The Big Apple Circus is about to begin its 41st season this October 2018 and they are kicking it off with a big announcement– there will be a female ringmaster, the well-known circus legend, Stephanie Monseu. Monseu is a seasoned performer and the co-founder and ringmistress of New York City-based Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a vintage style circus with a touch of grit that has been known to embrace all things sideshow, street circus and vaudeville.
I asked Monseu to weigh in on the significance and timiliness of being a female ringmaster in the current season and she had this to say, “The Big Apple Circus has had powerful women in the ring before and I am excited to join that legacy. Vanessa Thomas and Carrie Harvey, two fantastic artists and circus stalwarts, wore the top hat here. Kristen Michelle Wilson was Ringling’s first female Ringmaster. And, Rebecca Ostroff, Vincenta Pages, and other fierce females are leading circuses around the US. The time has always been right!”
Perhaps in an effort to distance itself from the sexual misconduct accusations against Barry Lubin (aka Grandma the clown) that was alleged to have occurred during the previous administration’s rule, the Big Apple Circus has gone further, choosing the empowering route of embracing the feminine side of circus on multiple fronts. This decision is echoed in their press release where they tout the ‘real life wonder women’ that will be joining Monseu in the cast.
Apart from a horse act from Big Apple alumni Jenny Vidbel, it does not appear as if there are any female solo or all-female acts scheduled for the 2018 season. Monseu sites the group spirit of circus as the basis for the team acts that are featured this year, “I think the real superpower of women in circus is that we are true collaborators and team players. It just isn’t possible to swoop in on a golden rope and steal the show. It takes many hands and hearts to raise a circus tent, get the show on the road, and Big Apple Circus has a fantastic history of diversity and female representation in important roles in and out of the Ring. The wonder women theme is a great tribute to that history and this current season. One of my favorite things to do is to give young women and girls backstage tours so they can see all of the real opportunities in the circus world that exist outside of performing. It’s very empowering.”
Sticking with a superhero theme, some of the self-described female-led acts include: Iron woman Virginia Tuells & her husband Ihosvanys Perez in Duo Fusion, “an acrobatic act that combines dance, strength, flexibility and passion in which Virginia handles a majority of the lifts.” Spicy Circus, a troupe created by Andréanne Quintal, whose team of performers bounce off the walls in her trampoline act, and the aforementioned animal act trainer Jenny Vidbel.
Owner Neil Kahanovits takes great pride in the talent in this year’s production, saying, “I am really excited about this season. We have a completely new show with many astounding new elements. We travelled the world to find the best of the best, and I believe that’s what we’ll be presenting to audiences this year. Last year was my first year at the helm, and while I am very proud of the show we delivered, this year we’ve raised the stakes even higher.” Big Apple Circus recently won the Turnaround Management Association’s (TMA) 2018 Transaction of the Year Award, and Kahanovitz, explains how this award highlights the team effort involved, “The revival of Big Apple Circus is truly an amazing story. A group of determined, creative, and passionate people came together to save this cultural gem. I am incredibly proud of the entire team that made this possible and winning the TMA is the cherry on top.”
Although it remains to be seen whether the wonder women will really run the show or if it is just a surface attempt to be au courant and to address the worldwide ruckus that has emerged over the treatment of women in the entertainment industry and beyond in 2017 & 2018, it is clear that women have played and continue to play a large role in the success of the Big Apple Circus, now in its 41st season. It may take some tweaking and experimentation to find the fit that is right for modern audiences from the savviest city in the US., but Kahanovitz and his team seems up for the challenge.
The season will be an extended run from October 20, 2018 through January 27, 2019 at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, with Washington DC and Boston tour dates to be announced soon.
All photos courtesy of Big Apple Circus