Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nothing But Nonsense

Hello everyone, Steve Copeland here. We have been incredibly blessed for the past week or so by the beautiful weather in Baraboo. Every day has been temperate and completely different from some of the weather we are used to in late June.
Audiences have been comfortable in the tent and Hippodrome building, and therefore much more inclined to enjoy themselves at our shows. I’ll try and remember these days when we get into the brain melting, armpit swamp inducing heat of late July and August.

This week I’d like to talk about Nothing But Nonsense, our musical comedy show. I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile because I’m afraid once I start I won’t be able to stop. There’s a lot I can say on the topic (most of it unapologetically self congratulatory), but I’ll try and keep it streamlined, on topic, and somewhat humble.

Ryan and I have been dreaming of having our own show for many years now, and so when Scott and Dave asked us to bring our own show to Circus World in 2016 to fill the void left by the departure of Tristan Crist’s magic show, we jumped on the opportunity.

Ryan and I were thrilled about the fact that we could perform the show as ourselves, and not as clowns, even though it means getting in and out of make up multiple times during the working day. We really wanted to put our sense of humor, and what we think is funny in front of audience without the hurdle of their preconceived notions and/or initial disdain of clowns.
Ryan and I are also huge fans of Broadway musicals, so in addition to ridiculous jokes and slapstick, we wanted to bring musicianship, singing, and dancing to the show as well.

On the topic of music, a few years ago we were unbelievably fortunate to be introduced to an amazing composer by the name of Larry Lees. 
Four years ago Larry wrote a Steve & Ryan theme song for us, sung by the man who introduced the three of us, ringmaster Kevin Venardos. You can hear it here:

When our contract for the 2016 summer season at Circus World was signed, we immediately sought out Larry to write original songs for our show.
Ryan worked on a couple of songs by himself (he even completely wrote and composed our college fight song, “Like Us On Facebook”), and Larry handled the rest.
We’ve been so lucky to have Larry since besides his immeasurable talent, he has a very similar sense of humor and way of thinking to ours.
For this year’s show, writing the music was very much a collaboration, because Ryan and I would have joke writing sessions to come up with possible lyrics for Larry to choose from.
The entire process this year was very hands on because Larry would send us sections of a song as he progressed, instead of sending us a finished project that he could tweak if needed.
That way if a lyric wasn’t working for us, we could suggest an alternate joke or lyric instead of simply saying, “We don’t like that.”

The music is a very big part of Nothing But Nonsense this year. Last year the show was almost a variety show, with very little rhyme or reason, but this year there is a storyline that carries on throughout the entire performance. (Because if the untimely demise of Ringling Bros. taught us anything, it is that story lines always make a show better!)
The three songs this year range from an opening number heavily influenced by (read: stolen from) Spike Jones, a 50’s doo wop ballad, and an uplifting gospel finale. 

Now on to the script!
When Ryan and I were in the final months of the Circo Hermanos Vazquez tour in 2015, Ryan and I used our downtime in the dressing room to both write our own versions of Nothing But Nonsense. I was surprised how easily writing verbal comedy came to me, but I suppose keeping a journal for twelve years helped a lot.
When we were finished Ryan and I read our scripts to one another. Mine was more focused on jokes and story elements, and Ryan’s was mostly possible sight gags.
We put the two together and created the rough outline of 2016’s Nothing But Nonsense show.

Last year when Ryan and I were performing at the Circus Spectacular at the Utah State Fair, we had three shows every day for eleven days, with two or three hour breaks between each performance. We used that time to write this year’s version of Nothing But Nonsense, and the fact that we wrote it as a collaboration made it even easier and more fun.

But there’s more to Nothing But Nonsense than music and words. If you know Steve & Ryan, then you 
know there are a buttload of props too!

It's all gotta come from somewhere!

Starting in January of this year Ryan and I began building the props for the new version of our show. We are eternally grateful to the Kelly Miller Circus for allowing us to use their Winter Quarters to work on Nothing But Nonsense. Special thanks to Danny Carey, Tetto and Oscar Perez, and Scott Moss at Culpepper & Merriweather for their help in constructing some of the props, especially anything involving welding!

This year we had far fewer props to build than we did last year, but we were still working hard all the way up to opening day on May 19th!

One of the wonderful things about working at Circus World is the freedom we have. It is the perfect place to workshop this show as we continue to make it bigger and better every year.
That includes the ability to make changes from day to day as we cut out things that were funny on paper and not so much in performance, add in improvisations that got a big laugh, and constantly change the way we do things so the show doesn’t get stale for us or the customers who come back multiple times.

Like I said earlier, Nothing But Nonsense is very different this year than it was last year, and just until about two weeks ago we were not very happy with the way things were going. The show was very hit or miss with audiences, and we were both fairly disheartened about it.
Luckily we changed a few key things, and the show finally started to click for us and get much more consistent positive reactions.

Performing Nothing But Nonsense truly is the highlight of our day, and we are eternally grateful to Scott and Dave for giving us a venue and a sandbox to play and create in, to the people that contributed start up money to us last year as a part of our fundraising campaign, and to the audience members who continue to donate money to us on a daily basis so we can make the show even bigger and better next year.
We cannot wait to see what the future holds for this show; in the meantime, we’ll have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

I’m sorry this post jumped around all over the place; I didn’t cover nearly as much as I wanted to, but I was starting to bore myself, so I stopped.
If there is anything you’d like to hear about regarding to Nothing But Nonsense, please let me know in the comments. I have some funny stories about the show that I plan to share in a future post.
Likewise, if there is anything else you’d like to hear about, please let me know. Until next week, take care!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Clown Day

Hello everyone, Steve Copeland here. Things are going well at Circus World; it is just crazy to believe that we have been open for a month now! It really feels like we just started yesterday....if yesterday was a month ago.

One interesting event that happened this past weekend was Clown Day. I don’t know when it started at Circus World, but we were part of it last summer.
A large number of students from the LaCrosse, WI based Clown Camp made a trip down to visit Circus World and see some of the shows. They then went to the International Clown Hall of Fame, also located here in Baraboo, to get a tour of that amazing establishment as well.
In addition to our special guests, on Clown Day, anyone dressed as a clown can get into the park for free.

Last year it was hyped to us that all fifty or so visiting Clown Camp students would be in full makeup and costume. We braced ourselves for that overwhelming tidal wave of bright colors and exhausting one-upmanship, but we were actually disappointed when not one of the students came dressed up. I guess they opted out when they realized they’d have to be in makeup and costume all day. You know, like you do when being a clown is your job....

I can just hear “Frosty” Little singing, “So ya wanna be a clown…..”

This year there were only about thirty campers that made the pilgrimage to Circus World. We were happy to see some familiar faces, as well as many new ones. Everyone was very excited to come see our shows, and they were all very nice and complimentary. 

Our morning Be A Clown show was a definite hit for the campers. At the start of the season it was a makeup demo, but it bored the audience to tears. Since we've changed it to a more generalized show about being a clown (covering makeup, wigs, noses, big shoes, props, and slapstick), and infused our own sardonic wit into the proceedings, it has been much more of a success.
In fact, since it plays so much like a class in clowning, we had several of the students and staff ask if we had adapted the show just for them.
Nope! We like to give every Circus World guest an in depth understanding of how we work, so they can come along in the future to undercut us and take our jobs! 

After that first show Ryan and I had the pleasure of visiting with Kenny and Brenda Ahern, Darlene Campo, and Joe Dieffenbacher. 
Kenny and Brenda are now in charge of Clown Camp, and I am excited to see what they do with the program.
Darlene and Joe both went to Clown College with Kenny back in 1983 (a great year…I was born then!) and Brenda went in 1987. All four toured on Ringling, the Aherns on Blue (I saw them at my very first circus in 1989), and Joe and Darlene on the Red Unit’s Pink Panther themed show in 1984.
Ryan and I enjoyed talking clowning and swapping road stories with the funny foursome.

Like I said earlier in the post, anyone dressed as a clown could gain free admittance to the park on Clown Day, but I was very disappointed that we saw only three people take advantage of that. Unfortunately, two of them were just a couple of jackasses that really tested the definition of what is considered a clown.
One was a girl in a one piece jumpsuit. She had white makeup smeared on her face, and she had painted a huge red smile reaching from one ear to the other. On top of her head she wore a ratty rainbow colored afro wig. I was upset that so many people went up to her and asked if she was Steve or Ryan.....
Her boyfriend was wearing a scary clown mask and a dark, dingy looking one piece jumpsuit; he wore the frightening mask the entire show.

Everyone in the cast asked Ryan and I if we saw the strange couple in the seats; I guess they were trying to get a rise out of us on account of the scary clown. Our thoughts were if that moron wanted to sit in that hot tent for over an hour wearing a rubber mask, more power to him! It might sweat some sense into him!

I was really hoping that they would show up to Nothing But Nonsense, because Ryan and I had a great bit planned.
Ryan was going to announce that our friends from Clown Camp were in the audience, and then he was going to introduce the leaders of the program, Kenny and Brenda.
I was then going to say it was a special show because our mentors were also in the audience, and I was going to introduce the two scary clowns: the girl as Ronald McDonald’s sister, Myrtle McDonald, and the mook in the mask as “Sparkles”.
Unfortunately the dynamic duo didn’t show, so we weren’t able to unleash our “ad-lib” on the guests.

Last year, one of the Clown Camp students auditioned for the opportunity to perform an act in the big top show.
We were told that there were no acts of a high enough caliber to go in the show this year, which was disappointing to hear.

Instead, Bruce “Charlie” Johnson, one of the staff members, performed a routine in the place of our pants chase.
I know Bruce because he and I are on the Board of Directors of the International Clown Hall of Fame, and I also know him from my youth because I would see his name on various clown websites when I was researching the art form. Bruce is a clown historian, and has many articles published online and in different clown periodicals. 
I enjoyed chatting with Bruce during the big top show about his time with Circus Kirk and the five ringed behemoth, Carson & Barnes.

As the cast was exiting the big top to meet and greet the guests in the reception tent, a little old lady clown whose costume made her look like a cupcake was just arriving to watch the show.
We informed the cupcake lady that she had just missed the performance, which she was upset about. We informed her that there was another big top show at 2:30 p.m., which seemed to buoy her spirits.

As Ryan and I were walking to the Hippodrome building to set the props for Nothing But Nonsense, Ryan and I saw the lady walking determinedly towards some unknown destination…a cupcake on a mission.
That was the last we saw of her....

At the end of the day I remarked that we hadn't seen her at the second big top show, and I wondered where she was.
The only logical assumption is that she is still roaming the sixty acres of Circus World grounds, sleeping under wagons for shelter, and eating rabbits and geese for sustenance.

Aside from Clown Day, everything is going swimmingly in Baraboo. I say swimmingly because it has been raining almost every day lately.
When we opened it rained for about a solid week, and then we seemed to have two weeks of wonderful drought.
Now we're back to mud in the backyard and standing water in the tent's backstage. Ah, just like the good ol' days!

Leave a comment and let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like to hear about in any of my next blog posts. I'd much rather write about things that people want to read about.
In the near future I'd like to talk about our show, Nothing But Nonsense, but I know that's going to be a monster of a post, and it is too daunting a task for me right now.

See you all next week!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Circus Of The Chefs 2017

Hello everyone, Steve Copeland here. This week I wanted to talk about a publicity that we all were a part of this past Sunday. It is the main fundraiser for Circus World Museum, and it is called the Circus of the Chefs gala.

The gala is held in the Deppe Wagon Pavilion, which meant in the week leading up to the event, all of the wagons had to be moved outside. This provided customers with a neat viewing experience of the beautiful artifacts.

On gala day the park closed thirty minutes earlier than usual, because the event began at 4:00 p.m.
Attendees were able to visit tables set up around the pavilion where dozens of local restaurants were giving samples of their delicious wares. 

This photo of the 2016 gala is courtesy of Bill Johnsen

It was our job as performers to stroll around the crowd between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., mingling and entertaining the guests.
Last year Ryan and I got many compliments because we made multiple costume changes and strolled around the gala as different characters.
This year we came prepared and brought costumes and props specifically for the event.

Our first appearance was as two chefs “from-a dee Old Country” serving popcorn to the customers on a trash can lid. We channeled our best Tim Conway Swedish accents as we tried to get people to “try-a dee popcorn”. As soon as people got the kernels to their mouths, we’d inform them that “we found-a it on dee floor”.

This is us letting the group know that even though the snack was from the Old Country, the popcorn was new….only the country was old.

Our next bit didn’t go over as well. I wore a child’s Tweedy bird costume given to us by a friend, and Ryan wore an explorer costume complete with pith helmet; he also popped in his Jerry Lewis “Nutty Professor” teeth for good measure.
We’d wander around while Ryan would explain to anyone who would listen that he had captured and trained me himself to do all manner of speaking English.
When I would occasionally get out of control, he would use one of Nico’s small Nerf dart guns to tranquilize me.
The whole thing was a little too surreal for the upper crust of Baraboo, and it didn’t help that the costume meant for children was riding up on me like a pair of Daisy Dukes, showing off my chicken legs. (You’re lucky I haven’t found any photos…..yet!)
But, you never know if these things will go over if you don't try! The amount of people you scar with your incredibly white legs is a small price to pay for the ever elusive big laugh!

Our final character appearance of the evening was much more popular. We wore our Brazilian samba costumes from last year’s big top show production number, Mexican sombreros, and tape mustaches. We then wandered around the gala speaking to everyone in Spanish, giving out tape mustaches, playing terrible Mariachi music on our trumpets, and generally setting back American-Latin American relations hundreds of years.

Photos by Mary-Jane Foote and Tara Zitzner, respectively

Around 6:30 p.m. our fearless leaders, Scott O’Donnell and Dave SaLoutos, held a silent auction for all kinds of wonderful goods and services. 
After that, the cast of the circus show did the opening number for the crowd, Jacob D’Eustachio did his amazing juggling act, and then we concluded with our finale.

At the conclusion of the gala all of us changed into our civvies and came back to help clean up, because like Dave told us, “many hands make light work”. 
It didn’t take long at all to get the wagon pavilion back into a semblance of order with everyone working together.
The highlight of the evening was when Adilson, our own Brazilian Spider-Man, became tired of waiting for the lift to be available, so he shimmied up a wall, scooted along the beams on the ceiling, and then hung upside down by his feet to remove the bunting.

The show after the show!

Preparing for and pulling off the gala every year is a huge task that the Circus World staff makes happen every year. They always do a great job, and this year was no exception. Congrats, everyone!

Before I go, I’d just like to mention that Gala Day was also the anniversary of when I made a very important decision: I asked Pamela to marry me.
Our friends from Baltimore: Pat and Thom Stevenson, Jim Shores, and Carol Lang, were all visiting, so I told Pamela she should go visit with them and watch Nothing But Nonsense. My plan was to propose to her at the conclsuion of the show.

It was incredibly hot that day, and the whole show I was sweating more than usual from my nerves. Still, things went off without a hitch, and obviously, she said, “yes”!

Many thanks to our friend, Chris Somer, for capturing this wonderful moment on video. And many more thanks to my beautiful wife, Pamela, for making me such a lucky man.

See you all next week! 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Day In The Life

Hey everyone,

Steve Copeland here. I can’t believe we’re already a week into the month of June; it seems like just yesterday we were starting the summer season here at Circus World, and before I know it, it is going to be August 27th, and we will be back to selling pencils on a street corner.

One thing that makes the days seem to just fly by is how busy we are. Our work days are so jam packed that we barely have a moment to breathe. If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a Circus World clown is like, you’re in luck! If you haven’t ever wondered that….sorry, this week’s post really isn’t for you.

I start my day by waking up at 7 a.m. to drink some coffee and catch up on what is going on in the world of social media.
Then I get ready for the day and head out the door around 8. For the next hour I run errands around the Circus World grounds to prepare for the day. The park property covers sixty acres, so I get my steps in right off the bat!
I set up the Hippodrome building for our Be A Clown show, I retrieve the costumes for our water gag, I go to the gift shop to peruse the Circus World Library discard book pile for any treasures (always at a very low price), and I pick up the envelopes of money that we use as change when we sell novelty items at the big top show as well as Nothing But Nonsense.

Next I head over to the big top to fill up buckets of water for our water gag, and then it is back to the Hippodrome to get into makeup for our first show, Be A Clown at 9:15 a.m.
Originally the show was a makeup demo, where Ryan would talk about the three types of clowns and applying clown makeup while I slapped on my greasepaint. 
However; despite our best efforts, the show was extremely boring, especially for the school groups that come in the first few weeks of the summer.
We recently changed the show to be a demonstration of what we do as clowns, i.e. hitting each other…..a lot. 
Ryan and I talk about everything that goes into slapstick comedy, like teamwork, training, and safety (the Three T’s), and throughout the show we give examples of the basic slap, pratfalls, and comedy props. We culminate our tour de force of low brow humor by performing a slap-board routine that always wakes up the audience as well as our aching joints. 

After the Be A Clown demo I have a forty five minute break which is my one opportunity to eat during the working day. I go home and spend time with my lovely wife, Pamela, and our cute kitty, Jane.

Insert baby talk here.

At 11 a.m. is the first circus big top show. Thirty minutes prior to that I go over to the tent to whip up soap for our first gag, and Ryan and I also sell light swords, coloring books, and other flashy circus junk to the people in the seats. 
I have been enjoying the meet and greet that results from walking the stands; it helps me sharpen my improvisation muscles, it helps get the people to like us before they see us perform, I get to talk to some neat people and answer questions (because I love being an insufferable know it all about circus clowns), and it gives me a chance to just thank people for being here. I think that last part is especially important, because more and more circuses are dropping off the map every year, and I think people should be thanked for spending their ever precious entertainment dollars at a circus, especially a good one!

During the big top show (which I talked about last week) we have two gags, and we also appear in opening and finale.
Between those appearances we are re-setting the water gag, I have to touch up my makeup after the first gag, and we also help with a couple of prop changes. We keep very busy during the circus show, even when we aren’t in the ring.

Once the circus show ends we go into the small tent at the front of the big top and say goodbye to the audience as they leave.
Ryan and I then book it over to the Hippodrome building to set our own show, Nothing But Nonsense. In the near future I’d like to write a few posts about Nothing But Nonsense; I was going to tackle it in this one, but it is already becoming much longer than I had anticipated!

At 1:00 p.m. we perform our comedy/musical/variety show, Nothing But Nonsense, which is our favorite part of the day. It is so nice to have a thirty minute time slot where anything goes and we have complete creative freedom over what we are presenting to the audience. A million thanks to Scott O’Donnell, Dave SaLoutos, and Circus World for giving us this opportunity…..and giving it to us again this year even after seeing what we created the first time!

After Nothing But Nonsense we have a short window of time to reset the show and then get back into makeup for the second circus show.
Starting in July we’ll have an extra hour between our show and the second big top performance, which we are greatly looking forward to. My lazy butt isn’t going to sit on itself, you know!

The Circus World grounds close at 4:00 p.m., shortly after the conclusion of the second circus show. I stop by the office to drop off money, and I take the wet costumes from our water gag to get dried. 
After that, I am done for the day!

It is so wonderful (and unusual) for us to be done with work at four in the afternoon. I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of all the wonderful things to do here in Baraboo, and just up the road in the Wisconsin Dells this summer.

Since we opened there really hasn’t been a dull moment. I can count on one foot the number of quiet evenings at home that Pamela and I have had since we started working (I only have three toes on one foot). There is always something going on: extra curricular work like fixing a prop or rehearsing something for Nothing But Nonsense, a cast social gathering like a cookout or bonfire, a promotional event for Circus World, hanging out with friends in town, or going on a date with my wife.

Despite our hectic schedule, I promise I’ll find time to keep up this blog. See you all next week! 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Under The Big Top

Hey everyone, Steve Copeland here. Things are going well here in Baraboo. The cold, rainy weather from our opening weekend is gone, and the days are beautiful now: sunny, with temperatures in the low 70s. We’re enjoying it now before the real hot weather and humidity set in.

This week I wanted to talk about the Circus World big top show. This year it really is a BIG top!
For the past few summers Circus World was using a small, intimate Hanneford tent for the big top show, but this year we are working in a large tent owned by the Ramos Bros. Circus. 

It has four towers, a large backstage space, and it seats about one thousand people. The lighting equipment in this top is also more advanced than we were used to last year, so the show really looks like a million bucks.

Ryan and I actually got to work in this Ramos tent last September when we performed in the circus at the Utah State Fair (more on that in a later post). We were surprised when we heard it was coming to Circus World since it is way larger than anything they’ve used since the last time they had a three ring tent in the early 2000s. 

The Ramos family brought the tent all the way from California to Wisconsin; adding to the long distance, they also encountered some truck problems, so the tent didn’t get raised until a couple of days after it was supposed to go up.
This delayed our rehearsals, so it was a particularly hectic few days leading up to our opening day on May 19th.
Still, everyone pulled together and we made it happen, in true circus style!

We have quite a talented cast this season. The whole show is 70’s themed, and our energetic performance director/ringmaster, Dave SaLoutos, affectionately refers to it as “That 70’s Circus”.
In the opening number the whole cast is decked out in their groovy 70’s finest, and at one point we all line up and do the Hustle.

(Not to be confused with the hustle that happens before the show when Ryan and I are selling light up merchandise to the audience)

Next up is Jenny Vidbel, who will be returning to the Big Apple Circus this fall. She kicks off the opening number with Velma the Wonder Pig, who unrolls a carpet with her snout. Ryan and I wanted that job, but our boss, Scott O’Donnell, said the reward of one Oreo a show we were asking for to do the trick was not in the budget.
Jenny also performs her liberty horse act and a dog act featuring a miniature pony.

(All following photos courtesy of Johnny Trapino)

The aerial portion of the show is handled by Candice Storley, who is a former water skier for the Tommy Bartlett show out of the Wisconsin Dells. Candice performs on the lyra and chiffons, but when she was with Big Apple Circus a couple of years ago, she worked for Irene Espana and understudied in the Espana's Space Odyssey rocket act.

Candice’s boyfriend, Dean Manuel, presents the two biggest stars of the show (besides Ryan and myself), the elephants! 
Dean was performing with Carson & Barnes up until a week before our season started. While he is here, our friend from our Kelly Miller days, Armando Loyal, is filling in for him.


Jacob D’Eustachio from New York City does a very unusual juggling act where he gets dressed while keeping multiple objects in the air.
Besides working cruise ships and all other manner of shows, Jacob has also previously performed for Giovanni Zoppe’s circus.

Returning this year are Adilson and Gilda Fernandes, who we worked with on Kelly Miller our first year. 
Adilson does his nerve wracking chair stacking act, and the couple also present the Double Wheel of Destiny as a stand alone show in the afternoon.

Closing the show is Wesley Williams, who has an amazing unicycle act, culminating in a ride atop a 25 foot high unicycle! 

Oh, I forgot the clowns…….they’re a couple of pumpkin butts named Steve & Ryan who make two appearances in the show. 
For the first, they….I mean, we….attempt to wash the ringmaster’s disco suit, and only manage to get water everywhere but on our vinyl ring mat.

In our second spot we revive that perennial favorite, the pants chase, starring six year old Nico Combs as the runaway pants. The New York Times called his performance “hilarious, with just the right touch of pathos….and starch.”

As you can see, the show is jam packed with amazing acts, and us. It is an extremely prop heavy show, so much so that the entire cast has to act as the prop crew. When the performers are not in the ring, chances are good they are setting or striking props for the next act.
Ryan and I even roll out the bull tubs for the elephants, oh the humanity! 

The show is so prop heavy that we took out our original second routine, the carpenter gag, just because it was one more huge prop to set and mess to clean up.
Instead we offered to do the pants chase to help smooth out one of the more prop heavy transitions and keep the show moving along.
Yes, I know, such martyrs are we….

See you again next week for more tall tales and half truths! In the meantime, plan to come see all of the fun at Circus World in Baraboo!