Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Jersey Deters Me (Part III)


The people who organized Sugar Fest were so well prepared to feed our entire cast and crew, and so well-stocked with desserts, that when the event was over they had tons of left-overs up for grabs. As would seem likely, the clowns made away with a good portion of the spoils, and enjoyed them in the alley for the rest of Saturday and Sunday.

As interest in this humungous tinfoil tray of cake began to dwindle, creative options for its disposal began to bloom. Finally we arrived on a solution, which was for Book to eat it all in 7 minutes with no hands. It was a lot of cake. We all put a little money down, and added a few finer details (i.e. saying “thank you sir, may I have another?” every minute, and also not vomiting).

Here is a litte taste of the action, I hope it works, and I hope you enjoy it.


Opening comments - Sean and Randy
Beautiful gagging noises – Lance
Tactful comments about Ethiopian kids – Larry
Disapproving looks - Dustin
Filming – Yours truly
Talent – Book

Bon Appetit!

New Jersey Deters Me (Part II)

East Rutherford:

For some reason, it felt to me as if we were in East Rutherford NJ for two weeks. It may have been because I continued to sleep very poorly, and it also may have been that I found the people there rather difficult to deal with. Either way, I rolled my eyes and dragged my feet a little more than I like from my current perspective. I’m not regretful, because sometimes it is near impossible keep up with the pace here cheerfully, but I really am trying to do my best to stay positive.

I didn’t even truly encounter the audiences in East Rutherford until the third day there, because we started with an evening show, and the next day we had one kiddy show and one unfortunate evening pre-show for me, which did not last long (more on that in a moment). So when I finally went out for pre-show in the evening on our third night, I was taken by surprise! People were pushier and grabbier than ever before, much more persistent in their photo taking and autograph collecting, and so reluctant to leave the floor at the end of pre-show that Larry (the pre-show host) had to come rescue me numerous times with a “quick Joy, they need you backstage!” At one point, stiflingly, I became aware that I was being held by each wing and my tutu by three different people. For all their enthusiasm in approaching us, however, we had a terrible time doing the opposite. In our ring gag, we have never had such difficulty finding an audience participant; though there were plenty average, friendly looking males in the crowd. I guess something in the water in East Rutherford makes the East Rutherfordians extra-susceptible to ‘he-didn’t-do-it-so-I-won’t-either-itis’. We would choose our man, go get him, shake his hand, get the audience clapping, and he would refuse to come into the ring. Then the next guy would refuse too, and the next. The head-shakers and hand-wringers were out in full swing! Our first time out, this happened so many times that we had to give up and end the gag right there! The next day we couldn’t get anyone until Book got frustrated and yelled, “Are any amongst you MEN?” And finally one surrendered. Book has just recently begun doing his tennis racket routine on a platform, and said getting an audience member for that bit was proving just as hard. As one may guess, we exploded back into the alley in a big angry storm cloud each time.

The reason my pre-show on the second evening in East Rutherford was so short-lived was because I majestically bashed my head, and was quite dizzy. Brandon was attending a funeral in Texas for our first two days of the site, so Dustin volunteered to step in for him in the slide table routine with Eric and I. We didn’t bother rehearsing beforehand, and just submitted to the idea of it being an improvised mess. All was going well (even though it really was a mess) until one moment, when I found myself standing on top of the table, with Eric and Dustin on either side. At this point in the regular routine, Brandon and Eric do a double butt slide and I do a pirouette, spun by them sliding past. We all three looked at each other and seemed to understand that that was what would happen next, but for some reason, it did not. Dustin took the mousetrap off of his pants (that is a whole different story) and threw it on the table, before going into his slide. I went to grab it, and only realized that he was diving at the last second, just soon enough to step out of his way. This unfortunately meant that I stepped right into Eric’s way, and he quite literally swept me off my feet. One second I was standing on the table, and the next second the back of my head was hitting the floor and my feet were coming towards my face. It was amazing! The crowd gave a big gasp, and I was a little surprised at myself for being able to stand up. Sean and Ivan were watching, and they ran backstage to meet me and make sure I was ok, which was very nice of them. I was bruised and dizzy, so I got a few icepacks and sat the rest of pre-show out. I felt really lucky not to have pulled or broken anything, especially my neck, and I didn’t even wake up sore the next morning. Thank you, guardian angel! At least everyone said it looked really cool.

On Saturday, we were spoiled rotten by the CFA throwing us a delicious event called a Sugarfest. This, apparently, is a free-role for the whole cast and crew consisting entirely of desserts! After the second show we followed a bunch of arrowed signs upstairs to the event, which was well attended. This took some of us a while, because if you think about it, “This Way to the Sugarfest” is an amusing sign to take down and point at a great number of different things besides the Sugar Fest (such as the women’s showers), and many jokers seemed to have come up with that idea. Everyone ate too much, and began bouncing off the walls just before the third pre-show began. I was feeling rather hyper-active, and got myself scolded for starting a marshmallow fight with a group of older Chinese boys waiting for their cue after the first rotation.

After the last show on Sunday, Dobson came and picked Tweedy, Book, and me up in his car, and drove us to the East Village for dinner. We met Spencer, an old friend from Smirkus, and went to Veselka, which is a really cute restaurant I’ve been to a few times with my New York aunties. While we were eating, Sam Galison (also old friend, also from Smirkus) appeared and sat down at the table! I believe Dobson knew he was coming, but it was a nice surprise to us. Later, when he was done with load-out, we picked up Eric, dropped off Spencer, and drove up to the Bronx. We had a great night together pre-sleep, and a horribly cramped one when it came time to go to bed. The next morning Sam had disappeared (Eric woke up startled, saying, “Guys…I think I ate Sam in my sleep!”), but we got up leisurely, and Dobson and I went out to get all the ingredients to make crepes. While I cranked them out and we all munched, Tweedy regaled us with the details of the European circus world (of which he is quite a big part). This made us Ringlings feel quite ho-hum about our current positions, but very hopeful about the future, and what else there is out there to work towards.

That evening we headed down town to the Crane Theater, and dropped off Tweedy and Book, who were scheduled to perform in the Down Town Clown Monthly Revue that evening. The rest of us visited a delightful little vegetarian restaurant on Dobson’s recommendation, where we met Seb and Josh (Smirkos), and where I got some more Borscht. It was good, but not as good as Orest’s, and it was just plain wonderful to see Seb and Josh; it’s been a while. Then we headed back to the theater to watch the show. It was truly an all-star cast, a treat of a show, and I really, really enjoyed myself. Both Book and Tweedy got great responses. There were a lot of familiar faces, and an abundance of quality comedy. I can’t say much more without over-enthusing, but... it was thirst quenching.

This morning we all got onto the MTA and went our separate ways, which for Eric and I (Book had a PR in NY) meant coming here, to Long Island. Once we got off the train we went to meet Tweedy at a mall and walk back to our train with him, but when we couldn’t find him in the food court, we realized that we were at a different mall. Then we spent another good hour trying to find the correct mall, and finally did. Chelsea Brooklyn showed up (you guessed it… a Smirko), and took Eric to hang out, but I was just too exhausted. I walked back to the train with Brandon and Karen, one of the horse trainers. Now I am in Long Island, and my only concept of it so far is as an ever-stretching strip mall.

And my room is RATHER hot again.

New Jersey Deters Me (Part I)

Hello friends and family,

I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve written, but this past week and a half have been the busiest and worst rested yet, and I did not have the time or focus to be blogging. But here I am now in Uniondale NY, finally breathing at a normal pace, and on the (cyber?) air once again. Since I am so far behind, and since I find it so important to thoroughly catch you up, I’ve done my posting for the night in a few more bite-sized segments.


Newark was a good site, although the last two days there began with 10:30 shows (9:30 pre-show), which was not very nice. I was really tired on Saturday especially, because I had to go on the market run the previous night, which didn’t leave until 11:30, and the pickup was 1:00! We got very surprised looks from the few people working there at that late hour, who certainly were not expecting to have a bus pull up and flood them with about 30 people. We all did our shopping at a very leisurely pace, and strategically (frozen things last), because it was such a long time before the bus got back. As it often happens, the bulk of us got to the check-out at the same time, creating long lines and a sea of carts. There were only two lanes open, and those two employees were thoroughly overwhelmed. In a panic, one of them told the second half of her line that they were all going to have to move over to self-check-out. I looked behind me, and saw that the second half of the line was all Russians. Of course they had no idea what the woman was saying, and didn’t move out of the line, which only furthered her agitation. Luckily I was already at the register, so I explained the situation to her and told them where to go. When she was done ringing me up, I went and helped Roman and Andre, who were looking particularly desperate. I don’t blame them; those machines are difficult in English! It took a long time because they had so much produce, and because Roman kept pulling things off the scale to bag them, and the computer kept scolding us and halting the order. Finally we finished, and were some of the last ones on the bus. They were very grateful; “Spaseeba, Joyka. Sank you.”

Although I was very tired that weekend (the hour lost in the time change before the early show on Sunday didn’t help too much either), we had a really nice alley to relax in, there in Newark. It was the pressroom for that building, and there was a table-shelf all the way around the room, two televisions, and rolling office chairs! How luxurious. We were rather far away from backstage though, which made for a lot of fast dashing to cues. Because of an event in that alley that shall go untold, a new rule has been announced to us. It is that if any of us partake in the act of scuffle, skirmish, fracas, or any other version of hand-to-hand combat, we will be suspended from the show for a week. This, of course, is a serious matter, but us Smirkos couldn’t help but joke that we could just stand in a triangle and punch left, and that would be the perfect arrangement for when we want to come visit Smirkus this summer.

On Sunday night, as soon after the last show as we could, Book and I packed up and headed out to New York, where we caught a Lucky Star bus to Boston. He was going to visit Shifty, and I, joyfully, was going back home to visit my family. And how wonderful it was! I was picked up at Alewife by my mom and my dog, both of whom gave me a lot of kisses. Even though we recently moved into our house, and I am not all that familiar with it, nothing could have seemed more welcoming. I was amazed by the warmth, the flushing toilet, the oven, the second floor, the full-length mirrors, the appliances, the refrigerator, and the number of steps it took to get across a room! I took it all for granted before. On my first morning home I stayed in bed for a while just snuggling with Jasper, which is something I had been missing dreadfully. Later I went to Trader Joe’s to fulfill my non-Walmart shopping needs, and returned home to bake a cake and putter around. In the evening everyone came over, and we had a lovely family dinner, which is also something I had been missing dreadfully. Both of my grandmothers were there, Mom of course, Dad and Sylvia, Annie, Andy, and Kathy and Fred. It was great to see so many family members, and to have the chance to talk at a dinner table instead of hurriedly on the pre-show floor or the phone. I spent Tuesday with Andy, which was great. We took the T into Boston to see the Watchmen movie. It was so strange to be back taking this route that was so familiar and usual to me, when I was beginning to think I would always be in a new and different place. I must admit that when the train broke out above the ground at the bridge at MGH, and I was so suddenly struck with that resplendent view of Boston, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. That’s just how home is, I guess. I really enjoyed the movie, especially because I had been looking forward to it for so long. Watchmen is one of my very favorite books (recommended!), and the one that began my interest in graphic novels, so I would probably have been happy just to see the actors run around in their costumes. For the complexity of the book, and the special attention I think it deserves though, I think the whole thing would have been better as a mini-series, but they did a good job keeping as much of the story as they could. Don’t mind my ranting.

Later that evening we went to M’s house to meet her new puppy! His name is Beacon, and he was very sleepy. I spent a lot more time playing with Steamer than I did getting to know Beacon (because really, how could I ever ignore that dog), but he was a real sweet little cutie pie, and I think he is a great addition to the herd.

The next morning, very very early, mom drove me to South Station. With many a sigh, I caught the 6:30 bus back to New York with Book, and slept all the way. With a minimum of unintentional detours, we made it to the arena in East Rutherford NJ with six minutes to spare before the cast meeting. No five dollar fine for us (amazingly)!

Then began the saga of East Rutherford, which includes such adventures as the nearly broken head, the attack of the crazy crazy audience, the retreat of the shy shy audience, the annoying taxi PR, the Sugarfest, the tiniest vom ever seen, and the possible recurrence of (barf) bloomers. To be continued!

Friday, March 6, 2009

the plague and the pressure

Hello friends and family,

First off, here is the view from our train car this week.

So here we are in Newark. What a feeling it is to be back in the northeast! I can’t really describe it, but it is familiar to me and different from everywhere else I’ve been; and it’s more than just the traffic, the Dunkin Donuts, and the snow. I sure am looking forward to visiting Massachusetts.

It was a surprise to me how close we are to New York City. Only a little commuter train’s ride away! So, just about as soon as we could, the three of us jumped off the train and caught another one into the city to have a short visit with our good friend Mike Dobson. He was busy until the evening, so we walked around the city for a while, taking advantage of its good food and interesting shopping. After the train run, this was quite a welcome liberation: it was a very long run, and we were bored, cranky, and exceptionally un-showered. Halfway through the second day, I was feeling as if we had been trapped for a week (my journal entry for the day reads, “Will we ever get off this train?”). I am going to have to get used to those. By around 8, we made our way up to Dobson’s apartment in the Bronx, and we were all very happy to see him. That was the first time I’ve been somewhere that I recognized in over three months!

Unfortunately, within an hour of getting there, Book conked out on the floor. He had been complaining about his cough all day, but now seemed to be really feeling crappy, and his forehead was very hot. Dobson, Eric, and I ordered pizza, began watching the Big Lebowski, and tried to get Book to stay in the conversation. Nothing worked though, and by the end of the evening, ontop of all his other grievances, he was throwing up too, poor thing. So, we called it a night much earlier than we usually do in such company. In the morning Book was feeling no better, so Eric and I had to leave him there to sleep while we got headed back to Newark for the cast meeting and dress rehearsal. I began to notice, once we got back to site, that there were an awful lot of people sniffling and coughing. Tim looked even more miserable than Book, shuffling around like a zombie. Better cram in that vitamin C!

I know I recently wrote about how light-hearted and inconsequential dress rehearsals can be, but there was none of that today. It being the last two weeks we have to brush the show up before New York (which is when all the important press comes out), suddenly everything needs fixing and tightening. Our director herself made her first appearance since Tampa, which makes everyone nervous. We are all afraid that, given some sloppiness that we may have gained on the road, she might not like our entire Spec number anymore (for example), and maybe we will just have to learn a whole new one! Probably not, but boy did she keep us on our toes in winter quarters, so who knows. Because we have “touch ups” scheduled all day with her tomorrow, the goofing was kept to a minimum today, and we were all religious to the choreography. Then, to top off the pressure, the Felds (owners of the whole company) came to watch our show! They have both been very nice to me when I have met them, but still, it makes me nervous to know when they are here. Both runs went pretty smoothly, despite our challenging task of covering all of Book’s spots.

I was glad to have a visit (although short) with Jacob D’Eustachio, who came to see the show this evening. He is a very talented juggler who I met in Smirkus camp, now attending the Quebec circus school. We had a good time talking as usual, and I was tickled to remember that it was he who brought me to see my first Ringling show, sometime back in my teen years. The places life takes you.

I returned home on the 11 o’clock bus, and had to gasp at the site when I checked in on Book and found him sitting straight up in bed with the lights out, bare-chested and pale as he could be. He said he was feeling better now, but it was a good thing he didn’t try to perform this evening, which he had been considering. He has to be at the rehearsals tomorrow, and take part in a rather important PR, so I am hoping he goes back to sleep for the rest of the night and just gets what ever it was out of his system. It was such a weird day without a third of our trio! Orest asked me today, “vhere is the tall?”

I really should have stretched today, but I didn’t have time, so I didn’t. And BOY can I feel it, I have never had a more painful cartwheel than the first one I did today! Yow. So, tomorrow I plan on spending my time between the mid-afternoon finale touch-up and the evening show making peace with my leg muscles. I've got a good two hours. Gotta keep at it!

And now... my room is so warm that I have no hope whatsoever of staying awake anymore. More later, and love to you all!

Monday, March 2, 2009


Hello friends and family,

I am on the train now, going from Huntsville Alabama to Newark New Jersey. Everything is shaking and rumbling, and since the sun is just starting to get lower in the sky, all the trees we pass are making the light flicker into my window. It is a really nice day outside. One of my favorite things about traveling has always been observing the difference in the way the land looks; the types of plants and trees, grass, swamps, hills and mountains, rocks; just details of the geography. I am excited to see my surroundings looking more and more similar to home. I have no idea where we are though, and Book and I have spent the past few minutes in the vestibule spying for business signs or license plates, something to give us a clue about where we are. But it was cold out there, and the wind made it hard to be very persistent.

Huntsville was a pretty good city. We had excellent crowds, often sellouts. Probably the best was on Friday morning, which was a sold-out kiddy show. Kiddy shows are always great because 1) there is no pre-show, and 2) the crowd is almost all kids (very enthusiastic!). Though it was nice for us that the crowds were excited, it was not so great that whoever calls doors was as well. For some reason, a few times, people were coming into the arena BEFORE pre-show had begun! This was horribly nerve-wracking for us clowns, who are the only ones there for the first rotation, and who have come to cherish the last few minutes of getting ready. I, for one, always need that time to run around with my jumpsuit half on, trying to find my other sock, or a makeup table, or anything but a wide-eyed, pigtailed-head looking up at me.

Friday was a split-show day, and after the first show, Trish and I were scheduled for a PR. It was described to us as “reading a book to first graders”, so we volunteered cheerfully enough. We were annoyed to find out later that, in fact, this was a performance and speech onstage for 150 kids, which included reading a book. Trish was more patient about the situation than I, but we stuck our chins out and set about practicing the mannequin gag that she and Brandon do for pre-show. Later I felt dumb for complaining, because it was the best PR yet! When we arrived, we were shown into the auditorium, where the 150 first-graders were seated, facing the stage, ever so attentively. Talk about a no backing down situation! Anyway, we were each given a mic, and we sat on the stage, which was really a very wide and shallow flight of steps. I picked up the microphone, and bonked myself in the forehead with it, and all of a sudden that place was roaring! They were great. I forgot how wonderful kids can be; they are an entirely different breed in school than they are on the pre-show floor. Trish did most of the reading, and I have to hand it to her, because Dr. Seuss’s ‘If I Ran the Circus’ can be quite a mouthful of tongue-twisters at times (by the way, happy birthday Dr. Seuss). I goofed around based on what was happening in the book, and we came up with a few bits, like sliding down the stairs on our butts, which they loved. After the book we did the mannequin gag, and that also got a great response. They paid such close attention, and laughed so hard, it really made me very happy. It was a good reminder of why I do this. And then when we were done, after all that, they gave us each a bag of candy! Oh my GOD. Trish and I agreed that if there is ever another reading PR, we will jump on it.

Recently, us three Smirkos have been staying after work to practice. [Before I move on with what I was going to say, I must give a little back-story: everyone calls us “The Smirkos” as a unit. At first we were a little annoyed by this, because it seemed that the term was being used to alienate us from our current place of work, or maybe to put us down for coming from a youth circus. But, because we really are a trio, and trios need names, and because we are more proud of our Smirkus roots than we are about pretty much anything else, we don the title with pride.] Where was I? We usually stay til the last bus, which is usually at about 11 PM. I stretch, and sometimes pretend to juggle, Book juggles, and Eric does straps (he just received them in the mail). It has been really good for us, because by just performing here we are not getting any better (or even staying good), at any of those things. I am getting flexible for some future clowning plans, which I am really excited about. This is great, and I am happy to be working on something like this, but man, have I been sore the past few days! I know that I have to just push through it, so now I am considering what fun it will be to try and do splits in my tiny little bunk bed.

Maybe it is because we have been spending more time at the building on the floor, instead of in clown alley, but we have been seeing a lot more of the younger Chinese kids. They are all delightful, and I’m glad to finally be getting to know them better. Probably the one I interact with the most (I can’t really say “talk to”, because of the language barrier) is Liao-Shua. He is 10 years old, and the textbook definition of a rascal. When he was telling me his nickname, Shua-Shua, he also insisted that his English name was “Cool”. He is the reason that I haven’t been wearing my antennae for the last site and a half, because he broke them (he was really very sorry about that though). He taught me to count to10 in Chinese, and also some mysterious phrase, which I don’t think was appropriate. When I said it, the little girls said, “No goodah!” and made an X over their mouths with their fingers. They are all a lot of fun.

Sunday was quite an eventful day as far as non-serious injuries go. There were just a billion. In blow-off during the first show, Book was standing on top of one of the chairs, which was on top of Brandon. Brandon tipped the chair over, and Book fell right onto the chair, chest first, and completely knocked the wind out of himself. He had to run offstage and lie down for a few minutes, but we managed to cover. There is one point in Spec where Bibi and I take Sean’s shoes off. For the first time, he forgot to unzip them before going onstage, so there was a lot of scramble and confusion when we got there and couldn’t get them off! He had to take them off himself, and after all that, he slipped and hurt his shoulder on the platform. People often get pyro in their eyes during Spec finale, but this day one of the high wire girls got hit by a piece big enough to actually cut her, and she had to sit the next show out. But what happened in pre-show of the second show really takes the cake. Book, Eric, and I were doing our ring-tossing gag, which is in the beginning of the 4th rotation. When we pull up an audience participant to catch the rings on his head and two hands, Book always throws once so he can’t catch it, just for build-up. Sometimes, because I always tell the guy to hold still, the rings come pretty close to his head, but this time, one hit him right in the forehead! Book comes back over to tell the guy to try to catch the rings, and I could see something was wrong by his face. Eric and I spun around and looked, and the man had blood dripping down his forehead! All three of us were startled, but we had to finish the gag. We were really lucky for two reasons. One, because Eric had taken the man’s hat off, and so he put it right back on to stop the crowd from getting worried. And two, because we just happened to have picked a really nice, friendly guy, who couldn’t have been happier to be an audience participant! We made sure he was alright, and then went running to find our production manager. She sent the general manager out with us to try and find the man again, and somehow we did. When we spotted him across a platform and waved, he pulled off his hat, grinning, and pointed to his forehead. Wow, were we ever fortunate to have chosen such a positive guy. The GM made sure he was alright again, gave him a pin as a souvenir, and we said goodbye. Whew!

We had a much more light-hearted pre-show the second time around. Brandon decided that he and Eric would do slide table in drag, and Eric complied. This involved Larry’s curly brown wig, and a blonde wig that Brandon got from who knows where. When I am standing up on the table, and Eric slides through my legs, his wig came off. I looked at him, looked down at the wig on the table, and screamed, which got a big laugh. It was a lot of fun, and we had a good crowd for it too, thanks to the over-excited person who called doors to pre-show so early.

That night was very cold. I was glad not to be doing load-out, but I felt bad for everyone who did. Book and I called a taxi with Alex, the Ringmaster (or Zingmaster, in this show). He is often leaving about the time we do, so we’ve gone back to the train with him a few times. He always has a lot of stuff to carry, including his doves, so we helped him with the load, and I carried his boots for him. I was surprised at how hard and stiff they were! It was like they were made out of wood. The taxi never showed up, but the bus did, so we just took that home instead. We drove past a large building where a concert must have just let out, because there were people everywhere. I couldn’t think why the site of so many people was so odd to me, until I realized this was the largest amount of people I had seen in months that weren’t at all interested in seeing me! Weird.

Back at the train we tried to order pizza with no success. When Eric got home, we watched Sideways, and then Animaniacs, and had a wonderful time staying up late and yapping. We have another whole day of train run tomorrow!

Much love to you all,