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.

May 152017

I want to share with you a fun evening I had on Saturday, May 13. Shelly and I went to see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus presenting A Cardboard and Duck Tape Spectacular!.

Stephanie Monseu (L) and Keith Nelson (R)

This is terrific live entertainment! There are no weak members of the cast. Stephanie Monseu is her usual dazzling self as emcee and juggler. Keith Nelson is a true burlesque top banana. Ekaterina Skmarina a goofy aerialist and floor gymnast. Ivory Fox a very clever acrobat capable of doing a variety of things, she has wonderfully graceful movement with a touch of comedy. Jared Kuchler is a multi-talented juggler, his specialty is a cigar box routine.

All of this accompanied by Peter Bufano’s original music on accordion, with Jeff Morris and Nate Tucker. The production was directed by our good friend Joel Jeske who will star in the upcoming Big Apple Circus.

What’s my review? Bindlestiff is a very clever variety arts theatre.

So, if they’re ever in your town or mine, go see them!

Apr 062017

Circus Fest Top

What excitement! This summer from June 29-July 9 on the National Mall in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian Museum will present their annual Folklife Festival. The theme this year is “Circus Arts in America.” This recognition is extraordinary as President George Washington attended America’s first circus in Philadelphia in 1793. I urge you to have a look at the Folklife Festival materials at their website.

Mar 282017

It’s been several weeks since I was able to post to this blog, but I’ve been very busy just trying to keep up with current developments. First of all, as I announced on my Facebook page, the auction that took place for the Big Apple Circus equipment, name, and trademarks was won by Compass Partners of Sarasota and New York City – Richard Perlman, Jim Price, Barry Salzman, Neil and Suzanne Kahanovitz, and Larry and Rita Solheim.

Here’s a big announcement from the new owners: they will open their first season on October 29 of this year. That will be a simply extraordinary accomplishment as there are enormous amounts of work to be done to get there. Let me give you a sense of what I mean: booking and contracting the artists and creative team, hiring the technical personnel, finding an appropriate rehearsal space, reconditioning the equipment, trucking and transportation, necessary visas, five weeks of rehearsal, and a unique nine day setup at Lincoln Center, just to name a few that come to mind.


And here’s the latest news: they are going to feature Nik Wallenda the Guinness World Record holding high wire walker. You probably remember that he walked on a tight wire across Niagara Falls and another over the Grand Canyon (nikwallenda.com). Both of these feats were telecast live on cable television and were extraordinary moments. I think this is a great start for the new producers and, once again, I wish them all the best in this incredible venture.





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:

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people on stage and text

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.

Jan 312017

Dear friends and family,

There will be an auction on February 7th for the physical assets and the trademarked name of the Big Apple Circus. This is very exciting for me personally, as it gives me hope that the Big Apple Circus could be revived under new management. No matter what, I’m excited to open this new chapter in the story of the BAC. Sharing some good memories with this photo of the BAC BIG TOP AT LINCOLN CENTER AT NIGHT – look for the two strings of lights on top of the tent. Photo of the Big Apple Circus at night, in the heart of Manhattan, at Lincoln Center by Michael LeClair c.1992.


BAC tent at LC


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.

Aug 272016
BAC 1981 Show Poster, Paul Davis

1981 Lincoln Center poster designed by Paul Davis

At this point, the Big Apple Circus has fallen short of the funding we needed for the Save the Circus campaign so that it looks like we will not be able to open a new show at Lincoln Center as planned in October. It’s the first time in 36 years that we will be unable to do that. Every year since 1981 the Big Apple Circus big top has been put up in Damrosch Park. Lincoln Center won’t be the same during the holiday season without the circus.

Many of us are not yet willing to give up. It’s truly a matter of the finances, so we’re continuing to do what we can to continue this wonderful New York City tradition.

One thing that I can tell you is that my father used to tell me, “Paul, I’ve never seen you give up.”

Paul and Michael at first LC BAC

Michael Christensen and Paul Binder clowning in the first Lincoln Center production
photo by Linda Rivero