about such things.

Edison’s Elephants resumes performances tonight as part of The Guided Stage Festival. For information and tickets go to metropolitanplayhouse.org

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