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! 

1 comment:

Christine said...

Thanks for your fun synopsis of the weekend! I've loved reading it!