Jul 182017
 

This is “Grandma” and Keith Nelson. As you can see they are proud to be on the National Mall.

Here are several more wonderful events that took place at the festival.

Circus Harmony, from St. Louis, who I wrote a little bit about in my recent post on Circus Flora. They are a very successful inner-city youth troupe.

Eliana Grace is the daughter of Jessica Hentoff, founder of Circus Harmony and has a wonderful one-woman show. Here’s the only photograph that I have from the festival. Unfortunately, she is moving into a trick so she doesn’t look nearly as graceful as she, in fact, is.

Eliana Grace

Here are a couple of photographs from Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, one of my favorites.

Left: Adam Kuchler
Right: Stephanie Monseu, ringmaster extraordinaire

And a new favorite: Happenstance Theater. They are very clever, fresh and simply lovely.

Here’s one grouping of the show they did at the festival. They have several more shows.

 

[ Below: Continued from last post ]

3. My long-time performance partner Michael Christensen, founder of Big Apple Circus Clown Care, which became a worldwide movement of clowns visiting the bedsides of acutely and chronically ill children, sat on several presentations at the festival about medical clowning.

Big Apple Circus Clown Care logo created by Dominique Jando.
That’s Michael as “Dr. Stubs” creating a bubble through a stethoscope.

Here’s a wonderful group of New York Clown Care “Doctors of Delight.” They are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever known.

4. Finally, I sat on one of seven panels and three presentations at a day-long “Circus Town Hall” at the National Endowment for the Arts concerning circus as art. It was an extraordinary day.

On the left is Tisha Tinsman and on the right is Dolly Jacobs. The photograph that they are standing alongside is of Dolly in performance.

Tisha Tinsman with Sacha Pavlatta, our first tent master, virtuoso performer, and original company member.

Here’s a wonderful group at the NEA. Left to right: Dominique Jando, Murray Horwitz, Peggy Williams, Dolly Jacobs, myself, Pedro Reis, Jimmy Tinsman, Tisha Tinsman, and Vanessa Thomas.

 

Peggy Williams is in the preceding photograph. She was the first woman clown at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, forty-plus years ago. She also headed up the extraordinarily lively roundtable discussion at the NEA “Physical Comedy as Performing Art.”

This wonderful convocation or “Town Hall” at the NEA was a highlight of this festival and was a great demonstration of the passion of the various people who are engaged in circus arts in America. I’m hoping that we can continue this amazing event going into the future.

 

Jul 172017
 

From June 28th till July 6th I had the honor and pleasure of attending the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

[ What follows is the first of two blogs that I’m posting about my visit to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. ]

This year’s festival theme was Circus Arts.

The Festival estimated that there were over a million visitors.

Michael Christensen, my fellow Big Apple Circus founder, and myself were invited to the festival for several reasons:

1. Tell the story of the Big Apple Circus, which we did daily on the Circus Stories stage. And then we presented the “keys” of the Big Apple Circus to the new management. The “keys” were a beat-up old top hat and a rubber chicken named “Leonard,” who had been our juggling “partner” over the many years of the Big Apple Circus and its predecessor, our street juggling act. That great adventure was a journey from San Francisco all the way to Istanbul.

That’s Michael and me presenting the “keys” to the Big Apple Circus to the new management. It looks like “Leonard” was sleeping.

2. Present “Circus of the Senses,” a program that serves sight and hearing-impaired kids and adults. I am proud to say that I originally created “Circus of the Senses” for the Big Apple Circus. Our role at the festival was to narrate and describe, over headsets, to blind kids and adults, a performance of Wonderland by Circus Juventas, a wonderful youth circus from St. Paul, Minnesota. (For the hearing-impaired audience members, there were American Sign Language interpreters.)

That’s me in the top hat with the legendary sportscaster Marty Glickman, at the very first “Circus of the Senses.” Note the kids wearing headsets. The other person with a hand mic is Dave Jennings. The clown is Mr. Gordoon, Jeff Gordon.

Here’s some photos from Wonderland.

Here’s the poster for Wonderland and two photos of the young lady who performed the role of Alice.

The Red Queen and her court, with Alice in the foreground.

Here’s a quadruple trapeze group. Also an aerial cube with four performers. Finally, a Russian barre trio.

We described a one-hour version of what had been a two-hour show. Following the performance, there was a “touch session” in the ring where blind kids and adults could touch costumes and props of the various performers as well as talk to the performers and myself.

Here are three photos from the post-show “touch session”: the lady in the top left told me that she had been blind since birth and was “thrilled to hear a circus described.” I was thrilled that she wanted to tell me that. The top right is with the Red Queen and the bottom is the Caterpillar and the White Rabbit.

Here’s one with the Cheshire Cat…

.. and finally the director of Circus Juventas, Betty Butler who along with her husband Dan Butler are co-founders of this wonderful, youthful and energetic organization. I’m grateful to all of them.

[ To be continued in the next post. ]

May 222017
 

Big Cat Trainer, Alexander Lacey, performs one last time with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Last night, May 21, I had the great honor of attending the final performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was a very special evening, which started with a moving tribute to his 50 years of stewardship of the Ringling enterprise by Kenneth Feld, the CEO.

It was performed to a packed house at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The show spoke eloquently to 146 years of American history. There were a lot of great moments, but perhaps the greatest was saved for after the end of the show. Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson made an impromptu speech and invited all of the employees and their families from backstage to join in the arena and sing Auld Lang Syne.

Johnathan Lee Iverson with the Circus company

The NY Times quoted one ticket holder as saying, “…perhaps it will return, retooled and rebranded.” I join him in his sentiment.

Mar 092017
 

On the weekend of March 4th and 5th, I was honored to share a stage with some veteran as well as many very promising young circus artists. I travelled to Brattleboro, Vermont, where the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) presented two performances of a delightful Circus Spectacular Gala and invited me to host as the ringmaster for both shows.  Serenity Smith Forchion and Elsie Smith, the founders of NECCA, brought together a fabulous and diverse group of performers, from hand balancers to rola bola masters.  They came from far and wide, from Canada to Tennessee, and all of the performers were somehow affiliated with the NECCA school as teachers or professional trainees.  Enjoy some photographs of the acts in action below:

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Photo from NECCA’s Facebook page

The Circus Spectacular, performed at the vaudeville gem Latchis Theater, was a gala to raise money for a new building under construction for the school, as NECCA’s popularity grows and their facilities expand.  I was happy to participate in this wonderful venture!   And what a blast, to spend a few days onstage and backstage with these performers.

The acts included NECCA’s Advanced Youth Performance Troupe opening the show with a charivari, Alicia Dawn on the cloud swing, Jan Damm & Ariele Ebacher’s eccentric partner acrobatics act, and Liv Morrow on aerial straps.  Jan Damm reappeared in the second half on his rola bola, along with Molly Graves on aerial rope, “Kinetic Kristin” Leophard performing on the cyr wheel, with Ariana Ferber Carter, a Vermont local, sharing her contortion act.  Mario Diamond, a mime from Quebec who has performed on five continents, had two performance slots in the show.  They were true circus folk, who had performed with such companies as Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey, Cirque Eloise, Cirque du Soleil, the Bindlestiff Family Circus, the New Pickle Circus, and Vermont’s own Circus Smirkus.  Troy Wunderle, the Artistic Director of Circus Smirkus, performed a beautiful version of the breakaway bike (you might remember this act from Justin Case at the Big Apple Circus). Rounding out the performances were hand balancer Marieke Dailey, Doug Stewart on aerial rope, a juggling duet by Tony Duncan & Melissa Knowles, and the identical twin sister and co-Artistic Directors Elsie and Serenity on double trapeze.

Dec 092016
 

Hello everyone,

I had a ball on Friday night at the Metropolitan Room performing in my new cabaret THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT with dazzling singing partner Dana Mierlak.  In addition to performing a few of  old favorites, we threw in a few new solos, including my interpretation of “Try To Remember” and her show-stopping rendition of “The Girl In 14G.”  I loved working with her. The duets that we did were the highlight for me.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend an evening singing for my friends and family, and I was delighted to see so many familiar faces in the audience.  If you couldn’t make it, here are a few photos from the event:
We're two lost souls, on the highway of life!

We’re two lost souls, on the highway of life!

Me doing what I do best -- announcing!

Me doing what I do best — announcing!

Dana performing "The Girl In 14G"

Dana performing “The Girl In 14G”

This was the second time I’ve performed at the Metropolitan Room. Last Year, we threw a sold-out benefit performance of PAUL BINDER RISKS HIS LIFE, and this year it felt like coming home to perform in a familiar space. Last year, I thought to myself, “Gosh, this would be great to do again.” And lucky me, I did! The new show provided a unique format for myself and Dana to share stories about how “it’s difficult to be tall” (Paul) and “…average in stature” (Dana, 5 feet in heels). She’s also half my age.

As always, it was a pleasure to perform with Dennis Buck, our brilliant accompanist. Dennis’ immense skill and musical acumen make him invaluable on and offstage.
I hope you were lucky enough to join us, and if you weren’t, I hope you can come along next time!
Nov 042016
 

 

Me and Roberta Fabiano singing "Landmark State of Mind." Photo credit to New York Social Diary

Singing with guitarist Roberta Fabiano of the Peter Duchin Orchestra: “Landmark State of Mind” (our apologies to Billy Joel). Photo credit to New York Social Diary

This past Wednesday, November 2nd, I had the immense pleasure of emceeing the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s annual Living Landmarks Gala at the Plaza Hotel Ballroom. This is special for me because, as many of you know, Michael Christensen and myself were honored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002 as New York City “Living Landmarks” for our work with the Big Apple Circus.  At the time, Liz Smith was the emcee of their annual Gala at the Plaza, but last year she passed the baton on to me. I’m honored to do it once again this year. It’s a thrill!

 

Peg Breen and Lloyd Zuckerberg at the Gala. Photo credit to Whom You Know

Chairman Lloyd Zuckerberg and President Peg Breen at the Gala. Photo credit to Whom You Know

 

 

It’s the best party in town, because it’s New Yorkers who love New York honoring people who love New York. The honorees this year were Frank Bennack & Mary Polan, Barbara Taylor Bradford & Robert Bradford, Nina & Tim Zagat, Larry Leeds, and Wynton Marsalis.  What an honor to share the stage with these people who have had such a profound impact on the city we all love.  I even got to sing a rewritten version of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” — “I’m in a Living Landmark State of Mind!” The entire evening was gracefully organized by Peg Breen.  I collaborated with my good friend Robbie Libbon on jokes that we could insert into a script that we thought could use additional humor. Here’s my favorite gag of the evening:

“We’ve got a couple of CEOs, an MD, a CFO, a PhD, even an OBE…to add to the long lost of SOBs from past years — no, no, I’m just kidding — there’s no CFO.”

Here are some photos of the event:

 

Shelley and myself after the ball. Photo credit to Peachy Deegan at Whom You Know

Me and the great jazz trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. Photo credit to New York Social Diary

Here I am with the great jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. Photo credit to New York Social Diary

 

 

Not everyone has the opportunity to attend the Living Landmarks Galas, but all of you can come to my next cabaret performance! It is a ONE NIGHT ONLY event at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM, on DECEMBER 2ND at 7PM.  After a successful benefit performance of PAUL BINDER RISKS HIS LIFE at the Metropolitan Room last year, we’re bringing a new cabaret: THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT!  I will be joined by the dazzling Dana Mierlak in the new show THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT. We will share a few songs, a few stories, and a few jokes about how “it’s difficult to be tall” (Paul) and “…average in stature” (Dana, 5 feet in heels).  We can’t wait to see you there! Tickets are available here.

Apr 222016
 

Although I don’t frequently step into the ring with my red suit and top hat anymore, I’m finding myself behind a podium more and more. In the past year I’ve been invited to play host to many events and ceremonies, including the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Living Landmarks Gala, which I’ve written about before.

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This past weekend I was honored to introduce Dean Glenn Hubbard for his “State of the School” address at the Columbia Business School reunion weekend. I’ve known Glenn for many years, and I’m very pleased to be able to call him a customer. Yes, every year he brings his family to enjoy the Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center.

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Dean Glenn Hubbard and Senior Associate Dean Lisa Yeh sitting in the auditorium during my introduction

Columbia has meant a great deal to me professionally and personally. Eleven years ago, my daughter, Katherine Binder, was a student at Barnard College, which is across the street from Columbia Business School. She called me one day and said, “Daddy, Daddy, you should go over to the Business School. There’s a big picture of you on the wall.” So I went, and there, in the hall outside the dean’s office, was a series of print ads that highlighted the individuality of Columbia MBAs. This was one of the ads:

PB Columbia Advertisement

I am a proud member of the Columbia Business School graduating class of 1966. Quite significantly, my education at Columbia had a profound impact on the development of the Big Apple Circus, which, from the beginning, was a social enterprise company. After all, just as important to the Big Apple Circus’s performance of an annual season is the mission to serve the communities in which we perform, which we do with five award-winning community programs. The largest of these programs is our Clown Care Unit, which sends specially trained professional performers—clowns, comedians, musicians, and magicians—to the bedsides of acutely and chronically ill children in fifteen pediatric hospitals nationwide, five of them in New York City.

So of course I was honored to have been asked to introduce the dean for his State of the School address. And I was happy to speak to a room full of sharp-minded individuals about my own business background with the Big Apple Circus. I never tire of pitching the commercial: we’re always looking for bright, young, passionate board members, and we’re always looking for MBA candidates who want very exciting internships.

My wonderful education (Dartmouth, Columbia)and the world of circus has given me the opportunity to have a life full of pleasure and adventure. I’m very grateful.

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Reunion photos courtesy of Beth Brown, the Director of Alumni Relations, External Relations, and Development at Columbia Business School.

Apr 012016
 

I just got back from a few days in Boston, where I provided co-commentary for the 2016 round of Circus of the Senses. Circus of the Senses is one of the Big Apple Circus’s five award-winning community programs. (The others are Clown Care, Circus After School, Vaudeville Caravan, and Circus for All.) Circus of the Senses is designed to bring the joy of the circus to children and others with vision or hearing impairments. We use a personal listening device system to transmit play-by-play descriptions of the performance, and ASL interpreters are positioned around the tent. After the show, we host a “touch session” in the ring where visually-impaired kids are encouraged to experience elements of the show—costumes, apparatuses, animals—through their sense of touch. It’s a truly remarkable, one-of-a-kind event.

This year’s show, the Big Apple Circus’s “The Grand Tour,” was an especially great production for Circus of the Senses, and I had a wonderful time with my co-commentator, Robb Preskins. Robb is a full-time entertainer, and he also works with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care. When performing with our Boston Children’s Hospital Clown Care Unit, Robb dons his white lab coat and assumes the persona of “Dr. Gonzo.”

Doing Circus of the Senses is a wonderful thrill for me, and it’s exciting to participate in the program as the Big Apple Circus travels throughout the season because I get to work with different co-commentators for very different audiences. In fact, I’ve worked with many, many different commentators since I started the Circus of the Senses at the Big Apple Circus nearly 30 years ago.

In case you haven’t seen it before, here is a photo from the very first Circus of the Senses event in 1988. My co-commentators at that event were none other than New York Jets radio announcers, the legendary Marty Glickman and and his partner Dave Jennings. The clown in the photo is Mr. Gordoon.

The commentators at the first Circus of the Senses. This picture is from a plaque that reads: THANK YOU FOR MAKING "CIRCUS OF THE SENSES" A TRULY MEMORABLE EVENT FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT WCBS NEWS 88 NOVEMBER 18, 1988

The commentators at the first Circus of the Senses. This picture is from a plaque that reads:
Thank you for making “Circus of the Senses” a truly memorable event
From your friends at WCSB News 88
November 18, 1988

Jan 192016
 
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A view of the French coast from the helicopter ride on the return journey to Nice.

Yesterday, Shelley and I made our return voyage from Monte Carlo where I was witness to four nights of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Go ahead, say I’m “over the top,” but the collection of acts was simply the finest group of circus artists and performers ever to be assembled under a big top in one place at one time. They constituted an extraordinary group of what was called “classical” or “traditional” circus.

This is the fortieth anniversary of a glorious festival, and the committee, consisting of Dr. Frere, Urs Pils (German Circus Krone), and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco (President of the Festival and Jury), among several others, was determined to bring the best acts in the world and have each of them perform in one ring over two nights. (The Festival actually goes on for eight days more, but after the fourth performance there was a celebratory dinner and a day of rest).

Princess Stephanie and Pauline Ducruet, Photo PLS Pool:Getty Images Europe

Princess Stéphanie at the festival with her children (Pauline Ducruet and Camille Gottlieb on her right and Louis Ducruet on her left).
Photo courtesy of PLS Pool/Getty Images Europe.

Twenty-four of the twenty-eight acts had previously been winners (some of them multiple times) of the Gold, Silver, or Bronze Clown, the circus equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars.

To have them assembled in one place at one time was akin to a religious experience for some circus fans. (Perhaps, that’s why I used the word “witness” in the preceding paragraph!) The festival is underwritten by the Palais de Monaco in a tent that seats 4,000+ audience members and is promoted year-round as part of the of the culture of the Principality of Monaco. No expense is spared.

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Standing (left) ringside facing the performers are Princess Stéphanie of Monaco with her daughter, and standing (center) facing the front of the ring is Prince Albert II, the reigning monarch.

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Shelley and me with Martin Lacey Jr.

The pre-festival cocktail party, the Circus Director’s Luncheon at the Hotel Hermitage, and the Festival Dinner are by invitation only. I was honored to attend all three, Shelley, two. Princess Stéphanie hosted all three events. We were invited to sit at her table along with Pauline Ducruet (Princess Stéphanie’s daughter), Marie-Jose Knie (a member of the Swiss Familie Knie Circus), Alexis Gruss (of the French Le Cirque Gruss Ancien), Flavio Togni (of the Italian Circo Americano), and Martin Lacey Jr. (Gold Clown winning trainer of large cats and star of Circus Krone). It was a thrill. Alexis is a long-standing friend of mine (and, I should add, once directed none other than Big Apple Circus’ own Artistic Director, Guillaume Dufresnoy). What an honor!

There were many memorable highlights under the big top as well:

Bello Nock, who won a Gold Clown some years ago, on his second night, was outstanding. (There were a variety of reasons, not his doing, that he was not his usual superb self on his first night.)

Desire of Flight, who were booked and contracted at BAC by Guillaume, got a well-deserved and very loud, standing ovation.

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Desire of Flight: Valeriy Sychev and Malvina Abakarova

Alexis Gruss and Flavio Togni were the class of the festival with their horses already safe in the stable by the time the audience had finished their ovation.


Alexis Gruss and his 6 stallion “maypole.”

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Alexis Gruss with a Portuguese Stallion hind leg walking.

The Sokolov Troupe. In their first incarnation we knew them (in two different BAC seasons) as Kovgar Troupe. Sokolov is the second generation. Their act is a fun tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with his music and costumes from the 18th century. Great tricks and super audience response.

Willer Niccolodi, the unlikely ventriloquist, fresh from his appearance at Circus Knie and BAC, filled the tent with peals of laughter.

Both the men’s and women’s Acrobatic Troupes of the “National Circus of China” were outstanding. (I’m not so sure that there is a such-named troupe except for one to prepare for festivals … drawn from several other groups around their nation.)

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The National Circus of China: The performer has jumped and is diving through a hoop eight feet from the ground.

Another memorable routine was performed by the hand-to-hand acrobats, Scherbak and Popov, Gold Clown winners from the Ukraine.

The Caselly Family elephants (African, no less—known to be more difficult to train than their “cousins” the Asians) were superb.

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The Caselly Family: The elephant on the left has just hit the teeterboard, and the performer (in white) is in the air on his way via a double somersault to the the back of the elephant on the right.

Laura Miller and her aquatic aerial ring was unique.

Encho, the hand-balancing strongman, with whom I had the privilege to work at Circus Sarasota, was most memorable.

And several more …

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Standing alongside Katya and Nelson Quiroga of the Flying Tabares.

I was especially pleased to be in the company of Mary Jane Brock, Big Apple Circus Vice Chair, and her husband, Charley, along with five of her friends, from school and early professional days.

It was a thrilling four days, one that reinforced the Big Apple Circus’s vitality and vision as an organization.

Jan 082016
 

This past Tuesday night, January 5, the Big Apple Circus big top played host to the Celebration of American Circus. A mixture of performance and awards ceremony, the event presented by Circus Now and the Big Apple Circus, in association with Jonathan S. Cerullo and JSC Theatricals, honored four artists/organizations who have made significant contributions to Circus Arts in the United States.

Here are the five honorees this year.

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From left to right are Ed LeClair (Executive Director of Circus Smirkus), Dominique Jando (world circus historian and author), Rob Mermin (Founder of Circus Smirkus), Bill Irwin (clown/actor), and Hovey Burgess (Professor of Theatre and Circus Arts and Master Teacher at NYU TISCH School of the Arts). Circus Smirkus received the Community Impact Award, Dominique Jando the Elevating Circus Award, Bill Irwin the Evolving Circus Award, and Hovey Burgess the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Below is David Shiner (actor/clown) who presented the award to Bill Irwin.

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And here they are together.

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Bill and David are about to reopen their hilarious hit comedy show Old Hats at Signature Theatre on 42nd Street.

Below is the beautiful Dolly Jacobs (award-winning circus aerialist and Founder of Circus Sarasota) who presented the award to Hovey.

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Pictured below are the two together flanked by this year’s Big Apple Circus clowns, performed by Joel Jeske (left) and Brent McBeth (right).

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By the way, Hovey’s in a wheelchair because he fell down and broke his leg.

One of the featured performers at this year’s ceremony was aerialist Sergey Akimov, who is featured in this year’s show at the Big Apple Circus. “The Grand Tour” is the second time in the last six years that Sergey has performed with us. He actually grew up at the Big Apple Circus because his father and uncle, the Egorov Troupe, were performers there. He’s a wonderful and skilled artist.

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I’m hoping we will see the continuation of this event in the future.

 

All photos by Maike Schulz.