Archive for the Circus Category

A Jaunt to Lake Hopatcong and Environs

Posted in Circus, Travel, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on May 11, 2015 by travsd

With spring in full swing yesterday I finally took Kathy Biehl (our Margaret Dumont from I’ll Say She Is) up on her offer to show me around the former show biz resort of Lake Hopatcong. Folks who used to summer there included Lotta Crabtree, Joe Cook, Bert Lahr, and Bud Abbott. The main lure was the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum which has special exhibitions on the folks who summered there, with a particular emphasis on the elusive Joe Cook. But there are some historical old theatres in the region, and some notable show biz domiciles as well. Here’s what we saw:


The Baker Theatre in Dover NJ was built as a combination cinema and vaudeville house in 1906. Learn more about it here. 


The Palace Theatre in Netcong, NJ was built in 1919 as a combination film and vaudeville house. Today it houses a children’s theatre called The Growing Stage. Learn more about the theatre here.


Joe Cook’s piano, the centerpiece of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum’s exhibition on the vaudeville, Broadway and film comedian. It is etched with the autographs of dozens of show business luminaries who attended parties at Cook’s house on the lake, whimsically known as “Sleepless Hollow”. We also went there! Check it out:


Because I have no class I also walked up the driveway and photographed the house itself:



In nearby Jefferson Township, one can find the former Alfred T. Ringling (of the Ringling Brothers) estate , finished in 1916. The 28 room manor in the photograph above is now a Franciscan monastary. The 1,000 acre estate (which used to double as a winter quarters for the circus) was ignominiously cut up in later years and is now full of public roads and houses.


Our last stop: the former vaudeville house and cinema called The Darress Theatre (built 1919) in Boonton, NJ. Kathy Biehl (who has performed there) assures me that it’s haunted, and I believe her!

The Circus Girls (1949) by Nina Leen

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Circus, VISUAL ART, Women with tags , , , , on May 7, 2015 by travsd


Excellent pix of lady circus aerialists by Nina Leen from the Vintage Blog

Originally posted on ღ Vintage Blog:

Nina Leen (d. 1995) was a Russian-born American photographer and a constant contributor to Life. A self-taught photographer she never became a staff photographer, but she contributed as a contract photographer until the magazine closed in 1972.

In 1949 she shot the sassy subculture of circus girls in Sarasota, Florida, dubbed “the home of the American circus” for the magazine.


By Nina Leen (1949)



by Nina Leen (1949)



by Nina Leen (1949)



by Nina Leen (1949)



by Nina Leen (1949)


View original

Where We At: Springtide Spectaculumps!

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, Dime Museum and Side Show, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA with tags , , , , , , on March 18, 2015 by travsd

And now…for my next trick!

The last twelvemonth was such a chain of large projects (4 of them) that there has been scant time for what you might call the NYC alt-performer’s DAILY SWIM. First there was Marxfest, then I’ll Say She Is, then Dead End Dummy, and then Horseplay.…Outside the context of those four projects, I don’t think I did any of the usual day in, day out type personal appearances, one offs and smaller scale thingies that usually season our calender.

For the next month or so, however, I will have no less than three such special events, and I dearly hope you’ll join me. Since the last of three has the most seats to fill, I’ll present it first and work backwards….


April 21, 7:30 PM, Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street


April, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. To observe the occasion I​ will be presenting sections of my Civil War circus comedy A House Divided, written as companion piece to Kitsch (presented at Theater for the New City in 2009.) This unique variety presentation features clown bits, a “magic lantern slide show”, live music, farcical scenes from the play and circus and sideshow turns.

In the cast:

Trav SD​ as circus showman Romulus LeGuerre and his twin brother Remus, a committed Quaker!

Carolyn Raship​ (Illustrated Slides)

Dandy Darkly​ as your Gentleman Narrator!

Lewd Alfred Douglas​ as Castor and Pollux, two dashing and romantical young lads!

Jeff Seal​ performing a pantomime, twill make you laff til your sides ache!

Jenny Lee Mitchell​ as the divine Miss Greensleeves, love object and soprano

Jennifer Harder​, blowing her bugle and essaying multiple parts!

Justin R. G. Holcomb​ as Major Anderson

Robert Pinnock as the deformed creature “Murk”

the haunting cello of Becca Bernard

sideshow stunts by CARDONE

and introducing…“Abraham Lincoln”!

Stage Manager: Sarah Lahue​


Friday April 3, 8pm, $10 suggested Donation
Barbes, 376 9th Street, Park Slope
Opera on Tap’s New Brew Series Presents:
The Curse of the Rat King: Trav S.D. (libretto) and David Mallamud (music) have been collaborating on this campy comic opera since 2010. It is a post-modern mash-up of Universal horror films, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the writings of Sigmund Freud, and numerous other elements. On the bill with him will be selections from Three Way, by David Cote (libretto) and Robert Paterson (music), which has been described as “a kind of NC-17 Il trittico”, and two works with lyrics by UTC#61’s Edward EinhornThe Velvet Oratorio (music by Henry Akona) and Money Lab (music by Avner Finberg).
The Curse of the Rat King
libretto: Trav SD
music: David Mallamud
Three Way
libretto: David Cote
music: Robert Paterson
The Velvet Oratorio
libretto: Edward Einhorn
music: Henry Akona
Money Lab
libretto: Edward Einhorn
music: Avner Finberg
Featuring David Gordon, Seth Gilman, Anne Hiatt, David Macaluso, Cameron Russell, and Krista Wozniak with Christopher Berg tinkling the piano keys.
March 27, 7pm & March 28, 11pm
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue
Money Lab: An Economic Vaudeville
Trav S.D. plays P.T. Barnum in The Art of Money Getting, a  monologue adapted from Barnum’s eponymous self-help book, directed by Carolyn Raship, accompanied by educational slide show. It’s all part of Untitled Theatre Company #61’s Money Lab: An Economic VaudevilleI’ll be on the bill with some of my favorite downtown artists — don’t miss it!

Bindlestiff First of May Award

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , on February 24, 2015 by travsd


Tonight on TCM: Burt Lancaster in “Trapeze”

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Circus, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on January 25, 2015 by travsd


Tonight at 8pm Turner Classic Movies will be showing the Burt Lancaster vanity project Trapeze (1956).

Why do I call it a vanity project? Well, it was produced by Lancaster’s production company H-H-L, and Lancaster got his start as a trapeze artist, and here’s a movie in which he plays a trapeze artist, providing him with a showcase for his skills as a…trapeze artist. (For more on Lancaster’s trapeze artist beginnings, go here). Burt actually does most of his stunts in the film. Hilariously (ironically) his character is supposed to be teaching Tony Curtis’s character how to fly on the trap, and Curtis’s work is all done by stunt men.

Like practically every circus movie ever made it’s a big whopping bore, despite having been directed by the great Carol Reed. It’s all about a love triangle with Lancaster and Curtis fighting over Gina Lollobrigida, like she were a piece of meat. Why do I recommend a movie that’s a big whopping bore? Because! Burt Lancaster! Trapeze!

Last Night at the Circus

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by travsd


Any night I get to have popcorn, hot dogs and soda for dinner is a good night, and the only restaurant I know that serves those all together is the concessionaire at the circus. And among those, my favorite is the Big Apple Circus. This year we were grateful to get in to see the show just under the wire — the annual Lincoln Center run closes this Sunday, January 11. But first, for some reason we’re still not certain about there was an art show!


Artist Emmanuel Jose creates original decks of cards using paper-cutting techniques. The originals of his third custom deck, which are circus-themed, were on view last night and a handsome sight they were.





These custom decks may be purchased here. (Too late for Christmas, I’m afraid!)


Then it was on to the big top! And all I can say is the artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy and show director West Hyler have done it again. As much as I loved Legendarium (saw it twice) this one was just as good and that without my beloved Americana!

The title and the theme were Metamorphosis…and, yeah, okay whatever. It’s as good as anything else, and probably better than a lot of other abstractions to hitch circus acts to. Indeed, the more observant in the audience will note that the famous magic trick “Metamorphosis”, long associated with Houdini at the beginning of his career, was stuck in the middle of the charivari. It’s a fast illusion, that’s the whole point, “if you blinked you would have missed it”, but it’s characteristic of the revitalized BAC that there is THAT MUCH GOING ON.  Not everything riffed on the show’s theme but stuff that overtly did included the quick-change act The Smirnovs, an astounding husband-wife team from Russia whom I’ve seen at BAC before. For their big finish the wife does a change in full view of the audience obscured only by falling confetti. It remains one of the most breath-taking things I’ve ever witnessed. Francesco the clown, as is traditional, weaves throughout the show, keeping the audience engaged during scenery shifts. His gimmick is musical and many of his bits center around transforming objects into instruments: his suit is a xylophone. He plays Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on pots and pans, etc. The lovely animal trainer Jenny Vidbel is back as well. The entrance of some her small critters came in the form of a magic trick, with bunnies, then ferrets, then a sheep dog all coming out of the same box.


Vidbel’s menagerie was most welcome. While I do miss Woodcock’s elephants and Katja Schumann’s equestrienne act, there was much diverting adorableness on view. The most spectacular creature was a camel, and frankly, screw the rest of the circus, I could watch that damn thing walk around in a circle all day. Smaller scale, but no less exotic to see in an arena, was a porcupine. That one can do even fewer tricks than the camel, but darned if it isn’t a diversion. Then there were llamas, goats, donkeys, a piglet. A sheepdog jumped rope. A puppy rode a goat. It’s like being in Oz.


The photo above is only half of this act. This Mongolian contortionist Odbayasakh Dorjoo climbs into that small cube, and then she is joined by an Armenian contortionist named Tatevik Seyranyan (there’s no point in showing you what that looks like. It looks like an abstract sculpture. We’ll call it “Cubism”!


This is Seyranyan doing a less impressive stunt — her piece de resistance was an amazing balancing act, the Rolla Bolla, during whcih she made jaws drop.

Returning throughout the show for several different acts were the Anastasini Family of acrobats, who did an aerial act, some impressive foot juggling, and some kind of a thing with a flying rocket.

I really, really, really loved the music, by the way. And no wonder. I just looked in the program – -it was composed and arranged by Jack Herrick of the Red Clay Ramblers, whom I absolutely love, being as they are past collaborators with the likes of Sam Shepard and Bill Irwin/ David Shiner.

Get tickers here: there’s still time!

Charlie Chaplin in “The Circus”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Circus, Clown, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , on January 6, 2015 by travsd


Today is the anniversary of the American release date of Charlie Chaplin feature The Circus (1928).

Despite being an estimable hit in its day (the 7th most successful film financially of the silent era), today The Circus is the least well known of Chaplin’s silent comedy features. Why might that be? Possibly because it is more “thinky” than “feely”.  The film (which may have been inspired by Max Linder’s 1925 swan song The King of the Circus) begins with the Tramp fleeing a cop on a circus lot after being framed for a theft. His flight accidentally takes him into the middle of the circus ring where the audience, thinking he’s part of the show, greets him with gales of laughter and storms of applause. He is hired as a clown and turns out to be terrible at it. Meanwhile he falls in love with an equestrienne (Merna KennedyLita Grey’s best friend) who makes the mistake of being nice to him. In due course she falls in love with Rex, a tightrope walker (Harry Crocker), a plot point that is not only reminiscent of The Tramp  but anticipates Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932). In the end, the circus blows town, but the Tramp elects to string along alone. The image of him sitting on a log as the show (and his girl) leave without him is at once striking, moving and, well, kitschy, in a black velvet painting kind of way.


So, this can work on a couple of levels. At its most accessible, it’s set in a circus, and children love the circus. It’s possible to enjoy this film without having a contemplative brain in your head. After all, in one scene Charlie is walking a tightrope with his pants down, with monkeys crawling all over him (see above. It’s one of the highlights of the film). At another remove, however, The Circus is terribly self-conscious. This is a movie about a lonely clown who is having trouble being funny. That’s a formula that may be thought provoking but is probably intrinsically unworkable, despite having been tried many times. Others who’ve given the “accidental comedian” motif a go with varying success included Mabel Normand (The Extra Girl, 1923), Harold Lloyd (Movie Crazy, 1932), Red Skelton (Merton of the Movies, 1947), and Jerry Lewis (The Patsy, 1964). As a comedy premise the deck is stacked against you. The idea of an unintentionally funny comedian is too overwrought, too convoluted to be completely funny. The moments in the film that work best are the ones that are at a remove from that idea, such as when the Tramp poses as part of an animatronic Noah’s Ark display on the midway in order to evade the cop.


And, given that Chaplin is the clown in question in The Circus, what’s he really about here? Is he frustrated with the fact that the process of creating funny comedy (or any effective art) is not conscious, that it is (as we have pointed out a few times), completely instinctive? It can’t just be summoned at will. And Chaplin is famous for having made entire crews and casts wait around for hours, days and even weeks as he tried to do just that.

Or does Chaplin want to tell us that, like the Tramp, he is actually really a serious person (the kind of person whose voice is more like A Woman of Paris) and that he’s just been sort of railroaded into being a comedian? Another intriguing element in the film is the group of hack professional clowns who work at the circus and whom the audience hates. If the Tramp is Chaplin, who are they supposed to represent? The Keystone comedians? It certainly seems germane to his actual attitude towards them during the early part of 1914. It’s as though he were saying, “It’s not MY fault the world thinks I’m better than those people. Don’t blame me. I was born this way!”


Then there is the metaphor of getting the Tramp left behind by that circus. On the one hand he seems to be saying “I can take or leave this comedy thing.” But, on the other hand, perhaps he is expressing the fear that history will pass him by. The Circus was released a few scant months after The Jazz Singer. Was he beginning to have doubts that he could keep up with passing trends?

The self-doubt extends into the romantic realm in this picture, as well, a continuation of a theme he introduces in The Gold Rush. When Edna Purviance had been his leading lady, sometimes the Little Fellow would get the girl, sometimes he wouldn’t. Most of his films of the late silent era follow the model set by The Tramp and The Vagabond, generating pathos out of how the Tramp could never get the girl. (In The Gold Rush he had to buy the girl.). The Circus continued that theme.

Production on The Circus was apparently jinxed. Set-backs during filming included a scratched negative, a fire which set the production back for weeks, and personal woes for Chaplin including the death of his mother, his divorce from Lita Grey, and hassles with the I.R.S. In light of all that, we may fortunate that this film emerged as a comedy at all!

For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To 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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