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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Oops, They Did It Again

Find a Ring Dept.: The Zoppe Family Circus returns to Proctors in Schenectady July 18-21; Cirque Éloize presents “Cirkopolis” there Aug 7-24. Here’s a look back at something I saw there thirteen years ago.


INSTEAD OF LIONS AND TIGERS we got a little white Jack Russell terrier. Such is the trade-off when a circus scales down from a ring to a stage. But the Big Apple Circus was shrewd to devise a stage show – it puts them in venues they otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit, and it’s a group that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.

Ringmaster Norman Barrett
Too bad they didn’t get the turnout they deserved.

Not that the three-night run lacked an audience. The night I was there, first of the three, a few hundred folks gathered in seats near the stage and had a wonderful time. I’m told attendance was similar the next two nights, too. But that’s far short of the 8,000 or so who could have attended, a number easily swept into the arena-sized entertainments that are so prefabricated that you might as well be watching it on video.

Marketing hype turns a paint-by-numbers singer into a money-making sensation and audiences pay through the same noses they’re led by. Such hype, unfortunately, isn’t affordable by the circus, which doesn’t afford the same quick-fix assault on the senses. Instead, you see incredibly talented human beings using their skills to juggle, balance, bicycle, clown and so much more.

The premise of “Oops!” is wonderful: An old-fashioned theatrical company is beginning a performance of Great Scenes from Shakespeare. Here’s Juliet, at Romeo’s bier, declaiming the  Bard’s passionate iambs . . . and a bicycle wheel rolls across the stage. Followed by the rest of the bicycle, which is being ridden in cockeyed unicycle fashion by wild-eyed Justin Case. It seems that the circus also has booked the house, and the evening becomes a tug-of-war between the companies.

But there are defectors. First stage manager Michael Trautman sheds his headset and dons a red nose, and begins to spit what will become an endless stream of ping pong balls throughout the night. Then Juliet (Annette Devick) goes acrobatic. Then, as Act One ends, the Theatre Director (Norman Barrett), changes into ringmaster togs – and presents a hilarious act of trained parakeets in Act Two.

Among these bits were wonderful performances by juggler Paul Ponce, who manipulated balls and clubs and then a dizzying array of sombreros, which became boomerangs in his hands. The Kosakov Troupe got more jump-ropes going than you would think possible, different speeds and sizes, and negotiated them all. And Justin Case and his falling-apart bicycle returned with new, forgive me, spins on the challenge of riding around that stage.

The show was shortened somewhat because of indisposed actors, but it was a perfect length for my young daughter, who was captivated almost until the end – when she wanted to stroll down the aisle and talk to the actors. She got her chance after the show, when the cast graciously gathered in the lobby to meet the audience. Wonderful people, and a memorable show.

The Big Apple Circus: Oops!
Directed by Tony Walton
Proctor’s Theatre, Mar. 14

Metroland Magazine, 23 March 2000

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