So long as it sells tickets!. By Tom Sandow
The old red wagon turns a lighter shade.
The old style circus of Jim Wrangler Junior, like his father before him, had little time for set rehearsals to start a season; the performers were usually engaged by the proprietor at the start to join together as a team both during the day but also of course during the shows programme set plan of acts. The old style policy would be a good starting act, a good finishing act and the same to close the first half and start the second. Good music, and a brass band if possible. The format was never changed much and even a re-visited town knew what to expect from Jim Wrangler who followed his late father very closely. He had little time for moaners or the work shy and was as tough as old boots who expected the best from everyone. One day the rope spinner broke his leg which meant no act for a long period. Old Jim was sympathetic but said to the artiste; ‘Could you not rope spin holding onto the main pole? Or costume as Long John Silver?’ Not sure if he was joking. Once he invested in a winch to pull lorries and wagons but with one terrible weather situation the whole cast still pushed vehicles out of a muddy field all through the night. Someone said; ‘Why do we not use the new winch?’ Jim replied, ‘Because it is new and I do not want to get it muddy!’ Never any favouritisms with old Jim. On a show build-up all artistes were equal. He loved great clowns and clowning but they had to be good. ‘Tent pegs to hold up the big top,’ he would say, agreeing with Ringling North in America. During his last season he interviewed a well known super star name clown called Boloney, and told him ‘I would like to engage you provided you do not perform the four chairs!’ Rather sarcastically. He confidently told Jim; ‘I have 250 most original clown items, apart from my trumpet not that I usually have to blow my own,’ he said with wit. ‘Of course I never do manual work of any kind; you must have plenty staff for that?’ I have toured successfully from du Soleil to Krone. (‘then I am sure he will find the new Directorship most agreeable! Thought Jim not telling him of the well in hand plans).
Wrangler’s circus always had the best long lasting staff and main persons like ‘Sandy’ Thomas the well-known so long established versatile ringmaster. All seasons ran like a clock with him, as Jim would demand. Being one of the ‘old school’ with polished hat and shoes and time watch in breast pocket, chrome Acme Thunderer whistle plus perfect diction. But then, suddenly mid-season out of the blue, Jim informed all his personnel that he was retiring from the business after so many years ‘Bertha and I are now going to be resident at the old farm. I think I will make a fortune writing one of those self publishing books to cover my exploits’! Jim had amazingly sold the whole set-up to the international conclomerate; Idlingburgers – the fast food burger chain. The cast did not know what to expect but were very soon to find out.
The Ham Burger takes Precendence and Boloney becomes a Burger
The Idlingburgers Inc had big plans for its purchased circus to become a national touring promotional products platform. The company, not understanding or wanting to appreciating old circus, engaged a modernistic, more theatrical, show programmer and designing artistic director, Mr Hastings Dribble. No circus experience other than comical versions and tour management for the Chippendales. The following conversation took place with the whole cast seated around the single central ring along with Sandy Thomas the ringmaster.
Hastings Dribble talks to artistes, he walking around the ring.
‘As you are all aware the show is now excitingly owned and managed by the Idlingburger fast food chain and they have engaged me as, Managing Director, Artistic Designer. I have promised that next week a brilliant new concept will take over. The first thing I have told the new proprietors to do is change the name of the circus! No more old Hat! The public is no longer interested in past glories. What is in a name anyway? All shows now are using novelty titles. For the past 120 years the show has been known as Jim Wrangler’s Traditional Circus, old hat! We now want a ‘way-out’ modern image so are now calling it, of course, Circus Super Fast Idlingburgers but even better will be Idlingburgers SupaFast Cirque! A Twenty-First Century promotional concept. Fast food and fast acts with fast delivery! The old style of canvas tent is a thing of the past, it is so possible now to shape plastic big-tops to any design. The company may prefer a giant burger shape!.
I have never liked this constant old fashioned description or personal titling of acts, always promotes prima-donnaisms. (Or, Supa Done-rism! Gagged the trapeze artiste). Also jealousies so the programme will be a constant flow of fast segueways without name interruptions and with constant black-outs to create excitement. Artistes usually want too many applause breaks during their performances, and clapping hands will not hold a Burger! Also demanding a big one to finish each act is not necessary. Performers will cross over and melt into each other between acts, preferably during a black out. ‘What exactly is your idea of a ringmaster?’ enquired Sandy Thomas.’ Good question! In my productions announcements are minimal to unnecessary. The old trad ringmaster is now past and so passe’! A surplus figure in my view. In my productions they are called comperes, even better comical comperes and also much better to make any announcement unseen behind the back curtains or from strange situations! Why not seated upon a ladder top? I do not like the old trad red coat either; it portrays a look of fox hunting and totally out of synch’. Best to use a black or rainbow tuxedo and a light up bow tie for festivity and humour! In fact, now that we are also banning the old trad clown and clowning routines – more old hats! – you might include some compere comedy yourself like getting entangled in the microphone wire and use some jokes about the acts using colourful words! Bad language is so new-hat!. The interval will have raffle prizes of Idlingburgers for one year and the Idlingburger Restaurant will be open all through the show, artistes can mingle there with the patrons. ‘Will it be a Drive Through! Quipped an acrobat.
‘You seem to include a lot of old hats perhaps I could juggle those? Contributed Sandy Thomas. I could also use those light up boots so to be noticed in your black outs. Perhaps the swap over artistes might do the same’. ‘Great idea!’ said Dribble. ‘So, what will be your themed cirque?’’ Glad you asked. I like scene settings and the constant use of all the artistes in different costuming. The show could have a changing booth in the stage ring centre, saves artistes even leaving the ring! Mind you, the growing trend now is away from flash attention seeking costumes and drab dressing down is the better option. The old days of elevated solo presentations and status levels are now long gone. I like to match the wise trend now of eliminating names from circus posters too. Posters now have three letter words like WOW – BAM – FAB and LOL! With my recent production at a seaside resort the show commenced with a beach scene and all the artistes playing volley ball in swimwear! So with me, one must expect an all-encompassing, all engrossing, multi-cultural, diverse rainbow production. One act will melt into another seamlessly with a great deal of off show promotions for the acts and little time off. It is possible to use the same props for each act so to save riggings. For the trapeze duo I will place a love sick figure looking up at the female from the ring below showing sad concern she may fall off throughout the act, he holding flowers. This will add pathos with a small directed spotlight on him. ‘Why not go further, said Thomas, and have Boloney wanted by the authorities like James Stewart in The Greatest Show on Earth so that he never removes face make up. You could then have the cast dressed like Keystone Cops chasing him around at the end. Lots of comedy potential’. ‘Perhaps, said Dribble but too much like old slapstick.’’ I know, and with face make-up, again, too much old hat! ‘I think the theme could be space travel with the start parade of starship troopers to the tune by ABBA, Boloney could be wired from a rocket like Russell Grant in Strictly! Perhaps we could dress you as a Captain Kirk Compere boldly going where no compere has gone before!’ ‘Like the circus said Thomas. We could use another slogan; said the wire-walker, ‘our Supa Idlingburgers contain no Kling-on substances! Yes, great! All the humour must be ‘off the wall’ our new resident clown, a name we no-longer approve of, will no-longer be so entitled or wear make-up he will instead become ‘The Jesting Silly Burger’, (or the digesting burger! Joked Thomas) will visit shopping arcades dressed in a burger suit each morning entertaining the shoppers. Great promotion with our show-girls dressed as sauce bottles giving out special low-priced party tickets. Boloney, this will be your main activity, said Dribble.
I want you all to have a great season! Bonuses will be free meals at the restaurant, mixing and mingling with the audiences at the same time selling raffle tickets. The cast is great with mixing! Said Thomas.