Damn everything but the circus!

April 29, 2013
filed under: History, Rantings

E. E. Cummings

“Damn everything but the circus! …damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won’t get into the circle, that won’t enjoy. That won’t throw it’s heart into the tension, surprise, fear and delight of the circus, the round world, the full existence…”

― E.E. Cummings

*Source: Good Reads

Nik Wallenda

Mark your calendars for June 6, 2013! On this date, Nik Wallenda of the Flying Wallenda Family will attempt to cross the Grand Canyon on tightrope. This walk will cover approximately 1,500 feet across and is planned to take place “above a Little Colorado River chasm located on Navajo Nation territory in Arizona” (Herald Tribune). Most significantly, Nik plans to accomplish this feat unharnessed.

Nik successfully walked across Niagara Falls in June of 2012; however, USA Today required him to be harnessed, a fact that he vocalized discontent with.

If you’re wondering how you can tune in on June 6, head to the Discovery Chanel. “The cable channel Discovery won the bidding war to televise the stunt, and will show it live — and potentially in prime time — on June 23, if all goes according to plan” (New York Times).

Amanda Palmer as a Living Statue in BostonI often find myself puzzled over contemporary communities’ resistance to busking. In my humble opinion, street performance is one of the most surefire ways to harmlessly (and cheaply) enrich a local culture, and the authoritative hostility towards such art is a particularly disturbing form of oppression against human expression on supposedly public land. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that street performance is not deemed worthy of true artistry, but anyone who has ever attempted it can attest otherwise.

In a recent TED Talk, Amanda Palmer challenges audiences to reconsider the value that can be found in street performance, as she recalls her years as a living statue. In a groundbreaking lecture, Palmer recasts a new, enlightened context for understanding entertainment (both street and otherwise) in the modern, digital age. For anyone struggling to survive as an artist today, I highly suggest checking out this inspiring talk:

Calling all sideshow enthusiasts! As you may recall, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on Coney Island USA‘s historic site on October 29, 2012. The damages are severe, and regardless if you’re in the New York area or not, there are ways that you can be apart of the restoration efforts:

Coney Island USA Sandy Damage

  • Skilled volunteers needed in the NYC area! Familiarity with power tools preferred. Ability to follow instructions and make good decisions. Seven day a week opportunity to assist. Please contact Patrick wall at 814-441-0662 or email patrick(at)coneyisland.com.
  • Can’t make it to town? Help Coney Island USA replace a long list of items damaged in the storm. Click here to view the Official Amazon Wish List.
  • Don’t want to purchase a specific item? Any donation helps! Click here to make an official donation to Coney Island USA.

Coney Island USA’s founder and artistic Director, Dick Zigun remains optimistic in the wake of this disaster: “I give you my public pledge that we will reopen no later than Memorial Day 2013.”

Here’s your chance to make a difference and participate in the renovation of this historic landmark.

VIDEO: Elephants Under the Bridge

March 24, 2013
filed under: Contemporary

House of Nod Production has brought circus-lovers video gems, such as Coney Island Love Letter, and they’ve recently unveiled their latest, titled Elephants Under the Bridge. Shot just four days ago in Brooklyn, this piece features the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as they roll into town. Enjoy!

Elephants Under the Bridge from House of Nod on Vimeo.

A theatrical production of Much Ado About Nothing is being put on by a “bunch of scrappy, passionate, merry madcaps who love Shakespeare and classical theatre and, well, the circus” and they can use YOUR help. They are currently seeking a large tent, preferably striped, to house their quirky show, which will recreate an 1890s circus atmosphere on an island near Seattle:

Island Shakespeare Fest

Director Rose Woods take a moment to give HeyRube readers a little insight into the Island Shakespeare Festival:

“This is our fourth year. It’s outdoors and free and we pass the hat. Actors, musicians and performers come from everywhere. We are on Whidbey Island, which is north and west of Seattle. I am  trying to create a lively and beautiful company that demystifies Shakespeare and by making it free, everyone can come. I believe that art should be for everyone, not simply people who can afford it. The land where we perform is gorgeous and surrounded by trees in a natural amphitheatre. People bring their picnics and it’s incredibly festive. There are photos on our facebook page. It’s magical. This year we will be traveling a bit due to demand. (That’s a nice thing to be able to write)… Our first year we had about 800 people, last year we had 3000… so we’re growing. Oh! And we pay our artists, all of them, a stipend.”

The show is scheduled to go up in August – September, 2013. If you can help this motivated bunch acquire a tent to house their show, please email Rose directly at rhosyn.woods@gmail.com. In the mean time, check out the show’s Facebook Page and help spread the word.

While I don’t make a habit of endorsing products on this site, I’ve stumbled across a handful of items that would all make pretty damn precious Valentine’s Day gifts, so I thought I’d share with you, dear readers. In case you’re in a pinch for a last-minute present, check these out:

World's Greates Showmen DVD

☛ World’s Greatest Showmen DVD

If this isn’t a great excuse for a movie night, I don’t know what is:

From Wisconsin Public Broadcasting comes this DVD of archival photos and posters, historical film footage, dramaiztions of key characters, and re-enactments of major events. 77 minutes done in 2006 showing footage of Circus World Museum and Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey. See how Wisconsin came to be home to many of the era’s traveling Circuses.

☛ Mystery Box from Coney Island

Support Coney Island USA while getting a surprise assortment of swag:

What’s in the box? It’s a mystery! There’s only one way to Satisfy your curiosity! Buy it now! 

You’ll receive a wrapped gift box ranging in value from $35-$$$$ worth of merchandise for only $20!

Feejee Mermaid Tie

☛ Feejee Mermaid Tie

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Click here to view the commerce site.





*I also published a holiday gift guide that does not include purchasing goods, instead supporting non-profits. Click here to view that post.

Monster MidwayLast week, I briefly outlined the career of William Lindsay Gresham. (Click here to view the post.) I was inspired to dig into this man’s work after being given a vintage copy of his book, Monster Midway. (Thanks Dad!) Originally copyrighted in 1948, this vintage nonfiction is an rare peek into the carnival world of the 1930s and 40s. A glossary precedes the first chapter, and some of this old jargon was new to me, so I thought I’d share some of them with you. Enjoy!

Cake cutting: short changing.

Front-worker: a confederate who mingles with the crowd and plays a gambling game, walking off conspicuously with a large prize or a fistful of dough. Formerly called a shill or a capper. Nowadays, also called a stick, a term taken from gambling houses.

Grind store: a game in which “everybody plays and everybody wins,” paying out small prizes. If it costs you a dime to play and the prizes cost the operator a dime a dozen he stands to make a profit automatically.

Mitt camp: the fortunetelling concession at a carnival.

Still date: a carnival engagement in a town under the auspices of a fraternal or veterans’ organization which furnishes the lot and sometimes electricity in return for a percentage of the gate, usually 10 per cent.

Throwaway: when a game operator lets a member of the crowd win a large prize to stimulate business.

If you can get your hands on a copy of this book, I strongly recommend it HeyRube readers. A book review soon to come!

The allure of the sideshow provokes people in different ways. Some write books or songs, others set out to master sword swallowing or fire eating, but all are forever changed after their first encounter with the charm of the American freakshow.

Today, I’d like to feature a lesser known artist whose creative career was deeply marked by his love of the carnival: William Lindsay Gresham.

During his time as a volunteer medic during the Spanish Civil War, a young William Lindsay Gresham became fascinated with the American freakshow. His co-worker, who happened to be a former sideshow employee, had left the midway to become a sergeant medic, but that didn’t stop him from regaling Gresham with carnival tales during their bouts of solitude. These late night conversations reinforced Gresham’s childhood visits to Coney Island and he emerged from his round of duty with an unrelenting fascination with the freakshow.

Nightmare Alley PosterIn addition to being a folk singer in Greenwich Village, a pulp magazine editor and an alcoholic, Gresham went on to become an author, “particularly regarded among readers of noir” (Wiki). His preoccupation with the sideshow manifested itself into two books: the nonfiction Monster Midway and the fictional Nightmare Alley, which was turned into a film in 1947, and is now considered a classic:

Stanton Carlisle is an ambitious carnie who plays scams alongside phony mentalist Zeena and her alcoholic husband Pete, working the crowd as Zeena pretends to read their minds. But Stan has no intention of staying with the carnival; he has his heart set on an upscale night club act. (IMDB)

Stay tuned for the next post, where I reveal a fascinating excerpt from the Monster Midway, first copyrighted in 1947.

Book Review: The Night Circus

January 19, 2013
filed under: Books, Contemporary

The Night Circus

The Night Circus

I’ve just finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I consumed this nearly 400-page book in less than two weeks and I do believe that it was the first fantasy novel I’ve ever completed. Apparently I’m not the only one who devoured this book at a feverish pace; since it’s publication in September of 2011, it has already become a National Best Seller.

Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on this work with the HeyRube community.

But first, here’s a synopsis of the plot:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart. – GoodReads

The Night Circus certainly is a feast for the senses; the vivid imagery and palpable descriptions are constant throughout the book. It is as if Morgenstern wrote this book with the intention of adopting it to the screen, and I’m sure it is only a matter of time before that happens.

The content is also rather dark. Reoccurring themes include suicide and child abuse; however, these dismal elements are entwined in a compelling love story that seem to vindicate the macabre undertones.

My only critique of the book is that it falls prey to trite, simple language and sappy memes at moments. Perhaps this was intentional to attract a younger audience. Not overly intellectually intense, The Night Circus is an easily digestible, fun read.

It also, of course, circus-centric; critiques aside, my guess is that if you read this blog, you’re going to love this novel.