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! 


Kenny Mikey said...

So great to see you crazy cats do your thing and kill AGAIN and AGAIN! The new show fires on all cylinders and is a perfect compliment to last years' show, if and when you decide to marry them. You guys deserve every standing ovation you get and, if memory serves me right, you got another one on Sunday that was JUST for you guys and no one else.

And, yeah, the weekend was magical. So freakin' amazing. And, the people of Baraboo welcomed us with open arms. It really felt like coming home.

Christine said...

We loved every minute of the reunion! And my kids are still reminding us about the most hilarious parts of the Nothing but Nonsense show. We saw it twice and my son has it nearly memorized. Their favorite part is when you ask Ryan to make sure that Kreplach gets a proper sendoff and Ryan says "Bye" and throws him behind the curtain, followed by the big crash sound effect. They repeat that over and over every day. I used to tell them that I'd be perfectly fine if either of them chose to become a clown and run away with the circus. I'm so sad that they won't get the chance with RBBBC, but there are other circuses out there, so we'll see!

Chuck birkholm said...

YES, a good time was had by all. I enjoyed your Sunday afternoon show and the HUGE laugh you got about the red show over the blue show. You had better not get to heaven anytime soon because Charlie Bauman will feed you to his Tigers.

Don't forget to mention the bar down the street from Circus World where we drank beer and whisky, ate pizza.

cwdancinfool said...

So glad they decided to do that. It must have been a magical weekend! Wish I could have been there.

Lisa said...

OMG! thank you for telling the behind the scenes stories, of what we were experiencing as just plain old (lifetime members) guests of Circus World last week. One of my favorite moments, that brought tears to my eyes, was in the ladies restroom, while three women were chatting. one said, "Can you imagine NOT BEING HERE?" "this is so wonderful". also, when three people entered the museum through the special entrance, meant only for Ringling folks, we were just wandering around the elephant barn, I heard someone say, "that's it? we're here? we're in Circus World right now?" I know a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this entire week, and we got to catch a glimpse of what happened behind the scenes thanks to you. can't wait to hear more stories, and see more pictures! oh, what a great thing to give a special performance just for special they must have felt and still probably feel today.... way to go EVERYBODY!! Lisa Premer Head