Friday, December 3, 2010

"My name is ____ and I'm a ninth generation circus performer"

I struggled with even how to title this post. I didn't it to be just about clowns or my long-held desire to be a clown. But I didn't know a circus-y phrase that would capture the spirit of what I'm about to tell you about.

People - listen to this: There is a miniseries on PBS (6-1hr episodes) called "Circus"  - which documents the life in one year of the Big Apple Circus.

If you are like me, that sentence alone should be enough to make you want to check your local PBS listings and figure out how to carve 6 hours in order to watch this really fascinating show.

Just in case it isn't... here's a more elaborate review after having watched 2 gripping hours of this journey.

The Big Apple Circus is a "traditional one-ring European-style circus." This series is the story of all the people it takes to make a circus - from the talent who are the most obvious members of the circus troupe (trapeze artists, equestrian, clowns, jugglers, etc) to the producers and directors to the "ring crew" the people who really make the magic happen as the circus moves from town to town. You learn about their history, their lives, their performances, and how it all comes together. And its magical.

I'm not kidding - MAGICAL and fascinating. I wondered if watching this documentary would sort of ruin it for me. You know, that if I saw the "man behind the curtain" I would no longer believe in the Wizard. But if anything, it actually makes me love the circus MORE by seeing how it all comes together. The series gives you a glimpse into how the "circus people" live: the ring crew and staff live in basically "walk-in closets" (bunks and shelves, with no internal bathrooms) - food is provided for them by the circus; the producers/directors/performers live in RV's. The children attend school in a one-room schoolhouse (which is also a trailer). And people have real lives throughout the year, as you watch (one gets arrested, another becomes ill, etc). It gives you a glimpse into how the acts come together, how new people are trained, and how the show itself is shaped.

You can buy the series on PBS, if you know someone who would like it. Since PBS is in jeopardy around the country, it would be worth it to do so. But you can also watch full episodes online (as well as some exclusive web clips).

I give "Circus" five big tops out of five - for compelling drama, exciting athletics, and entertaining people. Check it out.

First - respond in the comments about what performer you'd like to be in a circus (if any) - or what your favorite part about the circus is!

Next - check out this clip, which is about clowns (because I've always wanted to be a clown and go to children's wards and cheer up kids):

Watch the full episode. See more Circus.

Finally, you can go to this website for more clips and full episodes.


Erin said...

While I it's probably true that the Big Apple Circus doesn't do this, most circuses have a morbid history in their treatment of animals. For that reason alone, I'm pretty generally anti-circus and probably not going watch the show. However, I must say, I had no idea you wanted to be in one this badly!

Tiffani R said...

Hey Erin,

I totally understand your concerns about the history of circuses and animal cruelty. But I think that not watching a program about a circus that does not treat animals cruelly (or at least without knowing if they do) is like deciding to not date men because some of them are abusers.

The director of the BAC says early on that they only work with animals who have traditionally worked alongside humans - and to them this means dogs and horses. The people who care for and train the animals are filmed extensively and unless you disagree with animal training in general, I think you'd be pleased with these individuals and how they care for their pets. Because they certainly do consider their animals as their pets.

I certainly agree with you that there is a history of animal cruelty in all industries which use animals, and in the history of circus in particular. But the same way that it will not stop me from watching movies which use animals, it won't stop me from enjoying the circus - but instead will make me an informed consumer.

That all not withstanding, I have actually never wanted to be IN a circus myself. I just want to be a clown that ministers to kids. I am confident that I am not cut out for the nomadic circus life - nor the other elements that go along with it. Especially after seeing this miniseries. :)

Erin said...

Hey, Thanks for your comment back.

I am not opposed to animal training, we do it all the time at the zoo...I am opposed to the *methods* used to train the animals....punishment-based (which is what most, if not all circuses use) vs. reward-based training. There is a huge difference between the two methods. For those who haven't experienced positive reinforcement training, the difference can be very subtle.

Just because a circus sees its animals as pets, does not mean that they use proper training methods to train them. I'm certain many animal trainers love their animals...but their methods are still dis-agreeable to me.

I am OK over-generalizing when it comes to the circus industry. They have a proven track-record that is attrocious and inhumane. Even and especially the American circuses. I have seen first-hand with some of our ex-circus animals the damage that can be done. And, these animals were from some pretty "reputable" and well-known circuses. You can see why I am leery about them unless I know for certain their specific track record.

I'd have to know for certain that this particular circus does not use punishment-based methods before I would ever consider giving any of my time, money, or attention to them.

You make the point about my decision not to watch this likened unto not dating because some men are bad...I'd actually have to disagree. There are many men who are not bad, where *most* circuses are bad. It's apples and oranges. I'd actually have to say that it's more like saying most fast food joints are bad, so I am going to avoid them all except the ones I *know* are OK. Most ciruces are bad, so I am going to avoid them all unless I know about one specifically.

Nonetheless, until the industry as a whole makes some large-scale changes to their training methods, I will generally decline to give them any kind positive attention, just as until the fast-food industry as a whole improves, I will avoid them generally too. I think my time and money would be better spent elsewhere. Besides, it's still wisdom, even in dating, to not just date willy-nilly...I'd do the same thing even in that case!

Obviously, you are welcome to disagree.

Tiffani R said...

I think you make great points. But since we are talking about making informed decisions on a case by case (at least I think that you are saying that), I did some quick research.

Regarding the Big Apple Circus only:

And the BAC doesn't have any citations from PETA:

I'm not saying you should watch this miniseries, but it may free you up to do so should you change your mind.

I am also against animal cruelty - and as the adoptive parent of a dog who appears to have been abused (or somehow mistreated) in his previous home - recognize its outcomes every day. But I enjoyed this show because it appeared that they were treating the animals well. Of course, I'm happy to continue to disagree on this issue.