Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on the Circus

You might be aware that yesterday was the tenth anniversary of 9/11. For me, it was important to get as far away from remembrances as possible. Not because I'm unfeeling. I'm actually the opposite. I have so many feelings, they tend to spill over into a flood of unchecked emotion, which threatens my mental health at times. On top of which, I've been dealing with a very sick kid on and off for two years now and lately he's been off (though much better today, thanks for asking!).

This year, disturbing, depressing, heavy topics, narratives and historical events tend to bring me way, way down. They always did--it's just that now, they bring me down to the point where I have trouble getting back up again. So, yesterday, we went to the circus.

I didn't mean to get tickets for the circus yesterday. It worked out that way in a moment of accidental planning that probably was for the best. My mom's been wanting to take Jackson to the circus for a long time. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show as in town, so what better circus experience is that? Well, as my mom said afterwards, "It's not like it used to be."

First inkling that something might be overly modernized was the title of the show, "Fully Charged." I had images of Las Vegas electrical mayhem stuck in my head as I purchased the ridiculously expensive tickets with their multiple service charges tacked on (thanks for the tickets, mom). And I think from my minimal photography below, you will note: yes, that is one fully charged show. The lights actually didn't bother me and there were lots of cool explosions and firework-type entrances, but my mom has eye troubles and it was hard for her to see stuff, looking directly into the crazy circus entry point that must have had 50 fully charged color patterns throughout the show.

My main issue was noise level. Oh God--it was SO LOUD. There was a live band with lots of fully charged synthesizers and even with ear plugs, my head felt jack-hammered for more than an hour before intermission. Caveat: I am a drummer in a rock band. I play really, really loud sometimes. Nothing I've ever experienced in a band or at a rock show, including thrash metal, came close to the decibels of Fully Charged. I was punch drunk all night afterwards. How this affected toddlers in the audience with developing ear drums, I don't want to dwell upon too thoroughly. I already mentioned that I'm overly emotional.

And then there's the issue of all the toddlers in the audience and children in general. Most children at this particular afternoon show at the reverberating Oracle Arena were too young to get much out of this gigantic spectacle. They don't yet have context during their brief lives for the tiger tamer and his giant striped kitties on pedestals. Nor for the strong men who are as wide as they are tall, swinging lovely ladies from telephone poles like a human carnival ride. To toddlers, Velcro enclosures and electric toothbrushes are still considered miraculous.

Even my nine-year-old was bored by the seemingly impossible stunts at times. To him, that's what circus performers are hired to do. And the tigers... When I expressed wonder at how their trainer was able to get them up on their hind legs, like hamsters, and then roll over in unison, when most dog-owners can't do the same with their animals, Jackson matter-of-factly stated (with a shrug), "Well, they are trained." Maybe multi-media saturation has managed to ruin the wonder of circuses somehow.

But let's be clear: I dig the circus. It's main job, to wow us with impossibility, thrills, laughter, color, and surreal epic showmanship, will hopefully prevail for the next few centuries. I told my mom it's like modern vaudeville and aside from "America's Got Talent," what spectacle promises that? The circus tradition brings together people from all over the world, working together like a Lycra-encased eccentric multi-talented family. I'm sorry about the animal-rights situation with performing animals. That's a tradition that seems to be slowly fading away and only appears to prevail under the public-relations guise of "edutainment." Still: elephants in sequined headdresses! And pretty horses, all running in formation!

Ultimately, the Ringling Bros. set out to overwhelm and blow our minds and I will say: yup--mind blown. Eardrums too. And watching Brian Miser, The Human Fuse, get shot from a gigantic crossbow across the entire stage at 65 miles per hour while completely on fire, is, as Jackson admitted while we left the show early to save our sanity, "Cool."

Check out the amazing Fernandez Brothers. They are truly fully charged!

He tried to act blasé and he wanted to leave early, but his face betrays more than a touch of excitement at the goings-on around him.

p.s. Jackson agrees, the "How Many Clowns Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb" show was really funny.

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