Nov 252014

This past weekend was the annual Big Apple Circus Family Benefit. It’s a terrific event where supporters of our not-for-profit circus get to see the year’s show and interact with the performers. Before the performance of Metamorphosis kids were invited to join Clown Care Unit members in the reception tent where they get to learn juggling, wire walking (very low), plate spinning, balancing, and other circus skills. During intermission there was an auction for kids (or their parents) to become a guest ringmaster for a future performance. And if that wasn’t enough, after the show there was dessert in the ring!

The auction and event were staged to help raise funds for our five award-winning community programs:

Clown Care, the signature community outreach program of the Big Apple Circus, brings the joy of classical circus to hospitalized children at 16 leading pediatric facilities across the United States.

Circus of the Senses is a unique performance that enables children and adults with vision or hearing impairments and other disabilities to experience the magic and joy of the circus.

The mission of Circus After School is to provide a unique opportunity for at-risk youth to develop life-enhancing skills such as teamwork, commitment, and responsible risk-taking through a structured program of learning and performing the circus arts.

Vaudeville Caravan brings the uplifting power of the circus to delight the residents of nursing care facilities.

The mission of Circus for All! is to give every child and every family the opportunity to see a live performance of the Big Apple Circus. We distribute up to fifty thousand free tickets every year.

Family Benefit - Dr. Ima Conused and Susan Ayala at New York-Presbyterian, photo by Susan Watts

Clown Care: Dr. Ima Confused (Julie Pasqual) entertains Susan Ayala and her mother at New York-Presbyterian, photo by Susan Watts

Family Benefit - Rob Torres teaching Franklin Kocheran how to twirl a plate, photo by Amel Chen

Circus of the Senses: Rob Torres (who appeared in last year’s show) teaches Franklin Kocheran how to twirl a plate, photo by Amel Chen

All of us at the Big Apple Circus are extremely thankful for the support of our contributors, and we enjoy spending the day interacting with them.

Judging from applause, one of the favorite acts at this year’s family benefit––and one that certainly fits the theme of metamorphosis––was the Smirnov Duo’s quick change act. Quick change routines are more than just a little circus magic. They’re a lot of circus magic. They require many, many, many rehearsals to get the exact timing perfect. Olga and Vladimir have been working on their timing for over twenty years, working together on quick change along with their other circus skills. The costume designs are splendid, and the ingenuity that went behind the quick change act in Metamorphosis wins over the crowd. When you come see the show, don’t blink or you may miss Olga magically changing her costume 9 times in less than 3 minutes right in front of us without us having a clue of how it all happens. I know how … it’s magic!

The Smirnov Duo, photo by Bertrand Guay

The Smirnov Duo in “Metamorphosis,” photo by Bertrand Guay

Apr 262014

As I touched on at the end of my last post (read here), this past Wednesday, April 23, I celebrated William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday with members of the Lotos Club Theatre Round Table. We had a great turn out for lunch, a very active group: seven members of the Round Table were in attendance along with Anne Russell, president of the Lotos Club, who showed up for the recitation of a sonnet, and of course our brilliant, wonderful, terrific leader Gail VanVoorhis, moderator of the Theatre Round Table. As Shakespeare would say about Gail, “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties.” Typical of Gail’s enthusiasm and love for theatre (and of Shakespeare in particular), she wanted to get the Round Table together to celebrate the Bard’s birthday.

Shakespeare Birthday Poster

The assignment was for everyone to bring their favorite Shakespeare quotes and passages to share with the group during the meal. Gail brought a ton of them, as well as her beautifully-bound two volume edition of the complete works. She also has an app on her iPhone that allows her to easily lookup and access any Shakespearean text by just putting in a few words of the passage.

I want to share some of my favorite quotes here. We should start at the beginning of a play, with one of the best opening lines Shakespeare wrote:

“If music be the food of love, play on” from Twelfth Night, Act 1 scene 1.

Another wonderful passage is …

“I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart: but the saying is true, the empty vessel makes the greatest sound” from Henry V, Act 4 scene 4.

I instantly recognized this expression through it’s Yiddish equivalent “hok mir nit kayn chainik,” which literally translates to “don’t bang me a teapot.” What can I say? Shakespeare put it well and almost as colorfully.

Shakespeare - Branaugh

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet in the 1996 film

One of the passages I chose to recite is the famous Yorick speech from Act 5 scene 1 of Hamlet. I have a personal connection to this speech. I delivered it as a eulogy for my friend and colleague Mehdi Rios when he died. He was a precision acrobat but was also the funny man in the act. He always made people laugh in a light-hearted way, no matter how serious the subject. He was just like Yorick.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. […] Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen?”

I also loved reciting the famous directions to the players from Hamlet Act 3 scene 2.

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”

A lovingly altered copy of “The Chandos” William Shakespeare oil painting portrait

A lovingly altered copy of “The Chandos”
William Shakespeare oil painting portrait

Always good lessons for all actors. Just a few lines later, Hamlet goes on to say one of the most truthful expressions about the role and function of art:

“the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

This is probably the most important instruction any artist can receive. As artists, we strive to align ourselves with the forces of nature and relay that truthfulness to an audience.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare, and thank you for your beautiful words.



Apr 052014

I had the great pleasure of being invited to attend the opening night performance of Bello Nock’s new show BELLO MANIA at the always delightful New Victory Theater.

Bello is a brilliant, internationally renowned clown and “daredevil.” He’s also a great friend. I had the pleasure of working with him at the BIG APPLE CIRCUS during four separate seasons. His repertoire includes a wide range of extraordinary acts, always performed with his unique sense of humor and warm connection to the audience.

Topping all of that, his speciality act takes place on a 42-foot high sway pole. (It looked at least 99-feet high to me!) The sway pole is his family’s trademark. He grew up training and developing his skills, first performing the act when he was only 15 years old.

Delightfully populating the stage alongside Bello in this new version of the show is a handful of talented performers. Matthew Morgan is the M.C. for the evening. He’s a bright and cheerful actor and comedian who brings vitality to what, in the hands of a lesser performer, could be an insignificant part. Especially impressive is his ability to be “present,” to be able to react with humor to whatever is happening around him onstage. He’s very clever.

Matthew Morgan Photo by Jamie Barker

Matthew Morgan
Photo by Jamie Barker

Angelo Iodice ("AJ Silver") Photo by James Keivom

Angelo Iodice (“AJ Silver”)
Photo by James Keivom

Also in the show is Angelo Iodice, who performs as the character “AJ Silver.” He’s a cowboy from the Bronx, yes THE BRONX! After the show at the opening night festivities I playfully remarked to Angelo that he should be introduced as being from Arthur Avenue, the great Italian neighborhood and the heart of the Bronx’s “Little Italy.” Angelo said that his grandfather was actually from there! Originally trained as a rodeo trick rider, Angelo’s variety acts include trick roping, bullwhip artistry, and boleadoras. A “must see” moment in the show is his bullwhip duet with Bello. I’m not giving away the surprise ending, but I bet you’ll love it.

BELLO MANIA is a super show for families, and Bello’s own family is intimately involved in the show. Joining him onstage is his daughter Annaliese who I’ve known since she was an infant. She has become a very good performer in the air, on the high wire and with feet firmly on the ground. Bello’s wife Jennifer is the highly experienced, well-versed writer and director of the show. She is a rock of support for Bello.

After the performance I was happy to meet Heidi Brucker Morgan and Andrew Pratt as well.

I had a great time and recommend that everyone go see BELLO MANIA while it’s in town. The show runs through Sunday, April 20.

Bello Mania - Sway Pole, ELAINE LITHERLAND

Bello Nock atop a sway pole
Photo by Elaine Litherland

Feb 182014
The Great Hall at Cooper Union after The Moth

The Great Hall at Cooper Union after The Moth

It’s been a week since The Moth event, and I think I’ve almost fully recovered. It was an incredible night, and I was honored to share the stage with a handful of incredible storytellers. A stage, I might add, on which Abraham Lincoln once stood. Oy!

First, a correction … Last week before the event I said that Peter Sagal was going to be the MC for the evening. Well as it happened, Peter was one of the other storytellers, and oh boy, was his story excellent! As it turned out, the host for the evening was the writer and performer Jessi Klein.

Photo from Comedy Central Presents: Jessi Klein

Photo from Comedy Central Presents: Jessi Klein

Jessi is currently the head writer and an executive producer for the show Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, and she’s a regular panelist on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! And she did a fantastic job as MC. Between storytellers, Jessi shared her own brief anecdotes dealing primarily with the subject of how flirting can lead to disaster—a creative way to tie together the evening. After all, the title of the event was “Flirting with Disaster: Stories of Narrow Escapes” and last week was Valentine’s Day.

The air date is still yet to be determined, but you can be sure that I’ll tell everyone I know when the date and time have been finalized.

I don’t want to give away any of the stories that were shared last week so that you can all thoroughly enjoy them during their broadcast, but I do want to encourage you to be on the lookout for my fellow storytellers: Tara Clancy, Nicole C. Kear, Shannon Cason, and Peter Sagal.

The Moth - Tara Clancy

Tara Clancy

Nicole C. Kear

Nicole C. Kear

The Moth - Shannon Cason

Shannon Cason

Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal

















When you listen to the broadcast, I’m sure you all will be as enthralled by their stories as were the 900 audience members at Cooper Union last Monday night.

A huge thanks to everyone at The Moth Radio Hour for making me (how shall I say?) sweat ….

Feb 082014

The Moth - LogoAs I mentioned in closing last time, I’m going to be recording a story for The Moth Radio Hour on Monday, February 10th in front of a live audience. The broadcast date has not been set yet, but the public is welcome to purchase tickets to be a part of the audience for the recording in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. This particular Moth Radio Hour is focused on stories of near danger. The event is titled “Flirting with Disaster: Stories of Narrow Escapes.” The Emcee will be Peter Sagal from Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz. On February 10th, I will be sharing an exciting story of near disaster along with four other storytellers. The recording event starts at 7:30pm, and tickets are already on sale. I would love to see some of you in the audience.

The Moth - Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal, host of “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

For those of you unfamiliar with The Moth Radio Hour, the Moth is a not-for-profit organization that focuses on storytelling, inviting both professional and novice storytellers to share exciting, extraordinary true-life events. Founded in 1997 by George Dawes Green, the Moth has hosted thousands of storytellers in dozens of cities across the country. Each event is centered on a single theme, and the evening’s storytellers approach and explore that theme from many different angles. Past storytellers have ranged from bestselling author and staff writer for The New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell to actress, comedian, former Saturday Night Live cast member and fellow Dartmouth graduate Rachel Dratch to civil rights leader and activist Reverend Al Sharpton.

For the event “Flirting with Disaster: Stories of Narrow Escapes,” I will be sharing an incident from my many years as Artistic Director of the Big Apple Circus, an incident that potentially threatened to close down the circus entirely.

Obama Wall Street

The view from the podium of the Great Hall at Cooper Union

This Moth event is part of The Moth Mainstage program, the organization’s “flagship program” with events in both New York City and Los Angeles. I’m excited to be featured as one of the evening’s five luminaries, and I hope that some of you will come out to share the night with me. Remember, Monday, February 10th at 7:30pm at Cooper Union, tickets already available online.

And for any of you who can’t make it to the live event, when I find out the broadcast date I will let you all know!

Feb 022014
Festival Mondial - Troupe Nationale de Chine

The National Troupe of China

The other gold medal at the Paris Festival was won by an extraordinary handstand act performed by four Chinese artists from the National Troupe of China. Their balancing act involves a mechanical contraption that transforms during the final trick of the act to hoist one of the acrobats over fifteen feet into the air. Quite impressive.

the troupe after their win

the troupe after their win

One of my favorite acts from this year that did not finish with a medal but was pleasurable to watch was Les Zim’Probables. The duet of Evelyn David and Antoine Broussard is based out of France. This duo’s act is listed as “excentriques” in the program, and eccentric is no understatement for these clown characters! Their routine combines elements of visual comedy, sketch comedy, and audience interaction. I laughed out loud.

Festival Mondial - Les Zim'Probables 2

Les Zim’Probables (Evelyn David and Antoine Broussard) with Calixte De Nigremont
Photo from Les Zim’Probables

Festival Mondial - Naomi and Renaldo

Naomi and Renaldo

And I don’t want you to get the impression that the greatest circus acts are only to be found abroad. The United States was well represented at the Paris Festival.

Kyle Driggs

Kyle Driggs

Trained by the Montreal National Circus School and Circus Harmony in St. Louis, Missouri, Naomi and Renaldo received a silver medal for their classic hand to hand adagio routine. Their joint act is based upon the pair’s gymnastic training, combining the artistic forms of circus and dance with some very impressive acrobatic feats.

Also from the United States was silver medalist Kyle Driggs. Kyle began juggling in Philadelphia, and he has a very unique juggling style, incorporating both rings and a red umbrella. In fact, Kyle can juggle a set of rings while balancing his red umbrella on his chin. He has a graceful, artistic style, and he even composes his own music to accompany his acts.


But, still … my favorite photo is: (drumroll please!)

some wonderful trapeze artists (and yours truly)

some wonderful trapeze artists (and yours truly)

À bientôt from Paris.

One more thing. I want to alert you to my next adventure (and be sure to watch out for more information about it on this blog). I’m going to be on the Moth Radio Hour! Although the broadcast date has not been set, I’m recording it in front of a live audience on Monday, February 10th. I’m excited about this event, and I’ll be sure to fill you all in as it happens!

Jan 312014

I’m back home in New York after a fantastic week-long trip to Paris to the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain. We call it the “Paris Circus Festival.” It’s officially the “World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow.” It was hosted by the Cirque Phénix in their enormous 6,000-seat venue.

Festival Mondial Poster

the advertisement poster for this year’s festival

Why “circus of tomorrow”? It’s a festival for performers age 25 and under.

This was the 35th year of the festival, and I still find the entire experience exhilarating. The performers are the newest up-and-comers to the circus from around the world, from countries as far and wide as Venezuela, Brazil, and China. And these solo acts, duos, and troupes are incredible! Circus owners, directors, and agents are on the lookout to discover the next great circus acts, and the level of talent and fresh innovation is often astonishing. All different kinds of circus acts are represented, from tight wire to juggling to trapeze to speciality acts. And because the festival features relatively unknown performers exclusively, the original, imaginative acts that these performers come up with help to constantly reinvent and expand the contemporary circus. The festival truly does showcase the circus of tomorrow.

Aime Morales

Aime Morales in action
Photo by Photo CLaza

The Jury, comprised of past medal winners and circus directors, judges each act in three categories: technical virtuosity, artistic presentation, and audience contact. Prizes –gold, silver, and bronze medals– are awarded … plus several more jury prizes.

I want to share with you several of my favorite acts from the Paris Festival.

One of the gold medalists of the festival, and a spectacular performer, was Aime Morales from Venezuela and his Cyr Wheel act, named of course for Daniel Cyr who is a feature act of the Big Apple Circus this year. Aime is masterful in his use of the Cyr wheel, but his performance doesn’t rely only upon his circus skill. He brilliantly blurs the lines between circus artistry and theatrical performance, infusing his routine with playful clowning and artful mime work. Lovely. There are several clips of Aime available on YouTube, and I highly recommend watching them.

Aime Morales and his Cyr Wheel

Aime Morales and his Cyr Wheel
Photo by Ecole Supérieure des Arts du Cirque

Another wonderful performance was delivered by Avital and Jochen Pöschko. Avital and Jochen performed together on the swinging double trapeze at the Paris Festival, but Avital also frequently performs an aerial straps routine and Jöchen originally trained as a juggler. The Pöschkos were awarded a silver medal, and it was well deserved!

Avital and Jochen Photos from their website

Avital and Jochen
Photos from their website

And just for fun, here is a little photographic gem from the week. The four women pictured here all won Gold Medals at the Paris Festival in previous years on trapeze. From left to right, the lovely ladies are Aurelia Kats (France), Uuve Janssen (Sweden), Darya Vintilova (Ukraine), and Elena Panova (Russia-US). And the guy with the silly grin? Well, that’s me of course.

some wonderful trapeze artists (and yours truly)

some wonderful trapeze artists (and yours truly)

In my next blog post, I’ll talk to you about some other wonderful acts that I saw at the festival. See you soon!

Jan 142014
Barry Lubin's Wagon Wheel Plaque in the Circus Ring of Fame

Barry Lubin’s Wagon Wheel Plaque in the Circus Ring of Fame

On Sunday, January 19, I’ll have the honor of being inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame at St Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, Florida. Just as the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors Hollywood greats with a star-laden path, we in the circus world celebrate our very own Marilyn Monroes, James Deans, and Bette Midlers with a ring of bronze wagon wheel plaques. These plaques offer visitors a comprehensive “who’s who” of the circus world.  Everyone from trapeze artists to veterinarians to composers to ringmasters – anyone who’s made a valuable and lasting contribution to circus arts and circus history is honored there.  Needless to say, I am humbled and delighted to be included among such luminaries.

Two clowns (both fellow inductees of the Circus Ring of Fame) with whom I’ve had the immense pleasure to work alongside for many memorable years, will be there to introduce me: Barry “Grandma” Lubin and Bello Nock. “Grandma” the Clown was a staple of the Big Apple Circus for over 25 seasons, and he is still beloved and celebrated by audiences all over the world.


Grandma the Clown – Last BAC performance


Bello Nock

Bello Nock

Bello Nock, who’s performed with Big Apple Circus and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, among others, is another world-famous entertainer.

I am happy enough being able to count these two talented men among my friends, and the fact that they will be there to celebrate my induction is merely the delicious icing on an already-delicious cake.

Joining me as this year’s Ring of Fame inductees are: trapeze artist Pinito del Oro, circus owner/animal trainer Ian Garden Sr., and the Theron Family of high-energy bicyclists. I look forward to writing about this ceremony in next week’s blog post.

Oh, and, PS – Happy New Year!!!


Dec 172013

Daniel Cyr is a master acrobat and circus performer. He invented and popularized an apparatus called the “Cyr Wheel” after debuting it in 2003 at the “Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain” in Paris (for which he won the Silver Medal). The Cyr wheel is a single, large, metal hoop inside which the acrobat stands, in a manner resembling Da Vinci’s “Man.”

Daniel Cyr

Daniel Cyr

The wheel then does what wheels do – it rolls around the ring with the performer inside.


Today, the wheel is an act being done around the world by some 200 circus artists. It’s a big-time crowd-pleaser!

Daniel is also a master at the Free Ladder, which he performs with graceful precision in Big Apple Circus’ current show, Luminocity.

Daniel on the Free Ladder in BAC's "Luminocity" and Two Cirque Eloize performers in the Cyr Wheel

Daniel on the Free Ladder in BAC’s “Luminocity”
Two Cirque Eloize performers in the Cyr Wheel

I first met Daniel back in Montreal in 1993 when Cirque Eloize was new – a completely fresh and unique stage show. Daniel reminded me recently that I saw him perform his Free Ladder in that terrific performance.  Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of his work.

By the way, sharp-eyed circus aficionados will delight in seeing Daniel as the “spotter” in the Mongolian Angels aerial act – both standing underneath the trapeze and holding their safety line while they do amazing tricks high in the air. The Big Apple Circus Artistic Director, Guillaume Dufresnoy, has enormous confidence in this circus veteran to give him such a big responsibility.

You’ve got to catch Daniel doing his amazing stunts in Big Apple Circus’ Luminocity.  The show is at Lincoln Center through January 12 and tickets are still available.  Get ‘em (by clicking here) while they last!

On a side note, this will most likely be my last blog post of 2013. Reflecting back, it’s been quite an exciting year. I finally completed my memoir Never Quote The Weather to A Sea Lion and other uncommon tales from the founder of the Big Apple Circus. Promoting a book is no easy task, so I want to thank you all – my readers, friends, family, and colleagues – who’ve supported me in this endeavor. AND thanks to super actress Glenn Close, who wrote the Foreword. Here’s to many more great years, and here’s to a whole new memoir’s worth of great stories.

Warmest greetings of the most joyous season and happy new year!
Nov 272013

This week, many of us will be heading into the kitchen to prepare a meal for our families and friends. I myself am no great chef, but every year around Thanksgiving I’m reminded of the time I worked for one.  The following excerpt is from my book Never Quote The Weather to A Sea Lion… (available for purchase here).

In 1963, barely out of Dartmouth College, I’d been hired as floor manager for a little cooking show aired by Boston education channel WGBH. The show was called The French Chef, and the chef, of course, was Julia Child. Julia was an imposing figure. At six feet two inches, she was taller than I was, but it was her passion that wowed me. She loved the food that she’d discovered in Europe and wanted all of America to share her discovery.

On my first day I was naturally nervous but resolved not to let her see it. That was no easy task, as I was positioned twelve feet in front of her. During that first taping, I heard the voice of Russ Morash, our director, loudly through my headset: “Tell her she’s sweating, Paul.” I quickly thought about the various ways of putting this tricky, personal, potentially embarrassing matter to her; then I wrote one word on a large paper pad and held it up for her to see: PERS-PIR-A-TION. A moment later she casually mopped her brow with a dishcloth, and I thought to myself, Whew, I got that right.

As the show ended, I counted her down with my fingers: 5 …4 …3 …2 …out. She was laughing and happy. The show worked; the food looked great. She walked up to me, engulfed me in that large frame with a hug, and said with a laugh in her voice. “Paul, where I come from, they call it a sweat!”


 Folks, when you’re in the kitchen tomorrow, and you’re afraid the turkey’s too well done, or Grandma won’t be impressed with your take on her famous sweet potato casserole, my advice is: don’t sweat it! Just be grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones. And remember, if you find yourself acting a little stir-crazy, you could always gather up all your visiting relatives and bring them to the circus! Happy Thanksgiving!