Wednesday, March 4, 2015

school's out!

today was the last day of class for my winter term class "Insider's View of the Arts in Sarasota" and our instructor ended with an interesting topic especially given Sarasota's history.... the Circus!

a teaser to get you into the body of the post--- my collage of clown photos taken at the site of the Circus Arts Conservatory the location of our field trip this week. If you look closely they are actually only two clowns male and female that have each been individually decorated. They were on display in Sarasota a few years back and then disbursed- now the Conservatory is trying to gather them together again for display...

Before I delve into the topic here are two of my all time favorites circus related cartoon from the Far Side by Gary Larson- 

The first one was brought to mind when our presenter- Mr. Pedro Reis spoke of his desire to become a circus performer when he was young - sneaking into a trapeze training facility to jump on the trampolines and nets.... and the second one was the only cartoon I had on my office bulletin board for the last decade of my career in law... it spoke to me on so many levels- not the least of which was the incredible array of "responsibilities" contained in Rex's new trick...

But on to the morning's topic- 

here is a little blurb from the website on the history of the organization- 

The Circus Arts Conservatory was born from decades of circus history and today serves as a legacy to those that have set the standards for international circus performance. In the late 1920′s John Ringling moved his circus winter quarters to Sarasota and the circus became an integral part of the social and economic life giving our community its unique identity. Today, our organization stands as an icon dedicated preserving the extraordinary heritage of the circus arts through performance, training, education and outreach.

Known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” Sarasota, Florida claims its own resident hometown circus. Our annual professional performances, showcased in a one-ring, five-star, European-style big top, have been acclaimed around the globe for world-class artistry and entertainment. Committed to raising the perception of the circus as the valuable art form it represents, The Circus Arts Conservatory is much more than a circus.  Approximately 80% of ticket revenue to help support its community outreach programs that serve children, the elderly and those in care facilities.  The year-round outreach programs Humor Therapy Program, Education Program and Sailor Circus Academy contribute important outcomes in our community.  It remains equally important to Circus Sarasota to preserve Sarasota’s unique circus legacy through education, human service and the performing arts.

Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs have combined their expertise and passion for the circus by creating Circus Sarasota. Their mission is to provide a circus that represents the circus arts at the highest level and that is linked to the community through performance, education and integrated arts programming. They have helped bring the magic of circus to more than 200,000 people.

SARASOTA “Circus Capital of the World”

John Ringling first visited Sarasota in 1909, when this quiet farming and fishing village had a population of just over 800. Realizing the real estate potential of the area, he bought numerous large parcels of land, including St. Armands, Bird Key, the south end of Longboat Key and 66,000 acres along the Myakka River.

In the late 1920′s, John was offered 156 acres of land if he would move his circus winter quarters to Sarasota. He recognized the many advantages of relocating, so in November, 1927, the circus train rolled into town as it would do for the next 33 years. Many other circuses followed the Ringlings, and Circus became an integral part of the social and economic life of Sarasota, giving our area its unique identity.

Winter Quarters

In 1950, Cecil B. DeMille directed The Greatest Show on Earth, a motion picture starring Charlton Heston, James Stewart and Betty Hutton. Much of the film was shot in Sarasota. Many local residents were used as extras, and circus artists advised and helped the stars with their stunts and appeared in the film. Its world premier was at what is now the Sarasota Opera House.
 Today, the grand Ringling Winter Quarters is gone. While the area remains home base for many circuses and home to thousands of active and retired circus families, few Circus attractions are open to the public.

The Wallendas

After an absence of many years, Sarasota once again has its own professional resident circus, Circus Sarasota, which mentors the Sailor Circus youth program to continue the legacy of the circus arts in this region. (all blue italics are from

So this morning we were greeted by Mr. Pedro Reis the founder of the Circus Arts Conservatory and he spoke to us about his personal history and that of his wife and her family as well as the founding of the CAC here in Sarasota... so here are some of my notes- I will try to do justice to his presentation but he was an excellent story teller and kept us all engrossed for the entire time allotted so my notes may have some spaces where the flow may have been lost as I followed along with Pedro's career and the founding of the school. (my apologies up front) 

a small digression- I took the photo below of the Bandstand- for a friend of mine that spent a summer- before dental school-  playing the trumpet in the circus band with Ringling's Blue circus - it has formed the basis of countless recitations of his summer traveling with the circus and what a mean drunk one the midgets was (shall remain nameless) anyway I thought of him when I saw the bandstand in the Sailor Circus arena this morning-

some arena photos of the rings, ladders, ropes and seats for patrons...

As a child in South Africa, Pedro got hooked on the circus when his family moved across the street from and outdoor circus arts program.  The flying trapeze was his first love but he knew early on he could never be the best in the world at it and that was his motivation to try other acts.  He got a troop of 13 together to form an act called the "Star Lords" - he was, I believe, a "catcher" (versus the flying trapeze- still swings but doesn't leap like the flyer does- I think.) They took the show on the road and went to the big circus competition in Monaco.

The Star Lords disbanded and Pedro next took up a cradle act - this is an act where the catcher is stable on a platform rather than swinging from his knees.  That act was touring in Switzerland when Ringling's agents saw him and hired him immediately for the US circus. Ringling's winter quarters had historically been in Sarasota and it is know around the world as the US circus capital.  It did later move to Venice and even later to its current location in Palmetto (where they took over a huge abandoned GE jet engine plant)where they can have two circus shows and three ice shows in rehearsal at the same time.  But as Pedro said- in Sarasota, the circus capital of America, the circus is pretty much invisible and he hope to use the Circus Arts Conservatory to give it a higher profile.

When Pedro joined the Ringling Circus he met the woman who would later become his wife.  She was touring with the Red Circus and he with the Blue Circus. His act was called "The Survivors" It was an aerial act but he went on to a cloud swing act when one of the Survivors lost his nerve and became too worried about being able to keep the act safe.  Then an accident during his cloud swing act ended his career- a faulty set up to the rigging on his act caused him to break both his ankles and they are now fused.  As he put it "one door closes and you open another one" he and Dolly his wife of now 27 years decided to open a circus arts school.

Dolly (who has a roman rings act background) is circus royalty, the daughter of Lou Jacobs - one of three clown archetypes (he was an Auguste Clown, Emmett Kelly the Tramp Clown, and Felix Adler the White Faced Clown). Lou Jacobs is really really BIG- here are three amazing facts about him (from wikipedia)  he popularized the clown car, which has been a staple of circus clown acts ever since; he is also cited as the originator of the red rubber ball nose, used by many clowns today and he was the first living person to have his portrait appear on an American postage stamp.

above Jacobs with at least a couple of Wallenda kids- and below the stamp (which technically may be Jacob's image but I don't think I would - as a lawyer- deem this a portait...LOL)

So back to Pedro's story- he and Dolly opened the circus school and bought a tent from a bankrupt Russian circus. They have always had lots of support from the Wallendas because they are believers in passing on the art of circus performers. The school had great difficulty in the first years and were very close to going under when the Van Wezel rented their tent while the auditorium was undergoing renovations. At one point Dolly took a job at Busch Gardens to pay the artists at the school. Things turned around after they performed on the Van Wezel calendar and gained more widespread notice.

The location of the Circus Arts Conservatory (right next to Sarasota High School) is historical.  The program for the Sailor Circus began as part of the Physical Education program at the school. The team name has always been the Sailors because back before there was a Sunshine Skyway the foot ball team used to sail across the mouth of the Tampa Bay to play the St Pete high school football team.  The school ran the "Sailor Circus" for a while and then later when the school board was sued for an accident, they gave it up and turned it over to the Police Athletics League (PAL).

here is what their website has to say about their association with the Sailor Circus-

The Sailor Circus has been in operation since 1949. In 2004 the Police Athletic League of Sarasota County took it over as one of its after school programs. While it offers traditional homework assistance and tutoring, it is anything from ordinary. This unique program teaches children from the fourth grade through the twelfth grade through circus arts. Students have the opportunity of learning everything from unicycle, juggling, teeter-totter, globes, and clowning to high-wire, hoops, rings, tissue, and flying trapeze. Students participate in sessions that begin in either August and/or January. At the end of each session a public performance is held before crowds of more than 20,000 people each year!

Pedro noted that they teach circus arts as a discipline - and for self esteem - few of the students go on to the circus and all are encouraged to continue their education through college.

The big top for Circus Sarasota (now located in Benderson Park) seats 1645 people - while the arena (where the Sailor Circus and the Circus Arts Conservatory are located) seats 1750- and can be expanded with floor seating for concerts to 2500 seats.  The tent is rented out (for example to Bonnaroo festival in TN) and travels when Circus Sarasota isn't in town. The Circus Sarasota does not have the funds to travel - this usually needs to have a corporate sponsor to make it happen.

(photo from tripadvisor)

Circus is alive and well, not just worldwide but in the US as well. Ringling has three traveling circus units and Cirque de Soleil has five in Las Vegas and three traveling shows. There are hundreds of circus schools today training kids in after school programs.  Pedro himself has worked in 48 states and many many countries worldwide and he noted that frequently kids of circus families in Europe spoke seven or more languages.

Pedro spoke passionately about the process of creating a new show and how important each element was to the audience's overall experience- not just the acts but the lighting and the sound and the timing and sequencing of the show.  He said that Cirque de Soleil (CdS) had transformed the way circus was perceived.  It was started by two street performers from Montreal who got a $ 5 million grant from the Canadian government and designed a whole new show.  They couldn't afford animals so they touted the fact that they were "animal free."  They create their acts from the ground up rather than hire circus acts and build their shows around a theme. They have been copied by many groups in other countries (Cirque Chinois, or Cirque Italia, for example.) Circus is alive and well despite being one of the oldest forms of family entertainment in the US.

some clown closeups-

For anyone interested in seeing upcoming performances - the Circus Sarasota FEARLESS show (which had rave reviews)  is closed, but they are having a combination of circus acts with the Key Chorale group which is coming up - called Cirque des Voix and the Sailor Circus is also on the near term schedule.

The Q&A came up with the following little tid-bits of information that I found interesting-

  • you can't copyright your act - you can copyright a routine but not the act.
  • 99% of accidents in the circus are due to rigging errors.
  • the Circus Producers Association helps the circuses get insurance.
  • they save all their costumes and even have some that have been donated - and they rent them out.
  • they also teach sound/lighting/rigging/costumes for the circus as well as the "acts".
  • they put on circus camp in the summer for seven weeks.

Another interesting class and morning - KUDOS to Judy Levine for putting together this incredible course for the Lifelong Learning Academy at USF-SM!!!! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

not the Patty Duke show

My cousin Michele came to visit and for some reason that song from the Patty Duke show came into my head- "still they're cousins, identical cousins all the pair of matching bookends different as night and day!" sing along with me now- LOL- you know you know this song- just like the Flintstones song everyone of a "certain age" can just fall into the chorus... "While Cathy adores the minuet, ballet russe and crepes Suzette, our Patty like to rock and roll, the hot dog makes her loose control - what a wild duet- still they're cousins..."

well- my cousin Michele and I are not identical cousins- LOL we aren't really even cousins - my actual cousin is her mother. Michele is 25 years younger than I am and almost a foot shorter and maybe weighs dripping wet a third of what I do- she comes from the smaller side of the family and I come from the much larger side- LOL- yes you have recently seen my 6'6" brother next to me- at a shade under 6 feet I am considered tall for my age- LOL but my brother and his kids all are taller than I am... 

I never really knew my cousin Michele (who will hereinafter be referred to as Michele- LOL) until she was nearly finished with law school.  We got acquainted later - as she was starting her career as an attorney and I was looking to end mine... but we really hit it off and became friends who just happened to be related to each other.  How nice is that? makes me smile just putting that thought down on e-paper so to speak...

Michele moved to Miami a few years back - around the time we started spending our winters in Florida and so we've gotten to see her at least once or twice a winter for the last five years... In January we went to Miami and saw her and last weekend she came up to visit us.  We don't usually make a lot of plans because it is just nice to hangout and spend time with each other but this visit she said she wanted to see Snooty- and being 66 as he is- we don't know if he will be here another 25 years or 2.5 years.... it's a mystery... so we take every opportunity to see him that we can.  

She arrived on Friday evening and Saturday morning we went to the South Florida Museum in time for the Snooty feeding at 11:15 and then a show at the planetarium before heading home to pick up Phil and have lunch at Star Fish Company in Cortez.  Our Saturday dinner was at Harry's and on Sunday she and I checked out the local exhibit on Da Vinci and Michelangelo at the Municipal Auditorium before getting Phil for lunch at the Riverhouse Reef & Grill - then she headed back in the mid afternoon to Miami.  It was - as always- great to spend time together.  My cousin is smart and funny (dry humor funny, like I think I am- LOL) and beautiful- so what's not to like? 

here are a few photos of the weekend- starting with my two favorites- 

then a couple from various exhibits at the museum-

this one was from a photography exhibit - the little guy was peeking out of an old beer can that had corroded- isn't he just the cutest? (the actual photograph was in focus - it was my cell phone that couldn't adjust because of the reflection on the glass)

then it was off to Star Fish Company for lunch- excellent as usual!

there is a flock of white pelicans that live around the corner from the Star Fish Company and so we frequently see a few of them there- and always see their brown brothers and some that are mixed coloring-

we took a bottle of 96 Gevrey-Chambertin which was also excellent- for our dinner at Harry's on LBK- (which is local speak for Long Boat Key)

the Sunday activity- the Michelangelo and Da Vinci show-

this blurb is about the above painting-

a detail of perhaps Michelangelo's most famous work on the Sistine Chapel-

so a nice weekend - and finally the cold weather broke on Saturday - and it was even warmer on Sunday so the calendar turned a page to March and I guess the weather god said "oh all right - enough of the cold weather!" Thank YOU!!!  

next up my last week of classes at USF-SM... my post will be about the circus arts conservatory but my last maritime history of Florida class was extremely interesting as it was all about Cuba and the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis- I have no photos but I did snap a photo of our instructor on the last day of class- I think he is quite the character- LOL

stay tuned for a lot of very interesting circus information for the head of the Circus Arts Conservatory!