Wednesday, September 24, 2008

40th Ringling Brothers Clown College Reunion

September 18-21 I attended the 40th Clown College Reunion with my husband. I did not attend all of the events, or I'd have been driven nuts with clown gags, but I attended the benefit show, the archives tour, and the roast and banquet for Barry Lubin. I got to meet a handful of my husband's classmates from the Class of '88. And I got to meet some really classy clowns as well.

But the highlight of my weekend was getting to meet Robin Eurich, most recently of the Bozo Show. He was Rusty the Clown, sidekick to Bozo. When the show was canceled, I was sorely disappointed, as Rusty the Clown was pretty much my favorite clown. One of my favorite things about him is his "A.D.D."-type movements. His feet are always moving, he is always moving, and I'm sure the Bozo show cameramen had a lot of fun trying to figure out where he was going to stand all the time.

He was so personable, and we had some interesting conversations. Turns out the Rusty character is his, he gets to keep it and can perform as Rusty whenever and wherever he wants. And that is the character he played in the benefit show during the reunion. I was really excited to meet him in person, and even more excited to find out he's such a nice guy.

And of course, I got pictures! I also took a lot of other pictures, which you can see on my FLICKr pages.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ringling Brothers Clown College Reunion

Hubby and I will be headed to Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in a couple weeks for the 40th RBBB Clown College Reunion. The last one was about 10 years ago, in Las Vegas. Several hundred Ringling-trained clowns will gather to spend four days talking and talking and talking shop.

I will be avoiding them except for the Keynote, the group breakfast, and the charity performance. I love my husband and his Klowny ways, but 300 of those guys in the same room talking shop and commiserating over their antics in alleys all over the's just more than I can take.

It just isn't my thing, although it breaks Hubby's heart to think I'm not as into clowns as he'd like. The truth is, I'm interested in Circus, the whole thing, not just one aspect.

And I am excited about heading up to Baraboo, even though it looks like we have to take the girls with us since my mother has finked out on staying at the house with them. Why? Because Baraboo is a great place, full of circus haunts and history, AND because the clown reunion attendees are getting a personal tour of the archival library at Circus World Museum. I've been trying to get in there for two years!

So, it's a great research opportunity for me, as well as visiting a place that I truly adore. It's going to be a great weekend.

Back, Hopefully Better

I have declared myself fully recovered from my urgent surgery in June. My doctor declared me "recovered" three weeks after my surgery, but until the last week or so, I didn't feel recovered. I'm happy to say my energy is back and my creative juices are flowing. It doesn't hurt any that fall is here and that I usually get my biggest inspirations in the fall.

I've been keeping up with circus by reading Ben Trumble's blog every few days, and reading a new picto-blog called The Balloon Man. Similar to Buckles Blog, it has some great stories and pictures from old circus and sideshow.

Touring circus season will be coming to a close shortly. Now that the kids are back in school and Labor Day weekend is underway, circuses can't bring in the people like they can in summer. I know we are considering emptying the pool this weekend, even though the weather is still warm, because no one is swimming in it anyway. It's just that time of year. All of the little mud shows will be returning to their homes, many in Hugo, Oklahoma, and the performers dispersing to their winter quarters, wherever they may be.

As fall approaches for me, it means I need to get back to work writing. Without a Net needs a complete rewrite at this point, which I've started but not gone very far on. November is coming, which means a new novel should be in the works, but not having finished the one from two years ago, I know it's time to buckle down and do something with one of my unfinished projects.

We'll see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Missed Flora

Due to the need for urgent surgery, I managed to miss out on seeing Circus Flora this year. I'm disappointed, but know that as sick as I was the last few weeks, I'd have missed more than I'd have enjoyed.

There's always next year. I'm bummed, but I'll live.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Celebrity Circus - NBC

Well, what a joke this show is. Within the first three weeks it's devolved into a contest to see who can be the snarkiest performer. The judges are pretty brutal, which they should be. Circus arts is not an easy thing, even for skilled and experienced performers.

These are celebrities trying to pretend they are circus stars, and it looks just about as ridiculous as you'd expect. Not a one of them has the fluid, relaxed look of circus performers; to say they look like wooden dolls is an understatement.

But honestly, the show would be great to watch if they'd all just shut their mouths and stop smarting off to the judges, and acting like big-headed wrestling stars when they talk about their competition.

As my daughter would say, "It's redonculous."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Contact Juggling

We are all impressed by different tricks. For me, it's anything done with the hands, especially closeup magic and more recently, contact juggling. I gave my husband a training contact ball and video for Christmas in hopes that he would want to learn it. It is absolutely amazing to watch.

I'm embedding a video of a street (park) performer doing some of the most amazing tricks with a contact juggling ball that I've ever seen. He is really, really good.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Time for Flora!!

I can't believe Circus Flora has been open for a week and I have yet to see a show. I didn't even get to watch the tent raising or interview the performers. The timing was just off this year, as I was getting ready for another major event and also dealing with some health issues of my own while dealing with some of my older parents' issues as well.

But, my hubby and I will get down to see Flora before it leaves. I hope I'll get to go twice, but I'll just have to see how things go. Tater, of course, will have to come with us, I can't go see Flora without her!

The show's theme this year is Sherwood Forest. I am looking forward to seeing it!

Out with C&M, in with KM

I've been following the adventures of Ben Trumble, sometime Patch and circus worker, who I discovered last year was keeping a great online diary about mudshows. Last year he was traveling with Carson and Barnes, one of the classier of the mud shows, and I very much enjoyed his "inside information" as he went along.

This year, he joined Culpepper Merriweather, a bit of a rag-tag operation that somehow manages to tour every year. My husband toured with them several years ago and left that circus under less-than-ideal circumstances. I've seen CM's shows, and all I can really say without being too insulting about it is that the show is seedy. Their tents, trucks, and some of their workers just show so much wear and dis-repair that it is difficult to let the magic take over. It is sad to see a circus traveling that way, not only because the audience deserves better, but because the performers and workers to, too.

But Ben must be brave, he went out with C&M, and made a good try of it. He was driving the truck that hauled the seat wagon, as well as pitching in elsewhere as needed. A third of the way through the season, he left C&M and went home. He has not shared a lot of details publicly, but reading between the lines gives one the assumption that things were not all roses and butterflies on C&M, and there were creative differences that made it impossible for Ben to remain with the show.

A few weeks later, and Ben has found his way to another circus, one of my personal favorites. He is now traveling with Kelly Miller, a show owned by John Ringling North. KM is one of my personal favorite mudshows; their equipment looks pristine, their tent is immaculate, and they have some of the prettiest Asian elephants I've seen. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Ben in the future. You can read Ben's travels at A Mudshow Season.

Quick, The Elephants Escaped!!

Last week in the news was a short blurb about elephants escaping from a traveling circus in Kansas. My hubby and I looked at the pictures of the two elephants and said, "Hey, we know those elephants!"

Turns out it was Congo and Kamba, owned by Doug Terranova and on tour with the Culpepper and Merriweather Great Combine Circus. There was no film footage, as this was a tiny little town. It barely got a mention in the paper, and the only pictures were from a homeowner who went outside to find them in her yard.

According to the report, one elephant was coaxed back onto the truck, the other had to be tranquilized before she would cooperate. And I know which is which...Kamba is a sweetheart and would follow anyone with a bag of apples to share. Congo is a mean old girl and does nothing she doesn't want to do.

Hubby and I had a great laugh over the incident. I'm sure for the residents of the tiny little town, finding elephants in the back yard grazing on your begonias would be quite shocking. It reminds me of some of the stories I heard when doing research for Without A Net, and how the circus patch often had to pay out to a homeowner or farmer when a bull got loose and trashed a field or flower garden.

The truth is, they are relatively harmless. As long as there is something to eat, they can be easily distracted and taken back to where they belong.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Celebrity Circus

NBC is going forward with plans to film and present "Celebrity Circus" some time this fall. As much as I love circus, this is not something I'm looking forward to.

As with most "with the stars" type reality productions, turning has-been and c-list "stars" into something they are not is nothing new, and not particularly noteworthy nor entertaining. Anyone can sort of learn to do circus tricks. Even I could. But to do them well, and with style, and with all of the sparkle and spangle that is Circus, is beyond what any celebrity/celebutante can accomplish in a mere few weeks of "rehearsals" and practice.

Color me unimpressed. I believe ABC had the same idea a few months back, but their project has been canned.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Circus Flora 2008 Season

Last week in the mail I received my annual request for support flier from Circus Arts Foundation of Missouri, the parent of Circus Flora. I wish I were independently wealthy and could give them a big fat check, but I will have to settle, once again, for going to several shows and buying my tickets at full price.

This year's show has a theme, as all years do. This year's theme is "Escape to Sherwood Forest." The theme is usually loosely held into a storyline wrapped around the various performances, but it's all fun in the end.

I am looking forward to making myself into a pest on the lot for the few weeks leading up to their opening on June 5. I hope that this year I'll actually get to see the tent go up, and to interview a few more performers.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Parental Dilemmas

From the Washington Post comes an article about the parental dilemma of taking children to the circus.

I probably don't have to tell you what I think of the crackpot who won't be taking her child to the zoo because "wild animals should be in the wild." I also probably don't have to tell you she's one of the PETA protesters.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Quick, Run!!

So apparently yesterday in Maryland, some Ringling Bros. zebras escaped. This has happened before, most recently in Colorado Springs.

Those zebras...people have always been fascinated by them, but they are the animal most likely NOT to be able to be domesticated. They retain their wildness no matter how much training is administered, and even those born in captivity (which is also rare) keep their wildness. Their genes haven't changed in multiple millenniums.

Go, Zebras, go!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sherwood Forest

Circus Flora, my all-time favorite circus, has set its theme for this year's show. "Sherwood Forest" will feature the usual cast of performers, including The Ianna Spirit Riders, Giovanni Zoppe (Nino), the St. Louis Arches, and Cecil McKinnon. The Haute Ecole horse act and the Flying Cortez will also be featured, along with the Flying Wallendas.

It's going to be another great show. Yes, I'm biased, but I love Circus Flora and it means I get more chances to hang out and learn more about circus. And that's always a good thing.

The shows will run from June 5-22, 2008.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

And Great Joy Was Heard Througout the Land...

Well, probably not really. But joy for me. B.E. Trumble, mud show blogger and sometime Patch, is going to be touring with and blogging from a mudshow again this year. I so missed following his adventures last year, when he wasn't traveling with a show. In 2006 he was with Carson and Barnes. He will spend this summer with Culpepper-Merriweather, the same circus my husband toured with in 2005.

I did an email interview with Trumble two years ago as part of the research for my book. So I have a semi-understanding of what he does. I'm not sure what his position on Culpepper-Merriweather will be, but I'm sure to find out. I'm really looking forward to reading his updates.

If you want to read along, the link to his blog is to the right.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Great article on Gibsonton, aka, Gibtown or "Freak Town." I have never been but Klown and I intend to at some point. After this article, it just makes me want to visit even worse.

That and some of the circus performers I've been interviewing lately call Gibtown home. And I don't consider any of them "freaks," either.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Social Space for Circus People

A new social space has been created for circus people. There are not too many people there yet, but I'm hoping there will be. It will be a great place for me to gather interviews and information on circus. I hope, anyway.

The new site is I have a page there, as does my husband, and plenty of performers at this point. I would like to see some promoters there, and workmen, and butchers, and etc. I hope the site evolves to include all types.

Will I see you there?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Weird Mail

Apparently another Linda Robertson fan wrote me today. I wonder how they are finding my blog, because I can't even find it on the search engines doing normal keyword searches. Hmmm. Take time to read the woman's signature, and also her closing quote, which I find quite amusing.

FROM: Jan - ""
SUBJ: Illiteracy big problem with circus folk

What do you mean, the email wasn't signed? It says right there, "FROM: Priscilla Gargalis". While you wish Linda RoberTson a recovery, let me trust karma to give her what she gives the animals: abuse and suffering. "Animal advocate", my natural-born white liberal ass.

Jan McClellan
Arizona Society for the Abolition of Violent & Exploitive Spectacles
"In remembrance of Jerry Falwell, may his promotion of bigotry, intolerance, and hate die along with his fat, unhealthy body."

Hmmm. And here just this past week I was thinking about writing an article about "Karmic Footprints" for
a local publication. And yes, of course I wrote her back:

Jan -
SUBJ: Illiteracy big problem with circus folk

Well, see there, you signed yours. "Jan McClellan." Ms. Gargalis, if
that is her real name (or maybe it's a he, hard to say) doesn't know how
to write proper correspondence. All correspondence should be signed. A
return email address in the "from" line does not constitute a
signature. Yes, this is probably a matter of semantics but I find that
people who don't sign their emails are being haphazardous with their
words and their intentions. You would never write a letter without
signing your name, and email is a form of correspondence, it deserves a

I've got to did you find my blog in the first place? I'm
curious about that since it has never been advertised and I'm not linked
anywhere that I know of. The numbers of views to the blog have been
rather limited in the year or so I've had it up.

-Susabelle Kelmer

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weird Mail

Today in my inbox for this blog I received the following email:

FROM: Priscilla Gargalis ""
SUBJ: Linda Roberson [sic]

You've got to be kidding!!! You're calling Linda Roberson and animal advocate????
She's nothing more than an animal abuser....just like the rest of the circus freaks!

I love unsigned emails. And emails with misspellings, like misspelling the name of the person she was writing about (it's ROBERTSON, you "freak", with a T). I did write her back:

TO: Priscilla Gargalis ""
SUBJ: Linda Roberson

I don't know who you are. Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me.

-Susabelle Kelmer

At least I know how to sign my name to emails. I wonder if I'll hear back from her.

Spangles, Elephants, Violets, and Me

I've just started reading Victoria Cristiani Rossi's memoir, Spangles, Elephants, Violets, and Me. I've gotten through the acknowledgments, forward, and prologue. This is going to be an interesting book, if I can keep up with how she bops from time to time in her life.

She alludes to the dark side of circus life, and the particular scandals the Cristiani family were accused of over the years. She also alludes to a bitter fight that estranged her from most of the family for many years. All of these things make me very curious. It will be interesting to see how she covers things from her inside point of view, having been raised inside Circus. It might give me a bit more specific information on building the circus of my novel.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Linda Robertson

I received word through Circus Vern that Linda Robertson, probably best known as an elephant trainer/handler and circus and circus animal rights advocate, has had a severe stroke or aneurysm and is in a coma. Her chances for recovery are unknown at this time.

I might not have noticed or even read the notice from Vern, except that I interviewed Linda Robertson last year for my novel. In addition to working with the Rosaire Foundation in Sarasota, where she lives, she also has traveled extensively and keeps an eye on the underground animal freedom movements. She probably knows more about the inner workings of PETA than anyone else on the planet.

In between circus work, she kept herself solvent working as a paralegal. She had offered to give my name to a publication lawyer when I was ready, to help me get Without a Net into publication. She was a resource I was keeping in touch with. So it is sad to know she is so ill.

My prayers are with her for her recovery.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I may have found my direction

As those who have read this blog, even infrequently, have noted, Without a Net is lacking somewhat in direction. I really have had no major "thread" to hold the story together. I have plenty of elements, plenty of activities to take up time and talk about circus, but no one good thread to pull them all together.

I finally think I landed on that thread the other day. My main female character need a passion to follow. She needed more than learning about the circus to make her story interesting enough to read. I find that I may have been focusing on the wrong primary characters for my story. My female lead is fine, but the male lead is weak, and always has been. I won't be replacing him, but he will become more of a sub-character to the more dynamic and strong character I will allow to take the focus.

Of course, this means much of the early novel needs to change to catch up, but that's okay. I now know what I want to do with the story, and that will make it all that much easier to write.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I want to be in this kind of shape

This guy was filmed performing at age 97. He died late in 2007 and the ripe old age of 98. He had never stopped performing. Wow.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Circus Chimera Won't Tour 2008

Yes, I know, long time no post. I managed to survive NaNoWriMo and my writing blog then the holiday season. Quite literally, it has been two months since I've even thought about Without A Net. It is time to get back to it. As any other writer will tell you, there are plenty of ideas in my head, and plenty of new projects I could start, but I really need to finish this one before I get any further away from it.

So, to get back into the swing, I'm catching up on my Circus Vern emails. Vern emails out all kinds of interesting tidbits about circus and performers and tours. Every email is chock-full of info that I can use both in my novel and in my blog. Since I am also about two months behind on reading Circus Vern, as well, it is taking me a while to catch up. But one particular entry caught my attention, and I read it, even though it was out of the order of what I was reading.

Circus Chimera, based in Hugo, Oklahoma, will not be touring this year. The reason is not gas prices, insurance rates, or lack of sponsors. The reason is that Chimera can no longer legally hire Mexican workmen to travel with the circus. A change in the H2B visa application process and number caps has virtually assured that Chimera, and virtually no other circus, can hire temporary Mexican workers on legal visas. These workers are the ones that set up the tents, feed and care the animals, run the concessions trailers, drive the trucks, and do all manner of physical labor. They are paid a reasonable sum, about $550 a week, for this work. They definitely work hard, and get little sleep at night. They are certainly worth more than they are being paid, but the pay is not terrible, either. Many of these Mexican workers spend 8 months or more of the year traveling with a circus like Chimera, and return to Mexico and their families for the remainder of the year. If they can get work in Mexico, it pays very poorly and is intermittent. Circus work gives them a reasonable income. Chimera hires up to 50 of these types of legal workers every season.

What I find a bit strange is that American men and women don't want to make $550 a week and travel the country for 8 or more months. Yes, the work is hard, but many local laborers don't make $550 a week, and on the circus, your meals and lodging are provided! If you have your own method of travel such as an RV, then you usually also receive mileage payments from the circus for your travel. It's not a bad wage for an honest day's work.

It saddens me that circuses will be some of the "collateral damage" from the immigration crackdown. What is even more sad is that these were legal workers, brought it to work a limited amount of time, at a specific job, under a sponsored employer, and then returned to Mexico when they were done. Many circuses may have no choice but to start employing illegal labor in order to stay in operation, or simply give up and close down entirely. This will potentially put thousands of people out of work, and remove a staple of summer entertainment from our communities.

That is probably the saddest thought of all.