Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A long circus soliloquy...but you can listen if you want

I've sat in bewildered childhood awe to "The Greatest Show on Earth" at the Ringling Brother and Barnam and Bailey Circus.

I've marveled at the unique combination of traditional and modern circus acts in the very Eastern European heavy Circus Vargas.

The family and I took in both the Carson and Barnes and Culperpper & Merriweather big top extravaganzas when they traversed our state in years past.

Heck, we even took the girls to see the Shrine "Shriner's" Circus when it came to OKC last year.

Finally, I've even fallen asleep while acrobats zoomed around, above, and behind me at Cirque de Solei...in Cirque's defense, I was going on little sleep, working 20 hour days on a 6-day a week low-budget production at the time, so anywhere dark was an excuse for a quick nap.

But none of those big circus venues will ever make it to my small town. It's merely a matter of economics and a limited # of available show dates during the circus season (yes, like Football and all the other organize sports, there is a circus season as well).

Instead, we get little, family run circuses like the one which pulled into town yesterday afternoon, setup in the all purpose building at the fairgrounds, and were packed up and history before I checked my email for the final time of the night.

The Latin-American flavor and vibe of the entire performance rekindled memories of a little film I worked on quite awhile ago, La Carpa.

Back in the 20's and 30's, there was a tradition amongst the American Southwest Latin community of vaudeville troupes and their "tent theaters," which rolled into town, setup up shop, sold as many tickets, food items, and penny trinkets they could, then moved on to the next town before being chased out by the local non-Latin constabulary.

While the "La Carpas" of old and their programs of comedy, song and dance were catered to Mexican farm workers and their families, the little tent-less circus that we were presented with was definitely a family run operation, with each performer wearing multiple hats; ie. the Juggler was also the Cotton Candy man, and the Hula Hoop lady was making snow cones.

Back to the big top...er, the all-purpose building and a few observations...

Hula hoop girls. Every small family circus that has come to town (and we've seen...let's see, this would be our third since moving to our small town) begins with a bevy of hooping hula ladies o' the swing.

Never guys, they're always sequined costumed young ladies with big hair, big smiles, and hoops galore. From the seat of a person whose never been able to get one of those Whamo! plastic rings to circle his rotund little body, I'll always be amazed at anyone who can get not just one, but dozens of these hoopies to do the round-de-round on their own ankles, knees, waists, chests, necks, and foreheads.

Even more so when they're made of highly polished aluminum and must weigh in at a few lbs. a piece.

Even, even more so when they're circling around sequined costumed young ladies with big hair, big smiles and big....earrings (ahem).

Then there's the Juggler. This guy did the standard juggling fare - pins (4), rings (6) and flaming sticks (4). Then he donned a belt that had three billiard table net pockets attached - one at each side and a third at his back.

You guessed it, after juggling 6 white pool balls for a few flourishing minutes, he tossed them one at a time high into the air, did a Michael Jackson "Billie Jean foot spin" and sunk two balls into each and every pocket - nothing but net. Most impressive.

Later C asked me if I ever learned how to juggle. I told her juggling is done is two parts, the tossing/catching of the balls and the dropping of the balls, and that so far I've only learned how to do the second part. Got an 8-year old eye roll for that one, thank you very much.

The clown act was long and scary, but the presence of a 3-year old clown was a novelty in and of itself, making the entire act somewhat tolerable. Kids today don't have the love (or tolerance) for clowns that my generation did, since they don't have Bozo the Clown to greet them on a bright and early Saturday morning.

Then there's Jargo the Giraffe....but we'll come back to him later.

Rounding out the performance were several opportunities to buy overpriced bags of popcorn that may contain a coupon for a free gift, toy or balloon ("Not every bag of popcorn has a coupon, but MOST of them do..."), overpriced Circus-themed coloring books ("Not every coloring book has a coupon for a free gift, toy or ballon, but MOST of them do..."), or a $5 polaroid picture with the 3-year old clown dressed in a Chinese-made knock off (and un-licensed, I'm sure) Sponge Bob costume.

Speaking of unlicensed costumes, a post-intermission break was broken up by the entrance of the dancing characters from Madagascar. They scared as many little kids in the audience as they thrilled, and I smiled knowing that at least my girls were old enough to not let the furry, need-a-good-laundering costumed characters give them nightmares tonight.

The featured act of the circus was a family of Argentinean performers led by a scary Father with a wild frock of jet black hair styled somewhere between Don King and every Russian-mobster you've seen in low budget made-for-cable movies.

The Mother was in a sequined-black leotard and seemed content to stand back with her arms raised in an ever-present taa-daa position, sacrificing her own attention to maintain the focus of the sparse crowd to her three, amazing offspring.

Jordan, the 13-year old ("Direct for Las Vegas, Nevada!") opened with her balancing-on-a-board-on-a-pipe act.

This kid was on fire and had all the bells and whistles when it came time to milk the audience for applause and adoration...which in my opinion, she deserved in spades.

For a person who has trouble balancing on the same two feet I've had my entire life, anyone who can balance on a foot-long length of 6" pvc drain pipe atop several boards, in front of an audience of rural Okies stuffing their faces with cotton candy, snow cones (yes it was 18 degrees and icy outside, but a snow cone is a snow cone), pickles, and nachos, deserves and gets a big rousing round of applause from me and my brood.

The Argentinean family finished the show with their gaucho boleadoras performance, where they donned sequined and flaming versions of the traditional Argentinean cowboy garb, stomped their feet into big, loud boots, and swung their bolos around with the fervor and gusto of a pre-K class that's had their sugar-rush mid-day snack and has been let out for recess for the first time in a cold, winter month.

Like everything I do and everywhere I go with the girls, I miss half of what is going on due to the fact that I'm watching them watch whatever we're all there to watch. You parents know what I mean.

Argentinean bolo performers aside, nothing is better than watching your kids "diggin' the ride."

Okay, this circus soliloquy has gone on long enough, but before closing I need to get back to Jargo the Giraffe.

Even though my 8-year old preferred the loud and raucous acts over all, the performance that had my 4-year old glued and transfixed (as well as her pre-K classmate sitting next to her) was Jargo the Giraffe, "The Original Joker of the Jungle."

A little online research revealed that the origin of Jargo goes back a ways into circus tradition and history. In circ-slang, Jargo translates to "why pay for a real animal, when two guys dressed up as one will do."

This particular incarnation of Jargo looked to have originated circa 1940's or so, as he was looking a little early Looney Tune. Jargo, the act, was basically a naughty giraffe, who wasn't as respondent to his trainer as he should have been. While it successfully tapped into the "oh man, this is cheesy" section of the adolescent and adult brain, a quick glance over to the pre-K peanut gallery revealed that Jargo was a hit.

Later that night at tuck-in time, PK stated unequivocally that Jargo was her favorite act of the evening, relating his entire act verbatim in 4-year old speak.

As I settled back onto her headboard, stroked her hair and anticipated the deep breaths and periodic snorts of my baby girl entering REM-slumbertown, I took nostalgic comfort knowing that in this day and age when just about any form of entertainment is available at the turn of a mouse wheel or wave of the tv remote, two guys dressed up in a giraffe costume doing slapstick comedy under the fluorescent lights of my small town's fairgrounds all-purpose building, can give a little girl something to smile and dream about.

1 comment:

BJ said...

Nice post, I have worked for the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus for 24 years. I paid my dues being in a Jargo before that on the John Strong Circus, glad to know it may have been appreciated.