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!