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!