Archive for Smithsonian

Some More Circus and Variety News

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety with tags , , , , on February 15, 2017 by travsd

So much circus and variety news lately, this may have to become a regular feature!


Much Circus News This Week!

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2017 by travsd


Just a few oddments of circus news I’ve gotten in recent days, so it made sense to loop ’em together.

  • As we wrote here, the Big Apple Circus went under earlier this year. As reported by the Wall Street Journal yesterday the good news is that Compass Partners LLC has purchased the BAC’s assets at auction earlier this week and the circus will live on in some new form, perhaps even under the same name. Read the full article here. 
  • Good news for lovers of circus history. Illinois State University’s Milner Library is digitizing 300 circus route books from its Circus and Allied Arts Collection and making them available online. Read the full article in Smithsonian Magazine here.
  • Five members of the Flying Wallendas were badly injured Wednesday when they fell off a high wire while rehearsing their eight person pyramid with the Sarasota Circus. Say a prayer for the swift recovery of these brave performers! The story is here. 
  • The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will be coming to Brooklyn for the last time in just two weeks. They open at the Barkleys Center on February 23. Tickets for their two week farewell engagement will undoubtedly go quickly. You can get them here.
  • Some news from Coney Island USA. Their annual gala, a “Coral Jubilee” celebrating the 35th year of the Mermaid Parade, will be on March 25. I’ll be the keynote speaker at their annual Congress of Curious People, April 21. My topic: “When Did the Circus Become Un-American?”
  • Lastly, as those in the know know, the theme of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival is Circus Arts. Our good friends at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus have been invited to participate. But they need your help! The unplanned trip to bring their show down to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is by definition un-budgeted for. You should help support them in any case (with the ancient art of circus in precarious danger everywhere you turn), but now’s a particularly good time to send some coin to the Bindlestiffs. Do so here.

Groucho Marx on Vaudeville

Posted in Comedy Teams, Marx Brothers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on August 31, 2015 by travsd


Friend Noah Diamond just returned from a Marx Brothers fact finding mission at the Smithsonian, and brought back this 1925 quote from Groucho neither of us knows what to do with, but is to good to waste, so we stick it here, all on it’s own like a sore thumb. Noah’s got more to report. Look for that here or somewhere in a few days. Now Groucho:

“There is only one school for entertainers in the world, and that is vaudeville. The legitimate actor and the musical comedy actor never learn the secret of entertaining an audience like the vaudeville actor does. The reason is that the reaction of an audience in vaudeville is instant. They tell you as soon as you speak a line in vaudeville just how good you are or how bad you are, and if you are really good that is the only way you will ever come to know it, too, for the agent and the booking office will keep it a dark secret from you in all their conversation. They not only tell you instantly, but they keep on telling you all through your act, in a kind of free and unrestrained way that teaches you something about the reactions of an audience. That is what the legitimate actor misses. Sometimes he misses it so badly that he even thinks he is good when he is rotten and he never really knows how he stands. There is a lot of hokum about audiences in Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House and in legitimate theatres, but in vaudeville everything is on the dead level and you cannot get away with fake stuff a minute. I suppose that is the reason why all the comedians in musical shows these days, and most of the other principals, come from vaudeville.”

Which is why we need it back — badly!

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


The Civil War at the Met

Posted in AMERICANA, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , on August 2, 2013 by travsd
Frederick Edwin Church, "Our Banner in the Sky", 1861

Frederick Edwin Church, “Our Banner in the Sky”, 1861

That heading may sound like internecine struggles amongst curators, administrators and philanthropists, but it really refers to two excellent exhibitions we saw at the Met Museum yesterday, The Civil War and American Art and Photography and the American Civil War.

The painting show (T.C.W.A.A.A.) includes some battlefield depictions but really examines the war’s impact on art from several directions, including genre paintings of slavery life, and landscapes seemingly unrelated to the conflict but rich with metaphorical foreboding. The four anchor artists are Frederick Church, Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer, and Sanford Gifford, although others are represented. A touring show organized by the Smithsonian, the exhibition contains 75 works, and is augmented by a show of prints by Homer, Thomas Nast and others from the collection of the Met.


Also on view is the definitively comprehensive Photography and the American Civil War, which contains over 200 photographs from the collection of the Met. I went in expecting to see mostly gory depictions of the battlefield dead by Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and others, and though such images are represented, this broad ranging exhibition also contains tons of studio portraits, cartes-de-visite, stereopticon slides, and photos documenting every aspect of the war including the political lead-up, the reality of slavery, some of the more quotidian aspects of camp life, meetings of military and political leaders, the surrender, and the apprehension and execution of Lincoln’s assassins. And of course, yes, the aftermath of battle, including numerous photos of the maimed, taken for the benefit of doctors and medical students.

These superlative exhibitions are timed to coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (last month). Three cheers to both the Smithsonian and the Met for honoring the event in this way. The shows will be on view at the Met  through September 3. For more info go to:

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