Monaco Revue   
Monte Carlo International Circus Festival '08

A look behind the scenes

The audiences are streaming in nightly to "oh" and "ah" at the antics of acrobats and clowns, jugglers and contortionists and a host of animals at the 2008 Monte Carlo International Circus Festival. No doubt, after giggling hard throughout the show, some audience members would leave the big tent filled with dreams of running away to join a circus.

Being the level-headed sort, however, we know that after the applause is over and the bright costumes have been peeled off, there is real work long hours of travelling, long hours of rehearsals, animals to feed, logistics to work out....
Even so, when we took a quick peek behind the scenes at this year's show, everywhere we turned whether it was among the musicians in their perch overlooking the ring, or out in the stables where scruffy men wheeled in fresh bales of hay we found easy smiles. The camaraderie and the excitement were palpable, even when the audience was nowhere in sight.

There's something to be said about that dream of running away to join the circus after all!

This year's festival brings together some 500 professionals from 39 countries. The extravagaza, now into its 32nd edition, was started by the late Prince Rainer III, who, it is said, once revealed he would have chosen to be a circus clown if his birth had not destined him for the role of monarch.

Such is the reputation of the event he created that among the circus fraternity, it's considered a career high to be invited to perform in Monte Carlo.

Take, for example, Barry Lubin, who gave us insight into circus life.

"I've been trying for 30 years to get back here!" declared Lubin, better known as Grandma the clown.

The New Jersey native dropped out of journalism school in the 1970s to become a clown. He enrolled in the famous Ringling Brothers' Clown College and then joined their circus. Three years into his career, he came to Monte Carlo and crashed.

"The audience judges your performance and when they are dead silent, it's not a good sign," he said.

Humbled by his Monaco experience, Lubin slunk back to America to hone his craft. Years later, he would don a curly wig, a red dress and a string of pearls to create the granny act, which has made him a hit with New York's Big Apple Circus and got him inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame.

In 2006, he came back to Europe and picked up a prize for his performance at the Circus Festival of Budapest. He caught the eye of Monte Carlo's artistic director Urs Pilz and got the nod for the famed Riviera show.

Like almost every circus performer, Lubin loves his job and described it as great fun. But while they make it look like all play for the spectators, he indicated that those at the top of the game get there by understanding there's more to circus life than meets the eye.

"It's very difficult," Lubin said. "It requires patience and commitment and sometimes failing in order to be succesful. In some cases, such as mine, you have to learn the hard way what is not going to work in order to discover what would work."

Well here's something else to "ah" about: wisdom from the lips of a clown!

Photos: © DP Inc.

Rene Casselly puts his four white Portuguese horses and four African elephans through their paces
Two young ladies with a delicate balancing act
Festival president Princess Stephanie (center) looks on as animal trainer Casselly discusses
his routine with artistic director Urs Pilz
During late-night rehearsals in an empty tent, a shy, or maybe tired, princess gives bread to the elephant
Barry Lubin, Grandma the clown A fashionable clown
Big smiles come easily from performers A different kind of boy band: with an accordion and three balalaikas (three-stringed, triangular Rusian instruments) the Bryats-Band from Ukraine brings a heady sound to the circus
Monaco Monaco
In his high perch almost touching the ceiling of the tent, maestro Reto Parolari waves his magic wand and his orchestra creates the joyous ambience of the circus Seasoned musicians make use of the frequent breaks by catching up on their reading

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Comments to date: 4. Page 1 of 1.

Elly Tucker,  Charlottesville VA

Posted at 6:32am on Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Grandma (Barry Lubin) is truly one of the funniest people I know. He really understands humor, timing and irony. He can speak volumes in merely a look, a glance, a turn of the ankle. He is a master of his art. He is also one of the nicest, most loving people I know. I laugh even seeing his picture. ... read more »

Nan,  Rome, Italy

Posted at 2:59am on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Thank you for the pictures of Princess Stephanie. She must love the circus a lot to show up for rehearsals too.

Anne,  Toronto

Posted at 6:38am on Monday, January 21st, 2008

Yes, Monaco looks pretty in the background, but your video takes very long to load!!!

Desiree,  Location unknown

Posted at 2:10am on Monday, January 21st, 2008

Monaco looks like a very beautiful place.


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