Back in January my father and I attended the 1st Annual Celebration of American Circus. Held in the Big Apple Circus tent at Lincoln Center, the event honored Gypsy Snider, Philippe Petit, and the Big Apple Circus. The event was for the most part attended by members of the NYC circus community, and I was able to speak with many people that I’ve worked with before. While the presentation of awards to individuals who truly deserved them was wonderful and truly special to watch, I was particularly intrigued by the circus performances interspersed throughout the presentations. Specifically, the audience’s reaction to these acts.
The Anastasini Brothers from this year’s Big Apple Circus performed, as well as The RICOCHET Project, and Charlotte and Nicolas from 7 doigts de la main. Each one of these acts received a standing ovation at the end. “Wow,” I thought. “A standing ovation at a circus!” It was a sight I’ve never seen before; in all of the circuses I have attended, from tented to arena to Broadway stage, not once has the audience given a standing ovation.
I went home that night and thought about what a standing ovation meant. I thought back to the times I’ve given a standing ovation (a real standing ovation, not just because other people were standing and I couldn’t see the stage). I thought back to the time I saw “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway as I jumped from my seat with joy at the celebration of emotions I felt at the end of the show. The time I saw famous clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner take to the stage in “Old Hats,” and the time I heard a graduation speech given by a student who overcame anextraordinarily difficult path in order to get his diploma.
About two weeks ago I gave a speech to about a 1,000 students, teachers, and family members at my high school at our National Honors Society Induction Ceremony (I’m the president). I delivered an eight minute comedic yet inspirational speech from memory and ended with a very big and powerful magic trick. I received a standing ovation, and it felt incredible.
I’ve noticed that there is this common idea of identifying with in some way, the person on stage giving the performance, that leads to a standing ovation. My peers identified with what I was saying, and I identified with the characters’ journeys in “Mormon.” The tent was filled to the brim with circus people. Circus people who know how hard the tricks are. Circus people who know it’s not just about getting the back flip, but it’s about pointing your toes as you do so. Circus people who get what laymen don’t.
There was one point in one of the performances, I won’t say which one because it is truly irrelevant, in which the two performers missed a move. Their hands slipped and they just didn’t get it. Usually when this happens, the audience of laymen gasps and then provides a very polite little encouragement clap. Then when the trick is realized on the second or third time the applause is a little bit-not much, but a little bit-greater than it would have been if the trick was landed the first time. For this audience, this was not the case. When the performers missed, I quickly glanced around the ring and was able to make out a few faces from the gleam of the spotlight. People were on the edge of the seats screaming; it was like a rock concert. They knew how hard the trick was, and wanted to cheer on their peers the best they could. Then, when they did catch the trick the second time, the applause was deafening. I mean loud. REALLY loud. Like, teenage girls seeing Justin Bieber loud. As an audience member, it felt wonderful.
I don’t think that I will ever go see a circus that is not filled with other circus people and see the same type of reaction I did that night. Therefore, I encourage you, the next time you are at a circus (and if you’re the type of person that reads this blog, it is probably very soon), give a standing ovation. Think about and try to identify with the performers, and you’ll find yourself standing a lot sooner than you’d think…