Saturday, June 03, 2006

And Children Of All Ages

I managed to get a backstage pass for the circus between performances today. The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey "blue unit" (there's a "red unit" as well, working another part of the country) stopped in Wilkes-Barre for several days of shows. The mile-long train arrived, unloaded everything that a circus needs, then went down to park in the Buttonwood section of nearby Hanover Township -- the only place with sufficient tracks to hold that many cars.

Now that the show is arena-only (I think they folded the big top around 1956), the only change is that there aren't any tents. But out of sight of the audience, I rather doubt things have changed much. I saw one of the performers (I assume; could have been a stagehand) stretched out on three packing cases getting a few winks. Others were grabbing supper anywhere they could, sitting or standing, in corners, on packing cases, in costume or street clothes. When you see Madame La Joule, queen of the aerialists, dressed to the nines and eating pasta on a packing case, you realize why it's better you did not run away to join the circus.

One cute girl was at a sewing machine fixing her costume; it may have been the costume repair "shop," as I saw lots of thread and such. There were make-do curtained dressing rooms that a good gust of wind through an open door would have turned into make-do peep shows.

I saw people lined up at the "pie cart," the food wagon at the back of the arena. They looked like any hard-working people. Clowns, for all I know; maybe stagehands. Hard to tell them apart when the show is not in progress and they aren't in their work clothes.

Later, I passed the classroom. Yeah, the classroom; there are little kids who are growing up in the circus and in there are at least two Ringling Brothers wheeled steel lockers marked "Classroom." The circus children take classes here in this curtained section (not unlike the curtained dressing rooms) and, when I peeked inside, I was told about the nuns who traveled with the show and the priest who was helping them this weekend.

Turns out the nuns are the official chaplains and travel with the Blue Unit. Each weekend they are performing in a city, they find a priest who will have Mass for as many performers who are able to attend during their supper break. That's what was happening in the classroom-turned-chapel. I asked about all the red cloth on the altar table. "Those are the long chiffon drapes the aerialists swing from," my guide told me. "They are new today and the aerialists wanted them blessed before they use them in tonight's show, so the priest has them on the altar."

The Mass was just ending. "Go in peace," the priest said, "and bring joy to the ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages!"


Blogger Reading Reader said...

Wow...I never thought of the holy or the miraculous in a circus. Thanks for the idea. Keep 'em comin'!

June 06, 2006 10:52 AM  

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