Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Jump To Laredo, TX

We were told to arrive in Laredo, TX on Wednesday, February 25, but Hugo was slated to get freezing rain on Monday the 23rd, so we decided to leave early to avoid possibly getting stuck in the bad weather.

Our plan was to drive down to Alton, TX to meet up with Carson & Barnes, which is where Tatiana's family is now working.
While there, we'd be able to see both Carson and Kelly Miller, who were playing just a few miles away.

Unfortunately about 200 miles into our jump, a car pulled alongside me and the people inside started pointing at my trailer and mouthing, "Your tire!"
I thanked them and quickly pulled onto the Interstate's shoulder.
When I got out of my truck I could see that one of my trailer tires was smoking, but besides that, it seemed to be in fine condition (meaning that it wasn't flat or shredded).

Ryan and I looked under the trailer and saw that a piece of metal on the inside of the wheel was smoking, but luckily it hadn't caught on fire.
I called Good Sam Club to get a mechanic on the way, and I told Ryan and Tatiana to go ahead to Carson, as I knew I'd be waiting for awhile.

About two hours later a mechanic arrived on the scene. After initially thinking that one of my trailer brakes had locked up, Jeff, the mechanic, soon changed his diagnosis to a broken axle bearing, meaning that my tire had come askew and was rubbing on the brake, which caused the smoke.

Jeff told me that I was very lucky the wheel had not come completely off, and sure enough, when he jacked up my trailer, the tire slid right off the axle with no resistance.

Even without one tire, my axle didn't touch the road, so I was able to very slowly drive the mile and a half to the next exit so I could get off the busy Interstate.

Once I was on the service road, Jeff was able to take off all the broken parts so he could go to the nearest shop and get replacements.
Being that it was Sunday, time was a factor since it was close to 6:00 p.m. by that point.

Jeff called me after awhile and told me that they didn't have the parts I needed, so he wouldn't be able to fix my broken axle bearing until the next morning, which is when the delivery truck would be bring the parts to the shop.

As luck would have it, there was a cheap RV park just a few miles away from me on the service road, so I pulled in and spent the night, able to enjoy all the amenities the park had to offer, namely electricity for my heater, and running water so my pipes wouldn't freeze.

Monday morning is when the ice storm hit, and although I got next to nothing in Fairfield, Dallas, which is where the delivery truck was bound from, was hit worse, which delayed the truck's arrival.

I talked to Ryan, who had made it to Alton early in the morning. I told him that I would be on my way as soon as my wheel was repaired.

I spent all day waiting, but at least I was warm and comfortable. Finally around 5:00 p.m. Jeff arrived with the parts, fresh off the delivery truck.
He assured me that it would be a quick fix, and I would be on the road in 30 minutes or so, but as he took apart the axle bearing, he discovered one part that was the wrong size.

He drove to a shop to get the right size, but after several hours of searching through all the boxes containing those parts, he and the staff still hadn't found the right fit.
Luckily, the right part would be coming in on a delivery truck in the middle of the night.

On Tuesday I was beginning to go stir crazy. I was extremely anxious to get going because I knew I had over 400 miles to go before arriving in Laredo on Wednesday.

Jeff was tied up with another repair, so he sent one of his other employees to finish the job. Unfortunately, as he was putting the tire back on my trailer, he found one more part that was the wrong size, so he excused himself as he ran back to the auto parts store.

By this point I was pulling my hair out, but the mechanic returned shortly after leaving, and he finished the job in no time.

With so much time on my hands to think, I had begun to grow paranoid that Jeff and his team were dragging out the repair as long as they could to take advantage of the fact that I was being charged by the hour, but I was greatly relieved to see that I was only charged for one hour of labor, even though I know much more time went into the course of the repair.

Finally around 4:00 p.m. I was able to leave Fairfield, and I put the pedal to the metal to make up for so much lost time.

Luckily I made great time on my trip, and I pulled into the Walmart in Alton, TX around 2:00 a.m.
I was bummed that I didn't get to see any of my friends on Carson or Kelly Miller, but I was just so relieved that I had made it down to the Valley without any further problems.

On Wednesday morning I met up with Ryan, and we began the final 150 mile trek to Laredo. Thankfully we encountered no more problems, and we made it to the Circo Hermanos Vazquez lot after lunch time.

I was familiar with the area where the show is set up, as it is right across the street from the arena I played on Ringling 12 years ago.

Ryan and I pulled into the parking lot next to the circus, and I went to the ticket office to find Sandra, the general manager.
She welcomed me back, and then introduced me to Nestor, who is in charge of parking the trailers.

Ryan had no problem parking his rig, but mine required a little more finesse. Since I need to open the cargo door on the back of my trailer to unload props, Nestor needed me to park my trailer backwards compared to all the other trailers.
To do this, I had to unhook my truck, and then a forklift was brought in to do the rest of the work.

All of the show owned trailers had arrived and been parked already, and between them and a big hill where the front of my trailer was to be facing, it took the forklift driver a long time, with many multi point turns, to get my trailer into position.

Since we've arrived, we've seen a few familiar faces from last year's tour. Most of the performers arrived on Wednesday or Thursday via plane or their own trailers.

I met with Luis, our sound guy, to go over the sound effects needs for our gags. I also gave him our Instant Replay sound machine and cue sheets so he could practice with videos of the gags in his hotel room.

We saw Eddie, our production manager, soon after we had parked, and he told us that the rehearsal schedule he had planned had to be changed since the tent had not yet arrived by Wednesday.
Apparently we will be starting the season with the tent from the Mexico unit of Vazquez. I knew we would be using a smaller tent this year, but it didn't strike me how much smaller it would be until I saw that only four towers had been erected to hold up the big top (as opposed to the eight towers that the East Unit uses!).

On Friday the big top started going up, and in the afternoon Ryan, his family, and I had a meeting with Sandra, the general manager, Nestor, who is in charge of everything outside the tent and performance, and Jaros, who is Sandra's assistant.
They went over the company rules with us and answered any questions we had about being on this unit.

That's all to report for now. Stay tuned for more updates!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Great Winter Post Of Aught Fifteen Part III: Home & Hugo

After finishing our final performance of 'Twas The Gift Show Before Christmas on December 20th, Ryan and I drove back to the RV park in Hatfield, PA to pick up my trailer and begin the 1,400 mile jump to the Kelly Miller Circus Winter Quarters in Hugo, OK.

There was one, slight complication electrical plug had melted to my trailer!
I'm very lucky the plug only melted; I can't imagine coming back to find a smoldering pile of rubble where my trailer used to be.

Before we could leave Hatfield, Ryan had to completely unwire the plug from the cable, but that meant that until I got it fixed, I had no way of hooking my trailer up to power.
Our 1,400 mile jump just got a lot more interesting.....

We made it as far as Virginia the first night before stopping to sleep in a truck stop parking lot.
Ryan and I were freezing during the night in my powerless trailer, and when we woke up I had developed a full blown cold in the span of several hours.

On December 21st we drove almost all the way to Memphis, TN.
The one thing I enjoyed about the trip was how cheap gas was; it sure helped our wallets on such a long drive.

We stopped in the late afternoon to take a nap in the hopes that we could then drive even farther in the early morning hours when traffic was at a minimum, but I was just too tired, even after taking a nap. We finally stopped around 2:00 a.m.

I told Ryan that as crummy as I felt, I couldn't spend another night freezing in the trailer, so I found a motel with semi parking where we crashed for the night.

I took some Nyquil before going to bed, and the combination of the medicine, a warm bed, and a full night's sleep really helped me feel better.

We made it to Hugo on the evening of December 22nd. The last 100 miles of the trip were the worst, because that is when we had to leave the Interstate and take the dark, winding back roads through Arkansas into Oklahoma.

I dropped Ryan and my trailer off at the Kelly Miller Winter Quarters, and then I drove to the motel in town to get a room for the evening.

On December 23rd I was feeling considerably better, though still not 100%. I started off the day having breakfast with Radar, Christian, and Danny at the Circus City Diner, and later in the day I went to Danny and Tavana's house to visit with them and Arwen.

Late that evening Ryan drove me to the airport in Dallas, TX, where I arrived around 4:00 a.m. I flew to South Carolina a couple of hours later, and my Mom and Nana picked me up and took me home to Walterboro just in time for the Christmas Eve service at my church.

I had a very low key Christmas. I had lunch and opened presents with my family, and then I spent the rest of the day watching Christmas TV specials and resting to recuperate from my cold, which was still hanging around, unwanted.

Jim Royal was nice enough to let me and Ryan park our trailers at the Kelly Miller Circus Winter Quarters during our down time this winter.
In exchange, Ryan made some beautiful props and set pieces for their new production.

Also, when Kelly Miller left for the Rio Grande Valley to begin their 2015 season, Ryan went with them to help put the program together and get all of the show's music in order.

After visiting my family in South Carolina, I headed back to Hugo so Ryan and I could get everything in order for our season with Circo Hermanos Vazquez West.

Even though we are doing the same gags on this year's tour, there were a few props that either needed to be remade, or that we wanted to improve upon.

One example of the latter category was the crate for our water gag. The one we were using was built in 2010, and the wood was beginning to rot.
Ryan got ideas for new prop making compounds (instead of latex) to use from my friend, Buist, who builds props for Broadway shows, and Ryan was itching to try them out to get a different style of prop.

I think it is safe to say that the build was a good investment!

A few props also got a new paint job, including our little car:

The flames make it go faster.

Ryan had done a lot of preliminary work on our new props, so when he took off to the Valley with Kelly Miller I was able to finish several of them by myself.
Once we were back together again we got everything knocked out in no time, making for a much less stressful winter than we had last year.

Let's see.....what else.....

Big news from the winter:

Of course the biggest news is the birth of Ryan and Tatiana's daughter, Abrianna. I think it is safe to say she likes me, as she favored me with a baptism of regurgitated milk one of the first times I held her.

Coincidentally, very soon after this picture was taken.

Here are Nico and Abrianna on Valentine's Day:

In less cute news, I am honored to announce that I was added to the Board of Directors for the International Clown Hall of Fame & Research Center in Baraboo, WI.
I look forward to helping the ICHOF any way that I can, and to keeping the history of clowning alive for future generations to learn about and appreciate.

To learn more about the International Clown Hall Of Fame & Research Center, please visit here:

Coming up next, our jump down to the Rio Grande Valley to meet up with Circo Hermanos Vazquez!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Great Winter Post Of Aught Fifteen Part II: The Royal Hanneford Circus Holiday Gala

While we were performing in Queens with Vazquez, we were visited by Billy Martin and the cast of the Royal Hanneford Circus.

After the performance Ryan and I were chatting with Billy, and we mentioned that we would be in Pennsylvania in December performing on the Christmas tour.
Billy mentioned that he also had a show going on in Malvern, PA (outside of Philly) in December. As luck would have it, not only was Malvern close to where we were staying, but their run was also during our days off from the Christmas tour.
We told him that we were looking forward to visiting and seeing the show, and we left it at that.

A couple of days later, Billy e-mailed and asked if Ryan and I would be interested in working the Hanneford date since we would be in the area with time off.
He asked us to perform meet and greet entertainment before each performance, take place in finale, and assist Mark Gindick with one of his clown gags.
Since we had spent a good amount of time with Mark in New York, Ryan called him up and asked if we would be cramping his style by taking the gig, but Mark was totally on board with the idea.

Billy's one concern was that the sponsor for the Holiday Gala was extremely worried that Ryan and I would scare children with our circus clown looks, so at their request, Ryan and I seriously toned down our make up and costuming.

Seriously toned down......

I felt like such a cheat wearing next to nothing on my face, but that is what the sponsor wanted, and when she saw us she said, "You look great!"
As long as the person signing the check is happy, I'm happy!

The Royal Hanneford Circus Holiday Gala run was three days long. There were three shows on Friday, and four shows on Saturday and Sunday.
Even though it was a busy schedule, Ryan and I definitely had it easy. Thirty minutes before each show we would greet the audience as they entered the reception tent and picked up drinks and goody bags.
Ryan and I generally hung around the table with water bottles and apple juice boxes throwing out one liners and made bartending jokes. We also encouraged people to take as many drinks as they wanted because we weren't footing the bill.

In the show itself, Ryan did some shtick with Billy Martin, the ringmaster, to introduce the camel act.

Much to Billy's dismay.

Both of us also assisted Mark Gindick in the "Singin' In The Rain" act that Mark performed with Barry "Grandma" Lubin on the Big Apple Circus several years ago.
It was strange being in the ring to clown and not even breaking a sweat. Our job was to provide the "rain" by spitting on Mark as he performed the titular song from the movie.
It was an honor to perform the act with Mark, and although I knew I'd never perform it as well as Barry did, I did my best and the audience and staff enjoyed it.

Here are some more photos of the hour long show, taken by one of the performers:

Everyone was very nice and welcoming, and we happy to be working with several familiar faces, including Larry Stout, who also provides music on the Christmas tour, and Armando Loyal, who we worked with for five years on Kelly Miller.

Many thanks to Billy Martin for extending the invitation to fill in our days off with extra work in a fun environment, and also to Mark Gindick for being gracious enough to let us work the date with him.
It was a pleasure working with him, as well as laughing and discussing clowning with him in the dressing room.

Coming up next, the thrilling conclusion to this three part saga! 
Don't miss it!!!!!!!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Great Winter Post Of Aught Fifteen Part I: The Christmas Tour

Alright, alright. I know. I've been very lazy this winter.
But you know what? It has been so fantastic not having to write! And I plan on updating every day once we get on tour, so please try not to hate me too much.

Let's see....where did I leave off?

We finished the 2014 Circo Hermanos Vazquez East season in Queens, NY on December 7th, 2014.
The next day Ryan and I headed to Pennsylvania while Tatiana and Nico headed back to Hugo, OK in Ryan's trailer, commandeered by one of Tatiana's brothers. I forget which one.....they're twins.

It took us quite awhile to get out of New York City. First of all we had trailers and semis blocking us in until the afternoon, and then we couldn't even get our trucks to our trailers because the pieces of stage used in the big top had been stacked right behind all of the performers' trucks, trapping us all between them and a fence.

Finally we were able to hit the road after 2:00 p.m., and it took us a solid two hours to go from the lot in Queens into New Jersey on the other side of the George Washington Bridge.
The traffic was horrendous, and it was stop and go the whole time....definitely more of the former than the latter.

One nice thing was that Ryan's truck is now equipped with an RV GPS, so I followed his house out of the city. That allowed me to not have to stress about going somewhere where I would be stuck or lost.

Once we got into New Jersey it was smooth sailing to Hatfield, PA. I had reserved a lot at a trailer park in that town, and that became our base of operations for our two weeks of winter work.
The campground was great: the price couldn't be beat, the people running it were nice, and we were only located an hour or less from most of our upcoming shows.

Another amenity of the trailer park that was an added bonus for us was that they had a nice, warm, quiet recreation hall which the owners were nice enough to let us use for rehearsal.
Ryan and I needed the space, because we planned to debut our new song and dance act that we wrote with the amazingly talented Larry Lees, our new go to composer.

The act is called "Killing Time", and the premise is that one of the acts in the show was not able to make it to work, so Ryan and I are called upon to fill that time slot, even though we don't have anything prepared.
We then pull out all the stops to entertain the audience, all the while singing about how we are ill prepared.

The number calls for trumpet playing and tap dancing, so you can understand why it was nice to have the rec hall, an isolated building with a nice floor, to practice in.

This was our eighth tour with the Bill Hall produced "'Twas The Gift Show Before Christmas" run, so we were very happy to see our friends who have become like family after working with them so many times.

Clive Allen acted as tour manager and also performed his illusions, Gail Mirabella performed with her dynamo dogs, John Cassidy kept the crowd in stitches with his hilarious balloon sculpture and magic (and Ryan and I enjoyed spending time with his wife, Jen, and their adorable daughter, Kayla backstage), Larry Stout tickled the ivories and provided music for the performances, and John Bundy kept the show moving along as Santa Claus, the M.C.
New to the tour this year was the Ashton Family, who we saw perform in Baraboo this past summer.
Mike, Suzie, and Cheyenne performed three acts in the program. Suzie performed her lyra act, Mike did his foot juggling act, keeping aloft various objects, including his daughter, nine year old Cheyenne, who made her performing debut on this tour with her hula hoop act.

Ryan and I actually missed the first two days of the tour because of our engagement with Vazquez, so we were grateful that Bill Hall let us join late.

We were very nervous about debuting the "Killing Time" act, but audiences and the cast alike enjoyed it, and we got many compliments on it. Many on the show with us felt that it was the best thing we've ever done.
Looks like we need to stop spending so much time and money on props!

Here are some tour highlights:

- In Pottstown, PA, our first town on the tour, a very old woman slowly approached me at the end of the show to tell me these two unexpectedly filthy jokes:
1) Why are Santa and Mrs. Claus having trouble in their marriage? Because Santa only comes once a year.
2) What do the reindeer wives do when their husbands are out working on Christmas Eve? They go out and blow a few bucks.
The lady then smiled at me and slowly walked away.

- In Bethlehem, PA several folks from the Big Apple Circus came to see our show, including our ringmaster friend, Eggroll, Guillaume, the show's artistic director, and Jenny Vidbel, Suzie's sister, who came to see her niece, Cheyenne, perform.

- In Williamsport, PA we stopped doing the vacuum gag in the show since it was not a good fit for the venue. We put a manic club juggling routine in its place that was much more fun to perform, and received much better reactions than the vacuum gag had.

Unfortunately in the second show in Williamsport, the "Killing Time" number crashed and burned. There were issues with my mic which caused constant, ear splitting feedback. I finally had to turn the mic off, and Ryan and I had to share a mic, which really hindered the choreography for the routine.
I was so embarrassed that I didn't want to face the crowd for finale.

- In Ridley Park, PA John Bundy slipped a new joke into the intro for "Killing Time". He changed the missing act we were supposed to be covering for from the Fabulous Fratelli Brothers to The Great Le Pétomane, a French entertainer who was famous for making his living as a professional farter. 
Bundy's joke went like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that our next performer, the inimitable, Le Pétomane, can not be with us tonight. It seems that on the way to the show this evening, he ran out of gas."
When Ryan and I joined Santa on stage and learned that Le Pétomane would not be joining us, I quipped, "That stinks."
Nobody ever got the jokes, but sometimes you have to do these things for yourself....

- In Lebanon, PA one family came up to us after the show to tell us they fondly remembered our Fruit Cake gag, a take off of the old vaudeville act, "Slowly I Turned", that we had performed on the tour last year. 
Apparently whenever one of the boys in the family says the word fruit cake, his brother throws a fit and says, "Slowly I turned........"

We had so many visitors on the tour this year! 
Ryan's maternal grandparents came to see us in Bethlehem, and they brought some delicious Chinese food from Chinatown in Boston.
Also there that night were twin photographers, Jason and Justin Senft, who visited again in Philadelphia with their mother. They brought us a bag of fruit to make sure that we got some proper nutrition during the tour.
Magician and hand balancer, Bob Good, also came with Eggroll in Bethlehem, so with so many friends in the crowd, you can bet we were kept busy visiting the whole evening.

In Ridley Park, PA we were visited by Pat and Thom Stevenson, Jim Shores, and Carol Lang, our friends from Maryland who are also members of our CFA tent, The John Ringling North II/Steve & Ryan tent. 
They brought us lots of goodies, and they also treated the cast to dinner at Applebee's after our last show of the evening.

Also in Ridley Park we were visited by Larry Lees, who wrote and composed the "Killing Time" number. 
I was so happy that he got to see us perform the act live, and I was even happier that he enjoyed it!

In Philadelphia we were visited by several of our clown friends: Chris Shelton, Keith Crabbs, Mary Kelly Rayel, and Andrew Scharff.

We had a great time going to dinner with them, and in addition to a case of beer that Chris and Keith brought for us, Andrew was nice enough to give us a lot of stuff he was clearing out of his house, including his clown shoes and tour jacket from his year on Ringling, and some costume pieces.

Check back in a few days to read about the work that we were lucky enough to pick up on the days off from our usual winter work!