March 2001--The name of the new production that premiered for the 23rd annual season of the one-ring Big Apple Circus might be Clown Around Town, but for electrical supervisor John Hansen there is no time for clowning around. A celebration of city life as seen through the eyes of two dizzy circus clowns, Clown Around Town was produced by Paul Binder, conceived by Michael Christensen, and directed by Keith Anderson. The design team includes costumier David Belugou, lighting designer Christopher Gorzelnik, set designer Dan Kuchar, and sound designer Thomas Wright.
Clown Around Town is currently under the bigtop in Atlanta, GA (through March 4), and hits the road with stops in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York (Queens, Brookville, and Nyack), Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Then a new show premieres in Washington, D.C., next September and then moves to New York City (home base for Big Apple Circus) next October through January.
"The big top is all stretched out on the ground and ready to go up," says Hansen, speaking on a cell phone on-site in Atlanta. Once the tent is up, Hansen and his crew go to work, pulling cables and power first, then hanging the touring lighting rig. The bigtop itself is made in France of PVC fabric and measures 138' in diameter and stretches 52' high at the top of the four supporting masts. The masts are telescopic and raised with electric motors. Once extended, the masts serve as lighting towers.
"The rental rig is slightly different in terms of the moving lights this year," explains Hansen, who notes that the company owns its 200 ETC Source Fours, but rents the automated luminaires and control console. This year the automated portion of the rig includes four High End Systems Stuido Spots and four Coemar CF1200 washlights. A Hog 500 was rented for the first time, replacing last year's Expression III. "There is more done with the moving lights this year," says Hansen, who allows that the Hog 500 gave them more flexibility in programming during rehearsals. "You could do more dramatic things on the fly," he says.
Each mast supports one Studio Spot, one Coemar CF1200, one Altman UV fixture, and one Altman 1kW fresnel, as well as 15 ETC Source Fours, many with Wybron color scrollers. The rental equipment comes from U.S. Sound and Lights (based in California) in conjunction with High Output (based in Boston). Also rented are three Lycian followspots which are placed atop towers halfway back in the audience (center, right, and left). "We used Pani spots in the past but they were getting too old and it was impossible to get parts, says Hansen. The rig relies on two racks of ETC L96 Sensor dimmers.
For Hansen, the fun begins as the circus pulls into each new town. "We roll up and there is nothing but a fire hydrant," he says. "But by the evening there is water and power for everybody. We run power for the entire "town" they create." On average, it takes the electrics crew two-and-a-half days to pull all the cables for the overall install and hang the lighting rig.
In addition to Hansen, the crew includes master electrician Jay Jones, deck electrician Peter Kordonouris, three followspot operators, and one floating electrician. They all work together on the put-ins, then Jones, Kordonouris, and Hansen rotate as board operator during the performance run. "We all know the cues," says Hansen. There is also a sound department of two: one engineer and an assistant.
"The animals are extremely well-trained," says Hansen, referring to the equine members of the cast. "But we try not to blast on the lights as the horses are coming into the tent, or have any feedback in the sound system." They are also careful about cue changes during the aerial acts, as not to blind the flying performers in the company. "The Russian pole act can be dangerous," notes Hansen. "You have to be careful when you hit the go button if they are doing somersaults in the air. But we try to work it all out during tech rehearsals."
For Hansen, a big challenge is keeping trained people on his staff. "It is a hard life to be on the road all the time," he says. "We train good electricians then they leave. I've accepted this as a reality." If anyone out there wants to be join the Big Apple crew, email Hansen at email@example.com, and you too can run away and join the circus.
Photo credit: ©Bertrand Guay.