taz_39: (footprint)
[personal profile] taz_39

Before starting this post, I'd just like to say thank you. Over the past week I have been bombarded with wonderful, absolutely wonderful messages of encouragement and commiseration and support and strength. Your kind, hearfelt, understanding voices have drowned out the messages of hate that I've also received (and there were many.) I did not know that so many people still enjoyed the circus. After all of the efforts put out by the animal rights agenda, and as our audience diminished over the past year, I had begun to think that the circus was really and truly hated. But this week has taught me that the opposite is true. The vast majority of you still love the circus. You love the animals, you love the people, you love the tradition, and the magic, that is circus. I will never forget it.

It is not lost on us that at any given show, there are hundreds of people who are seeing a Ringling Bros. spectacle for the last time. And all of us will do our best to perform at the highest level for you, before we go.  Thank you so much for all of your love and support.


Let's see if I can remember anything about this week, haha.

I remember that we had a single show on Monday, after which Jameson and I both plastered ourselves to the computer to look for work, for hours, into the next morning. Tuesday was very much the same. For Jameson, he is the type who needs to jump right in and start searching to maintain a high level of motivation. For me, I need time to be upset so that I can move on. While Jameson was reaching out to his contacts and making some seriously impressive progress, I was blogging, and writing, and answering questions on Quora. I was responding to the many many people who wrote to me on my blog and facebook and email. Hundreds and hundreds of messages poured in. I don't think I've ever typed so much. I remember looking up from the screen with a blazing headache and realizing that it was approaching 1am, and perhaps I should give it a rest.

At some point in there I went to a back room to be alone and cry my eyes out. Like I said, for me the best path is to feel the feels, and then move on.

That night we packed up and drove to the train (it had spotted early). I spent the day splicing trombone highlights from my 2013-2014 Built to Amaze performances, and loading them on SoundCloud. After that, several more hours answering questions on Quora and responding to all of the hateful and kind messages that I'd received that day. Looking around my room, I had to try really hard to keep it together. I'm going to have to pack everything up, and leave this tiny room, which I consider to be my home. I'm one of the last people to stay on this historic, beautiful train. By the way, what will even happen to the train? Ugh.

I spent Wednesday updating resumes, updating my LinkedIn, responding to messages, reaching out to various connections, etc etc. This is literally all that I did for the entire day, with breaks to eat. Right before bed I finally caved and watched some anime, just to get some of the tension off of me.

Thursday was opening day. Let me tell you, there was a notable difference in everyone's attitude. Usually on opening day people are relatively cheerful, talking and joking as we enter the building, roughhousing during rehearsal, etc. Today was definitely different. We filed slowly and silently into the arena. We set up as usual. Occasionally I heard a snarky comment or a laugh with no joy in it. It made me feel bad...the next few months will be very difficult to get through if we can't cheer ourselves up.

(photo courtesy Julio F./Richard S.)

At the pre-rehearsal meeting, it was announced that we would no longer be able to get discounted tickets for our friends and family. We were also offered career counselling from a third party, who would be backstage for the weekend. We had a pretty normal rehearsal. Probably due to a little depression, the show was difficult to play; it felt like I was playing underwater or something. Not fun. Jameson lent me his Q2N camera because I'm trying to get footage for auditions. But I do not like playing in front of cameras, so I was a bit nervous, plus the levels weren't right. It was a good test run though.

Friday was incredibly busy. I had an interview with a magazine for a possible upcoming article (not sure if it will be published, stay tuned), and then later in the afternoon we had a phone conference involving all eighteen members from both Red and Blue unit bands and our union representatives. This was in preparation for severance negotiations with Feld.

That night I recorded footage of myself playing the show again, but it turned out to be one of those weird "off" shows where lots of unusual stuff happened and many things went wrong. The Wheel act was longer than usual, we lost the our timing during Mountain Gag, some wonky stuff happened during Bungee, the BMX act was cancelled due to a wet floor...nothing serious, just enough odd stuff that several parts of my recording were unuseable. But I'm kinda glad I got it on tape! For the memories :)

And you know, I think perhaps what happened during that show was just everyone trying to shake off the very heavy shadow of the dying circus bearing down on us. We're all still here, we all still love what we do. We all want to give our best, to the very last minute.

Saturday was a confirmation that some of our good vibes were returning. I saw people smiling during the show. I saw performers actually reacting positively when the crowd cheered. Brett (bandmaster) cracked some jokes with us. It felt almost normal.

We also got an interesting surprise: our Entr'acte music was changed to something a little more...circus. It was the classic, the infamous, the traditional circus fanfare: Entry of the Gladiators. It's a little-known fact that certain members of the Feld family are not fond of this piece of music, so I'm sure that this is a sort of tongue-in-cheek jab at them. But it's also a tribute, to everything the circus ever was and has been. The audience absolutely loved it. This is the first time in forever that the band has been applauded for our little feature in Entr'acte.

I loved it too. Now, in addition to being able to say that I was in the circus band, I can also say that I got to play Entry of the Gladiators for Ringling Bros. AWESOME.

My boss had something to say about it, and he put it so well, I had to share it:

"As a musician for the RBBB circus, I've grown accustomed to being taken for granted. Sometimes by my employers, sometimes by the audience. (Never, however by the performers.) It often seemed as if the audience was unaware of our performance. It's the cost of doing business, i suppose. But yesterday, something changed. At the direction of Rye Mullis, our second half overture, known in the biz as the Entre' Acte, was changed. Out was the theme of the show, and in was Thunder and Blazes, Entry of the Gladiators. It was stylistically altered to fit the feel of the show, but the melody was unmistakable. Immediately, and I mean immediately, the audience heard it and responded. I could hear audible gasps and cheerful reaction from children of all ages, not to mention the gleeful echoes from Taylor, Sandor, Ivan, and the rest of Clown Alley. Turns out, our audience is savvy after all. They heard the traditional circus music, and responded positively, enthusiastically, genuinely. Long ago, I felt like we should have "leaned in" and embraced our remarkable, unique place in this culture, rather than run away from it, seeking windmill after windmill. Maybe our audience didn't leave us. Maybe, just maybe, it was the other way around.

Couldn't agree more, bossman.

I had a nice surprise of my own after the first show on Saturday. I was just walking off stage when I heard several people scream, "GO TROMBONE!!!" from somewhere behind me. I turned and squinted up into the audience and saw some people I didn't recognize waving enthusiastically. I waved back and quickly went to meet them! It was a family who'd come to see the circus one last time. I was introduced to two young men who would soon be graduating high school, one of whom was auditioning for music schools and the other who was applying to the US Air Force! Both are trombone players. We talked a bit about the circus closing, taking auditions, music stuff, what they thought about the show. I was so glad that I got to speak to these guys and the rest of their family. It reminded me that what we are doing here is not just something to be brushed off or thrown away. We are making people happy, and giving encouragement, and showing what great things people are capable of when they work together. My day was made!

The rest of the day went just fine. I stopped by the career services booth, just to see what it was all about. It was mostly assistance with building a resume and suggestions for taking a job interview.

Jameson took his camera back and recorded some footage of himself playing. Hopefully it'll be good enough for him to make a great audition video!

On Sunday we had two shows. There was a line of storms rolling in, and a tornado watch, so everyone was scrambling to bring our equipment inside or at least closer to the building between shows. Hopefully everyone will stay safe for load out. Both shows were packed, both went well.

After the last show we packed up and drove to Jameson's place. Tomorrow I hope to rest a little, but we both also have work to do.

In closing, I would like to share with you all a message that I got from a wonderful couple whom I've never met. Everyone in the circus needs to hear their message to us, and keep it in their hearts.

"I grew up going to the Circus. Back in the 1960's and living in NYC, there were still small Circuses that would come through, and of course every year Ringling Bros was the highlight. My favorites was always the clowns and the acrobats. Eventually my career with the Airlines would take me out west to Salt Lake City. I would still go to the circus as an adult. When I married my wife of 22 years, as long as we were in Salt Lake City we would take the Nieces and Nephews to the Circus, but this was merely an excuse so that we could go and enjoy it ourselves. We now live in Southern Idaho, and this year I asked my wife if she would like to take a trip down to see the circus in Salt Lake City about five hours from where we live. It was soon after that we heard the sad announcement that the Ringling Brothers Circus would be closing and going dark forever. Worse yet the remaining shows would be on the East Coast. Alas I am now disabled retired and travel is hard and expensive.

"I write this email to let you know, that you did something that mattered. There will be children who saw the Circuses that you performed in that will remember them for the rest of their lives. It is so sad that a new generation will grow up without the circus. The real circus, the one that came into town on a train, that had well cared for elephants, tigers, lamas, horses and camels. That had acrobats who really did death defying stunts, some unfortunately even lately have paid the cost. (may they heal well and complete.) That had whole crews of people that just put show the together and then disassembled it to go to the next city. Please know that there are many out here that truly enjoyed and were influenced by what Circus did and will do. Only the best thoughts and wishes on your future.
" - Steve and Maureen

Other stuff:

On opening day Jonathan (animal specialist) was walking around backstage with Katie (snake). Judah (floor crew) was holding her, and I started taking some video. Katie was very curious about my phone!

Our director,  Rye Mullis, took this photo after our Friday show. Even after finding out we'd all lose our jobs, people still stayed late to practice and perfect their acts. THAT'S work ethic.

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson's collage of the sold out arenas he's played this week. Ours were very similar. "I haven't seen consecutive packed arenas like this since my first tour," he exclaims.

The Red Unit train in the morning fog.

(photo courtesy Nikki R.)
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March 2017


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