Friday, August 25, 2017

"LADY! Get your kid!"

Hi, everyone, Steve Copeland here. Well, the time is almost upon us; in just a couple of days Circus World’s 2017 summer season will be just a memory. It has been an incredible summer, with barely a moment for any of us to breathe, but it sure has been a lot of fun.
Here’s what’s been happening in our neck of the woods.

Last week was a particularly busy one. Pretty much every evening after work we had some kind of extra activity scheduled. It all started on Monday night when Johnny Trapino and his wife, Karen, invited us all to their home in Baraboo for a home cooked meal. Karen made lasagna, and it was delicious!
Johnny showed off his circus models that he builds, and we all had a good time hanging out somewhere other than the circus to talk about……the circus!

Photos by Johnny Trapino

On Tuesday evening the Gollmar-Moeller-Ringling Circus Fans of America tent had a picnic for all of us to thank us for a successful summer season. The GMR tent holds a banquet for us at the opening of the season, and then they always have a picnic as well at the closing of the season. 
While we were eating we went around the group and told everyone what our post Circus World plans are. Several of us are heading to the Circus Spectacular at the Big E in Springfield, MA, including Jenny Vidbel and her horses. When it came time for us to announce our plans, Ryan said he was also going to the Big E to clean up after Jenny’s horses. I said that I would be getting a job as a Walmart greeter, and Nico claimed he is going on welfare. 
Pamela and I ate plenty of food at the picnic, but then we went and saw the horror movie, Annabelle: Creation, and afterwards I wasn’t full anymore since it scared the you know what out of me.

On Wednesday night we had another show at the Ho-Chunk Casino, but afterwards I opted out of the buffet for two reasons: 1) Last week it made me sick and B) I wanted to get a little rest in before we resumed our crazy week.
(A quick flash forward to this past Wednesday) Just two nights ago we had our final performance at the Ho-Chunk Casino, and it was very memorable. The sound system was not at our stage, so Robert had to yell the whole time, Ryan and Jacob did a juggling duet, and at the conclusion of the show Ryan dropped the Ho-Chunk photo wall on top of me.
Pamela and I were going to join the gang for one more free casino buffet, but all the cigarette smoke in the air in the casino made me physically ill, and so we begged off and gave our buffet coupons to a couple of our friends who had joined us.

On Thursday night we had a buyout performance for the Agrace Hospice at 7:30 p.m. Immediately following the water gag a lady from Agrace came out and gave a speech, and then Scott and Dave hosted an auction to raise money for the hospice.
After the auction Ryan and I personally thanked Scott and Dave for putting our water gag before the special presentation, because the speech from the woman at Agrace was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard in my life. Typically in our show business experiences, Ryan and I have usually been slated after such somber affairs, like when we were on Kelly Miller and had to follow a presentation honoring those killed on September 11th. I tell you, nothing makes audiences want to laugh at the antics of two stupid clowns more than remembering a national tragedy……
Thursday was a long night, because the speech and auction added about an extra hour to the already long big top show.

We had Friday evening free, but our social calendar was once again filled on Saturday evening, when Jonathon and Susan Lipp, who are on the Circus World board of directors, had us over to their beautiful lake house in Merrimac, WI.
After touring their huge mansion with an indoor swimming pool and beautiful view of the lake, I tried to comfort my co-workers by saying, “Yeah, but their house doesn’t have wheels on it like ours do!”
Susan made a delicious meal for us all, and Pamela and I had a lot of fun swimming in their indoor pool with Jacob and the Ramos children. 
Unfortunately both of my ears got clogged from the pool water, and so for a few days I suffered from muffled hearing and the constant sensation that I needed to pop my ears.

After about three days I could take no more, so I scheduled a doctor’s appointment with a clinic in the Dells. Luckily I booked the appointment early enough, and my visit was in and out, so I didn’t even have to miss the morning makeup show at Circus World.
The doctor used a device to flush out the excess wax I had built up in my ear canals, and the relief was instantaneous. Best of all, they cleaned out enough wax to make a new candle for our trailer!
Ryan was disappointed to hear that they didn’t stick an air compressor up my nether regions and blow the wax out that way.

This past Monday there was a solar eclipse that happened during Nothing But Nonsense, and sure enough, it made everyone act crazy. Beforehand at the big top show there was a little girl that ran up to me after the performance, took one of the light swords I was hawking, and ran away with it.
Her exasperated looking mother came up to me and said, “I’ll get you the money for that.”
A few minutes later the girl ran up and took another sword and ran away without even looking at me. I was busy with other customers, so Tatiana went over and collected the money and returned one of the swords to me. A few minutes later the girl came back with her sword, dropped it off, and took one of the smaller lights.
I made sure to give the mother her extra change as she was walking by, but when I tried to explain why I was giving her more money, I just seemed to confuse her more.

As Ryan and I were setting the props for Nothing But Nothing, the little girl ran into the ring and began dancing. I calmly told her, “Sweetheart, you can’t be in here, because there are dangerous props that can hurt you.”
She yelled back, “I want to dance!”, and continued dancing.
I persisted, “That’s great, but you can’t be in here.”
She promptly ignored me and continued dancing. Finally Ryan coaxed her into the seats and found a place for her to sit for the show. Just about then her mother came into the Hippodrome and tried to walk into the ring. I explained to her that we had dangerous equipment set up, and she needed to stay out. Just then her daughter ran out of the building into the park. The woman called after the girl, who ignored her, and so she slowly followed after her.

Backstage I remarked to Ryan that we needed to keep an eye out for the girl since I was sure she would return to the scene of the crime. Sure enough, when I was setting more props, I spotted the girl running around behind our Spike Jones carts.
I called out, “No! You need to get away from those.”
Her mother laughed apologetically and said, “She’s out of control.”
I tersely replied, “Well, you need to do something about it. She could get hurt in there.”
The mother then half heartedly tried to coax the girl out of the ring, but the girl saw it as a game and kept running away. I went into the ring, placed my hand on her shoulder, and led her to her mother. Both of them left and I hoped the situation was finished.

Cut to the show. Ryan and I had just finished the opening number, and we were talking with the audience when all of a sudden who should run in but our tiny dancer friend. Her mother stood ineffectively at the edge of the ring and tried to call her over.
I pointed at the Steve & Ryan sign over the curtain and asked the girl, “Do you see your name on that sign?” as she ran around the ring picking up rubber chickens and bowling balls to throw at Ryan.
Just then the girl’s mother came into the ring and started chasing the child around.
Ryan and I just watched, and then I commented, “This reminds me of a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Ryan mused, “Maybe she’ll turn into a blueberry.”
Just then the mom caught the little girl, and carried the screaming tot out of the ring to the audience’s applause. All I could do was throw my hands up like someone had just scored a field goal and yell, “Parenting!”

Later in the show there was a family that came in during the Crying Song. Even with my muffled hearing I could tell that they were making way too much noise. They were talking loudly and taking their sweet time to get settled. Most of the song they were standing up with their backs to us while they tried to get their children situated.
After spending the four minutes of the song being as much of a distraction as possible, they then got up and started walking up the stairs and then across an aisle during the next scene. I just stopped and watched them lackadaisically trying to find the perfect seats before interjecting, “You guys still haven’t found your seats? Moses and the Egyptians spent less time wandering around than you guys!”

It was a particularly wacky show, but the audience was with us the whole time, and they ate up all of the interruptions and ad libs. This whole past week has been full of impromptu fun; I’m really going to miss doing this version of Nothing But Nonsense when the summer is over.

The one bit of sad news from this past weekend was the passing of Jerry Lewis. Jerry is probably Ryan’s biggest comedic influence, so Ryan took the announcement especially hard. Both of us came off the Nothing But Nonsense show on Sunday to see the news on our phones, and I was only grateful that we hadn’t heard beforehand, because I know it would have been difficult for Ryan to get through the show.
For the past few days Pamela and I have been watching documentaries on Jerry, as well as some of his films to remember and honor his tremendous talent.
I tell you all this in an attempt to live my life by the words of John Mulaney and Nick Kroll in their hilarious Broadway show, “Oh, Hello”. They said, “When a celebrity dies, blame the year and make it about yourself!”

I think that is about it for now. I’ll see you all next week when our summer season is finished and I have my first chance to sleep in since May! 


Friday, August 18, 2017

I'm Seeing Double!

Hey everyone, Steve Copeland here. We are down to the wire here in Baraboo; only a little over a week left to go before the end of the summer season. I’m sorry I didn’t post last week, but we have had a lot going on after work, and on top of that, I was coming down with a cold and spent all my free time resting. Here are some of the highlights from the past few weeks:

First a lowlight…..I’ll get the bad news out of the way so there is nowhere to go but up. Last Friday I went to the Hippodrome building in the morning and noticed that all the lights were on. I then noticed that our dressing room door was open. Finally, I noticed that the lid of our tip jar was off, and the cash inside was gone. Uh oh.
Upon further investigation, we discovered that a box of batteries had been stolen as well. Ryan’s microphone and belt pack had been taken out of its case and was laid out meticulously, and the frequency had been messed with. Thank goodness it was still there. Our microphones, our musical instruments, nor our sound effects machine had been taken.
Over at the big top it was discovered that all the candy in the concessions tent, a leaf blower, and the computer that the lights are run off of had all been stolen as well. Fortunately, there was a clue left behind. The dirty so and so who stole everything left his phone at the scene of the crime.
The police now have the phone, so hopefully after a little good cop/bad cop, the phone will start to talk. Here's hoping some justice will be served up, although I’m sure we won’t get our money back.

One day during a morning show someone discovered a snake under the bleachers of the big top. Oliver Ramos, owner of the tent, went to investigate and see if it was poisonous or not while a few of us, me and Ryan included, tagged along to satisfy our morbid curiosity. It turned out to be a harmless garden snake, but Oliver wanted to get it safely away from the tent before it freaked out a customer or worse, an animal. 
Oliver borrowed an empty cardboard box from us to try and trap the snake, but it proved too quick and elusive. Ryan and i were watching from a safe distance, but at one point the snake started slithering towards us, and Ryan and I about leaped onto the top of the tent trying to get away.
Finally Oliver captured the snake and held it by the head so it wouldn’t bite him. He was carrying it to the woods just as Adilson was finishing up his chair act. Since Oliver runs the lighting cues from his computer, he had to make a detour into the tent to change the lights for the next act. 
It was hilarious to see Oliver standing in front of his computer while a snake’s body was limply hanging down from his hand. The audience couldn’t see it, but it was a great visual. For all those concerned for the snake’s well being, he was safely released into the woods, and he's really turned his life around. He now runs his own real estate business.

Every Wednesday in August some of us performers from Circus World go to the Ho-Chunk Casino for Circus Nights, where we perform a 20 minute show for the casino patrons. A casino is a strange place to give a circus performance (unless you are Cirque Du Soliel), especially a performance that the gamblers are not expecting to see. We set up on a little stage by the bar where we have about six people watching the show, a dozen or so walking by and shooting us curious or wary glances, and then the vast majority of the barflies looking up from their drinks occasionally to stare at us with indifference. 
Luckily the casino and (for the most part) the customers have been kind and welcoming, and fortunately for me and Ryan, we don’t have to perform as clowns. (Our market research has shown us that the last thing a seasoned gambler wants to see is a circus clown.) Instead we wear our Nothing But Nonsense wardrobe and perform as comics. 
Dave runs our sound and coordinates these shows, Robert hosts them, Ryan and I try and amuse ourselves and occasionally the audience with our shenanigans, Jacob juggles, and Wesley performs on the unicycle. 
The first performance we gave was pretty rough. The biggest impact we had on the audience happened when one guy after hearing Jacob D'Eustachio announced, turned to his drinking buddy and said, "Hey, that guy's name is Pistachio." Yep, that was about the extent of the reactions we got for that first show.....
Luckily the casino shows have gotten progressively better. We just try and have fun, and we hope the gamblers and drinkers do too.

Right after the Ringling Homecoming, Pamela went to Alabama and the Kure Beach in North Carolina for a couple of weeks to see her family. I was so happy she got to spend quality time with her son, but I sure missed her like crazy. 
I’ve realized that I have become completely dependent on my wife, so when she left I lived like a feral animal, hunting down squirrels and eating them raw, burrowing into the growing piles of filth in the trailer at night to go to sleep, letting my waste fall wherever it would……it was not a pretty picture.
But Pamela just got back to Baraboo last weekend, and so the last of the squirrel carcasses has been thrown out, and she is making delicious home cooked meals for me once again. Life is good!

During the first week of August Ryan and I participated in the Give Back concert, which is a fundraising performance that benefits the Al Ringling Theater. This year’s show was organized by Emily, the daughter of our friends, Greg and Karen DeSanto.
At the beginning of the summer Emily asked us to be in the show, and after throwing around ideas, we thought it would be hilarious to parody the clown act Greg and Karen were going to do by coming out right after them, completely dressed like them, and then try and do the same act they did, only to screw it all up.
One night Ryan and I went over to the Casa De DeSanto to see their act and then we improvised our version. Once that was out of the way, we had a lot of fun talking late into the night.

Our original idea was to have Greg and Karen do their act, and then the M.C. would announce, “And now, with a completely original clown act, here are Steve & Ryan”; we would then come out dressed like Greg and Karen, and begin the same act.
Emily asked that instead, as her mom and dad left the stage, Ryan and I would immediately come on from the other side. It worked great and got a huge reaction from the audience.

Luckily Greg and Karen had duplicate wigs and wardrobe for us to wear, and we looked pretty damn funny dressed as the Mini DeSantos. 

Even funnier (or scarier) was seeing us during the dress rehearsal the day before when we didn’t wear make up.

The act that Greg and Karen performed went like this: Greg and Karen entered, and Karen began playing the ukulele. Greg proceeded to eat a banana, and when he finished, Karen would end her song. As Greg would start to leave, Karen would begin playing again, and Greg would have to eat another banana. This happened several times, each time getting funnier as Greg was obviously more and more reluctant to eat another banana.

In our version, I “”””””played””””” the ukulele (the word played surrounded by many quotation marks since I in fact cannot play the ukulele at all), while Ryan began to eat a banana. Halfway through eating it Ryan dropped it on the floor, but I kept “””””””playing””””””, so he had to finish it.
As Ryan began to leave I started to “”””””””””””””play”””””””””” again, and when Ryan came up short on having any more bananas, I produced a raw potato for him to eat instead. For the final part of the act I produced a pineapple for Ryan to eat. 

You don't wanna know where I had that stashed.

Before he could attempt to eat the tropical fruit, Greg and Karen came on stage and confronted us. We acted terrified, but Greg and Karen began to laugh about the absurdity of the situation. We started to laugh too, relieved that the tension was broken.

Karen then peeled two bananas and gave them to me. She then proceeded to knock them into my face, smear them around, and then kick me in the butt, sending me to the floor.
Greg then took the ukulele and smashed it over Ryan’s head, completely obliterating it. (Let me tell you, I’ve never been happier to have bananas smeared in my face).

It was so much fun to get to spend some quality time hanging out with our friends, and it was an honor to share the stage with two of our clowning heroes. I told them that when I was a kid watching them both on Ringling, I never would have thought I’d get to share the stage with them….as them! It was a wonderful and fun opportunity, and I am grateful to Emily for asking us to be a part of the show, and to Greg and Karen for being cool with us parodying their act. 

Well, I think that is enough for this week’s blog. Tune in next week for more!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ringling Homecoming Part II

Hello everyone, everyone's favorite Ringling clown nerd, Steve Copeland, here. A lot of people enjoyed my post from last week about the first half of the Ringling Homecoming in Baraboo, so I hope you enjoy this post as much as I will enjoy reliving the wonderful time we had. Onward! 

Saturday was the 5th Annual Baraboo Big Top Circus Parade. This year the parade was held at 11:00 a.m., so Ryan and I didn’t have any shows in the morning. We got ready and then just had to meet the rest of the Circus World cast at the wagon we were all going to ride on a half hour before the parade.
It was a bit of a pain finding parking downtown, but I finally found a spot not too far from the town square. I made a bee line for the International Clown Hall of Fame since I knew all the clowns would be drawn there like red nosed moths to a flame. 
I didn’t make it into the building, but there were plenty of clowns milling around, meeting and greeting with the public. I ran around and snapped selfies with as many former Ringling clowns as I could. I was in Ringling Clown Geek Heaven!

Lara Heidtman Smith. Lara went to Clown College in 1987, toured with both the Red and Blue Units, and guest clowned on the Gold Unit.

Sean Carlock. He and I were First of Mays together in 2003; him on Red, and me on Blue.
James "Crickett" McGrath. He and I toured together on the Blue Unit in 2006 and 2007.

Yosh Schulman and his son. Yosh went to Clown College in 1992, and toured with the Red Unit.

Sam Drummond and Jim Streit. Sam is my mentor, and he and Jim have been best friends since Clown College in 1980.

Neal Skoy, and his girlfriend, Courtney. Neal and I performed together on the Blue Unit in 2006 and 2007.

Kenny Columbo and his wife, Lynn. Kenny went to Clown College in 1975, and toured with the Blue Unit.

Charles Birkholm. Charles went to Clown College in 1975 and was on the Blue Unit in 1976.

Andrew Hicks, Wendy Burch (Clown College 1986), and Gregory Parks. Greg and I worked together on the Blue Unit in 2003 and 2004, and Andrew was one of the clowns in the final performance of the Greatest Show on Earth.

Brian Searle. Brian went to Clown College in 1992 and toured with the Blue Unit.

Mike "Hillbilly" Weakley. Hillbilly went to Clown College in 1988 and toured with the Blue and Red Units. He was a major inspiration for my makeup.

Christy McDonald Atkinson. Christy went to Clown College in 1989, toured with the Red and Blue Units, and also was Advance Clown for the Gold Unit.

Ron "Toto" Johnson and Sandy Weber. Sandy is on the Hall of Fame of the International Clown Hall of Fame, and Toto, one of my mentors, went to Clown College in 1985 and toured with the Red Unit.

Kevin Carr. Kevin went to Clown College in 1989 and toured with both the Red and Blue Units.

You guys nerded out yet?

Eventually I could wait no longer because I was stressed I would either not be able to find the wagon I was going to be riding on, or it would take off without me. I rushed over to find my carriage, but my fears were unfounded. I found the wagon quite easily, and it didn’t start moving until almost twenty minutes into the parade.
The entire Circus World cast was riding on top of the wagon, which was being pulled by a team of horses driven by a man who has been in every circus parade since 1965, back when it was the momentous Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, WI. 

I heard later that over 30,000 people came out to watch the parade this year, and indeed, the sidewalks were packed! It was much nicer than last year’s parade, mainly because there was no rain! It was cloudy and there was a nice breeze; perfect wagon riding weather!

Ryan and I were delighted to see many of our fans in the crowd along the parade route. One little girl even held up a sign that read “Steve & Ryan”. I joked to Ryan that on the other side it said “Go Home!”

At the end of the parade we had to split so we could make it back to the park for our 1:00 p.m. big top show. Unfortunately we missed out on the Ringling family photo that was taken at the parade’s conclusion. 

Circus World was packed after the parade, so we had two full tents for our 1:00 and 3:30 p.m. circus shows. Even when the park was closed at 5:00 p.m., several of us were still not done for the day. We had to hightail it over to the Al Ringling Theater to get ready for the Sawdust, Spangles, and Dreams show.
The show was staged as a fundraiser for Circus World, the Clown Hall of Fame, the Al Ringling Theater, and circus priest Father Jerry’s circus retirement project in Florida. The performance was directed by Steve Smith, who has been a hero of mine since childhood. Among his many accomplishments, Steve was the dean of Ringling Bros. Clown College for ten years, and he has been an inspiration to countless clowns. 

Adilson, Gilda, Candice, Jenny, Ryan, Nico, and I were the Circus World performers taking place in the show. Also on the roster was the clowning of Greg and Karen DeSanto as well as Mr. Bill and Michelle Machtel, the amazing quick change act of the Smirnov Duo, the jaw dropping juggling of Christopher Stoinev, and much more!
Dinny McGuire, long time RIngling and Big Apple ringmaster, acted as the host of the show, and we started the whole thing off with a clown car! Probably my most cherished memory of the evening was waiting in the wings with the other clowns participating in the clown car and joking around with Ryan, Kenny Mikey, Kevin Carr, and “Hillbilly”. It was like being back in Clown Alley!

For our actual spot in the show Ryan and I performed our carpenter gag. The gag went well for us, but our sound cues were all over the place. I expected as much since we had one rehearsal with the sound guy on Tuesday, and we had no time to review everything before we did the show on Saturday night. Also, we were disappointed that we brought our Instant Reply from Circus World, and we had Robert volunteer his time to come play sound effects for us, only to have the machine not work.
During the course of the show there was a power surge in the orchestra pit where Robert was set up, and it re-set the machine. The sound issues were a bummer for us, but unless you know the act, I don’t think anyone would notice. The sold out crowd was fantastic and extremely supportive. It was such an honor to tarnish the stage of the Al RIngling, where many greats have performed before us.

Photos by Mary-Jane Foote

Nico even got his stage debut doing the pants chase with our friend, “Toto” Johnson.

When we weren’t on stage, Ryan and I had plenty of time to unwind in our downstairs dressing room.

We’ve arrived, baby!

We visited with our across the hall neighbors, the DeSantos, and Radar stopped by to visit with us for the majority of the show. He was even awesome enough to duck out to the Baraboo Burger Company to pick up some appetizers for us starving clowns. 

The finale of the show was a salute to the Ringling showgirls, and it ended with the whole cast rushing the stage and shooting off confetti cannons. Ryan also took a flying leap into the orchestra pit (at the request of Steve Smith), only to reappear with a huge piano teeth grin. 

After the show the cast all lined up to say goodbye to the audience. Ryan and I got lots of compliments on our finale wardrobe, which we had made for Vazquez. The Vazquez brothers didn’t want us out of our agent suits in their show though, so this was only the second time we wore the costumes. 

Thank you to Roy Wells for this picture of me and his daughter

Sunday was the final day of the Ringling Homecoming. Ryan and I had another fantastic Nothing But Nonsense show, with a good portion of the audience being Ringling alumni. We threw in a few inside jokes for them, but again we were overwhelmed from the reaction we got for the show. 

Right after Nothing But Nonsense there was a farewell picnic next to the Hippodrome building. Ryan and I spent so long talking to people after our show that by the time I made it over to partake in the spread, all the food was gone!
Just then participants for the hot dog eating contest were being recruited, so I entered at the last minute so I could at least get something to eat.

We contestants were given 10 hotdogs each, and a time limit of 5 minutes to eat them. I requested mustard to go with my hotdogs, partly so I could get some laughs from the crowd. In the big top show I do a whole bit in our water gag about how I love mustard, so I wanted to play off of that, only with real mustard.
I really wasn’t in the contest to win; simply to get something to eat and make some people laugh. As the five minutes dwindled down, I realized I had a real shot at winning. Naturally that didn’t stop me from sticking my head under the mustard dispenser at one point.

At the conclusion of the five minutes, I was tied with my friend, Ron “Toto” Johnson; both of us had quickly downed five hot dogs. It was decided that we would go into sudden death to see who could finish one more hot dog first and emerge victorious.

I’m not going to lie, there were a few times while choking down that last hot dog that I almost lost my lunch. 
I just kept my eye on the prize (of which there actually wasn’t one), and in the end it was incredibly close. Both “Toto” and I were working on our last bite of hot dog, and I knew that he was about to beat me. I quickly made the decision to try and swallow what was in my mouth, and I figured if it was too much to down and I started to choke, there were enough people around that could give me the Heimlich. 

I swallowed, and emerged a champion! 

My next concern was that I had a big top show to do with a stomach full to the brim with hotdogs. Luckily I had about thirty minutes to digest before I had to do anything too physical. Ryan assured me he was going to punch me in my gut and do everything in his power to get me to puke during the water gag. What a guy!
Fortunately I did not add another mess to our already messy gag, although my stomach did do a somersault when I threw myself to the floor to avoid Ryan swinging a mop at me. (How many other people can say that about their working relationship?)

After work several of us got together at Greg and Karen DeSanto's house for a laid back final farewell. Ryan and I had so much fun getting in a quality visit with our friends. It was tough working during the Homecoming because our conversations with people had to be so brief since our time was limited and there were so many people to see.
Pamela thoroughly enjoyed the evening as well, because she got to visit with some of her female clown heroes and tell them how much it meant getting to know them during the weekend.

In the end, the Ringling Homecoming was a huge success. A million thank yous to everyone who made it happen. It's a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

Since the Homecoming, things have been pretty calm around Circus World. I've welcomed the break, as it has allowed us time to rest....but only a bit. This seems to be the summer of a million things going on, but most of them have been a lot of fun.

I've got some fun stuff to share in the next blog, especially about a show that Ryan and I are performing in tomorrow evening. It is going to be a hoot!
See you all next week! 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ringling Homecoming Part I

Hello, everyone! It’s your favorite Libra, Steve Copeland, basking in the warm afterglow of the Ringling Homecoming.
All I can say is, “Wow!” What an amazing, exciting, and exhausting week we’ve had. I want to start out by thanking Scott O’Donnell, Dave SaLoutos, Greg and Karen DeSanto, and everyone else involved in making the Ringling Homecoming a reality. 
In January, when it was announced that Ringling was closing down after 146 years, Scott had the idea to tie in a reunion for anyone that ever worked for The Greatest Show on Earth with the annual Big Top Circus Parade in Baraboo.
I know it was a lot of thankless work pulling it off, but man was it awesome! Ryan and I had so much fun seeing friends, meeting new people, and getting to strut our stuff in front of our peers and childhood heroes. 

The fun and excitement happened early in the week when Circus World received a gift from Feld Entertainment: two Ringling Bros. train cars, and a few wagons to boot!

One train car was used for Gunther Gebel Williams’ elephants on the Red Unit back in the day, but it had been re-purposed for horses on the Blue Unit. 

The other car, car 189, was where the Blue Unit clowns lived from 2006 until the show closed this year. 

I was on the show when the new 189 came on the road; it was during Winter Quarters for the 136th Edition, titled Circus of Dreams, or Circus of Broken Dreams, as we liked to call it. (Remember? The one where they took the rings away and added a big TV screen.)

I, along with the other clowns living on the old 189 car (which was brought on the road in 1995, after the tragic train derailment), were moved to bigger rooms, and all the First of May (new) clowns were moved onto the car Circus World now has.
The reason for the switchover was because the old 189 car had a kitchen, and that was needed for one of the two Chinese troupes that was brought in for Circus of Dreams. 
Even though I never actually lived on this car, walking down the hall ten years after leaving the show brought back lots of memories of visiting my friends during train runs. 

The train cars had a pretty rough ride to Baraboo. Since there were no passengers, they were treated strictly as freight cars and brought here as quickly and roughly as possible. I helped Scott gain access to some of the rooms where microwaves, light fixtures, cabinets, and cushions had created an obstacle to keep doors from being fully opened. 
There was a lot of broken glass and other debris to be cleaned up, especially in Room 1, where that occupant had left food in the fridge on their last day back in May. The bumpy ride had caused the fridge to come open, and the contents had spilled all over the floor and stunk up the car. Thanks a lot, Room 1!

The Ringling Homecoming festivities began a day early for me and Pamela, because on Wednesday night we went over to Greg and Karen DeSanto’s house to visit with the Smith family, who drove all the way from Idaho to attend the reunion.
Mike and Lara (Heidtman) Smith met on Ringling where they were working as clowns, and they now have four daughters who love the circus and performing. Pamela and I had a great time visiting with them and laughing a lot!
As any of you who know me are aware of, I am an insufferable know it all when it comes to Ringling clowns. To Lara’s great delight, at one point in the evening she had to prompt me on the last name of a clown that worked for the show.

I didn’t hear the end of that one for the rest of the weekend!

Later on in the evening, it came out that for the majority of the evening, the Smith’s youngest daughter thought I was Ryan.

On Thursday Ringling employees began to arrive, and in the evening there was a concert on the town square featuring a band playing live circus music! Pamela and I listened for a bit, but I was more interested in checking out the Ringling flea market where the International Clown Hall of Fame, Tim Tegge, Ralph Pierce, and others had set up shop and were selling pretty much every piece of Ringling or circus memorabilia you could think of! Luckily for my bank account, I didn’t see anything that really caught my eye. 
One of the best parts of being downtown was that every time I turned around I saw someone else I knew. It was so great to be able to see so many friends; there just wasn’t enough time to catch up with all of them!

Friday was the first full day of the Homecoming, and so the town of Baraboo was swamped with Ringling people. 
Ryan and I had a fantastic Nothing But Nonsense show. During the break in the opening number, the cheers and applause we got from the audience were so loud and enthusiastic that it caught me off guard and my eyes started tearing up. There were a couple more times during the remainder of the opening that I got choked up, but luckily there was a moment where I could go backstage to grab a drink of water and get myself under control. 
I don’t think Ryan apprecaited that I chose to take that breather during our big finale duet, though…..

Friday evening we did a special big top show at 7:00 p.m. just for our Ringling guests. Wow. What a show. 
I’ve never performed for such an enthusiastic and supportive audience. Everything we did was greeted with a huge reaction, and Ryan and I were humbled to get a standing ovation at the end of our act.

Ok, so most of the acts got standing ovations as well, but I won’t let that diminish the honor! 

I just stood there in disbelief and took it all in. I didn’t want it to end, and I soaked up every second so I can relive the moment for the rest of my life. We will truly look back on that night as a highlight of our careers: the time we were able to give back to all the clowns and performers that were superstars to us when we would go to the circus and dream of one day being a part of The Greatest Show on Earth.

At the conclusion of the show there was a dinner over at the Hippodrome building where everyone could mingle, and us Circus World performers could celebrate our wonderful night. It was great to get some more face time with our friends since during the day we were kept so busy with all our shows. 

At one point Greg and Karen DeSanto called up Brian Searle, a former Ringling clown and current grizzly mountain man, and raised money to shave his beard. They raised quite a chunk of change for the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center.

As things were winding down, Robert put the perfect punctuation mark on the ceremony by dropping the bowling balls from Nothing But Nonsense on everyone gathered below. 
It was the equivalent of the lights getting turned on at a bar when it is closing time, only more hilarious.

I hope you enjoyed the stories and pictures from the first couple of days of the Ringling Homecoming. Stay tuned next week for the rest of the fun and festivities! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Grinches Who Tried To Steal Christmas In July

Merry Christmas in July from Steve & Ryan! Nutty ol’ fruitcake Steve Copeland here to tell you all about that wonderful holiday that Circus World celebrated this past weekend: Christmas in July….it ranks up there with Kwanza in April and 4th of July in June.
Dave SaLoutos, everyone’s favorite jolly ol’ elf, decorated the entrance to the Feld building with Christmas trees, stockings, and wreaths to get our guests into the Christmas in July spirit. 

Our customers could also enter to win the world’s largest Christmas stocking, which was stuffed full of goodies.

In our big top show we had a special celebrity guest for Christmas in July: Santa Claus….in July! He made a couple of appearances throughout the circus performance, and joined us after finale to say goodbye to all the good boys and girls. Not the bad ones though, Ryan and I threw coal at them.

I wanted to share a funny story with all of you about last year’s Christmas in July celebration. Ryan and I did a gag in the big top show that involved me falling out of a metal folding chair over and over.

I can hear you laughing already. 

Anyway, I went through about ten chairs in the course of the summer, because after a week or two of abuse, the chair’s legs would start to bend, or the chair would completely break…sometimes in the middle of the gag!
We had a chair graveyard outside our dressing wagon, and by the end of the summer the grass was starting to grow over the twisted aluminum corpses. If one of the chairs was just a little slanted but still had a few good sits in it, I would put it outside the dressing wagon so we could enjoy the beautiful weather as we waited for our next cue.
Anyway, last year during Christmas in July, Santa Claus needed to take a load off while waiting backstage. He spotted one of the chair gag rejects (no, not me and Ryan, I mean one of the chairs), and he hunkered down to relax.
Ryan and I thought nothing of it, and we were standing off to the side talking. All of a sudden we heard a loud crash and looked over to see that the chair had completely collapsed underneath Santa. All we saw was his jolly boots sticking straight up in the air!
Luckily Santa was shaken, but not injured, but you can bet your mistletoe that’s an image we’ll never forget! Coincidentally, Ryan and I didn’t get anything for Christmas last year. (Santa also brought his own chair to sit in this year)

Unfortunately not everyone got into the Christmas in July spirit this year, and a couple of Scrooges came and tried to “Bah Humbug” all over everything. During the morning big top show on Sunday, I heard an unusual amount of cheering during the elephant act. Later I found out that two women, who had jumped a fence to sneak into the park, stood up as soon as the elephants came into the ring, and they started shouting and holding up signs protesting animals in the circus.
Oliver Ramos, who owns the big top, quickly leapt into action and escorted the unruly trespassers out, amid raucous cheers from everyone else in the tent.

They were gone before the police could be notified, but then in a Christmas in July miracle, the two dinks then tagged Circus World in a post on FB about how they “disrupted family fun” at the show. Both of their names were clearly on display in the post, and if you looked at their Facebook profiles, they had multiple posts bragging about different places around the state where they had similarly made a scene. 

Scott promptly sent that convenient info on over to the police so they could handle the two grinches. 

Besides the Christmas in July excitement, things have been pretty uneventful around here lately. On Tuesday we had an excellent performance of Nothing But Nonsense. There was a family in attendance that was laughing uproariously at everything we did, and they really got the rest of the crowd going. They had been at the big top show too, and the oldest woman in the family gave a hearty laugh when I did my flip up wig bit in the pants chase. I told everyone that she was my mom, which got an even bigger laugh from the rest of the audience. Ryan and I carried that bit over to our show, and we milked it for all it was worth. Our “mom” loved every minute of it.

Nico gave me a couple of good laughs in the second big top show that day. When Ryan and I came into the dressing room at one point, we found Nico in the pants looking like this:

Before I tell you about the second laugh he gave me, I need to provide a little backstory. Dave got Ryan and I two afro wigs, an orange one and a purple one, for our disco production costumes. We haven’t worn them because since we are clowns, they come off as cheap clown wigs instead of 70s disco afros. However, Ryan picked out the orange one until it was ridiculously huge….bigger than our heads! 
Robert was ringmastering Tuesday afternoon, so I wore the huge wig to make him laugh. I made a few afro jokes for the audience before cueing Nico to run out in the pants and start the chase. Nico ran to the front of the ring, stopped, dropped the pants down so his head could pop out, and I saw that he was wearing the purple afro wig. I doubled over from laughter, and the audience got a kick out of it as well. 
It’s nice to have a little fun in the show to break up the monotony, but it’s even sweeter when the audience enjoys it too!

I will do my best to post next week, but I make no promises. Things are going to be crazy, because next week is the Ringling Homecoming and Baraboo Circus Parade, and pretty much every evening next week we have something going on, whether it is an event for the Homecoming, or something to be done in preparation for the event.
If I don’t write next week, you can be sure I’ll have a massive post ready for the following week detailing all the fun and excitement that happens at Baraboo’s Circus Week. 
I hope to see some of you there. Take care!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Better Homes & Elephants In Gardens

Hello everyone, Steve Copeland here. Well, well, well, where to begin? It has been a very eventful week here in Baraboo!

The town and Circus World was the subject of national news when Kelly, one of our performing pachyderms, escaped the park in the early hours of the morning. Our other elephant, Isla, is quite adept with her trunk, and she loosened some hardware that allowed Kelly to slip out. Kelly walked across the Baraboo River and then started wandering around a nearby neighborhood. Several people spotted her as they went about their morning routines, and so calls were placed to Circus World to let us know that one of our biggest stars was going door to door to let people know the park  is still open!
Dean, who is in charge of the elephants, went to retrieve her from the yard of an elderly lady whose flowers seemed like an all you can eat buffet for Kelly.
Kelly was escorted safely back to Circus World, and the whole escapade was the talk of the town.

I don’t know what the big deal is. Ryan and I have been wandering around people’s yards every night this summer, but the second an elephant does it, CNN gets involved!

The whole thing was excellent publicity for Circus World’s Anniversary Days, where we were celebrating our 58th Anniversary by offering $5 admission to our guests for four days only: July 1-4. As you can imagine, the park was super busy every day, especially on Monday, when there were around 1,400 people in the park. The big top was filled beyond capacity, and another tiger show was added alongside Nothing But Nonsense to accommodate the large crowds.

Photo by Oliver Ramos

That’s right, I said tiger show! Ryan Holder, or Radar as Ryan and I affectionately call him, is here again this summer. He has been touring with the Carden Circus all season, but began performing here on July 1 and will be with us through the end of our season since Carden is on a planned two month hiatus. 
Ryan and I have known Radar since we were all First of Mays on the Kelly Miller Circus back in 2009. He started as a tiger groom and went on to inherit the tigers, the equipment, and the act, and he has really come into his own as a tiger trainer and person who really loves and cares for his animals. 

It was wonderful having such big crowds for our shows during Anniversary days. Nothing But Nonsense was particularly fun, as the rowdy audiences gave us plenty of opportunities to improvise. One memorable occurrence happened when our Borscht-Belt era ventriloquist dummy character, Kreplach, was having his big death scene. Right in the middle of it, someone’s cell phone rang, so I, puppeteering Kreplach, ran up into the audience, demanded she hand the phone over, and then as Kreplach, mercilessly berated the person on the other end of the line. I wish I could know what that poor person on the receiving end of a puppet tirade was thinking!

On Tuesday, Ryan’s daughter, Abrianna, all decked out in her patriotic best for the Fourth of July, made her debut in Wesley William’s unicycle act. Abrianna absolutely adores Wesley (or Bruce-Lee, as she calls him), and occasionally he will put her on his shoulders as he is practicing on his unicycle backstage.
During the morning show on the 4th of July he rode into the ring with Abrianna sitting on his shoulders. Tatiana said that Abrianna looked petrified as they rode out, but as soon as Wesley put her on the ground, she styled like a true circus pro.

Wesley said the next day when he was about to ride his unicycle out for opening, he made eye contact with Abrianna, who shook her head and said, “Not me! Not me!”

On the home front, Pamela has been working hard to make our home as beautiful and cozy as she can. Last summer she spent a couple of weeks completely redoing the inside; she painted, she put down new flooring, and installed new hardware on the cabinets and drawers.

Every season she re-decorates our dinette area, and this summer’s decor is one of my favorites. It is so elegant and calming; I love it!

But my wonder woman didn’t stop with the inside of the trailer. She also created a nice dining area right outside our front door using things found around Circus World. 

We have hosted several dinners for our friends, and Pamela pulls out all the stops to make everything as fancy as possible. We put out our fine silverware and glasses, candles, an ice bucket, napkin rings, and I even manage to keep my feet off the table! 
Pamela’s dinner parties are beautiful, but they sure are a lot of work to set up and clean up! Perfection is important to my wife though, and she works like crazy to make everything perfect for me.
I’m hoping one day she will share her talents with the world by having her own show on HGTV. In the meantime, I will enjoy having a beautiful wife and home to come to every day after work. 

That’s about all the news that’s fit to print for this week! As always, if there’s anything you’d like to hear about in this blog, please let me know in the comments!  See you all next week!