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UNDER THE BIG TOP: A Day with a Traveling Circus Family

de (14-11-2010)
3 ecouri

Okay, I admit it.  I seriously love clowns.  Unlike some kids who think that they are like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or some ghoul in a Halloween horror movie (Friday the 13th comes to mind), these elusive creatures still can garner great fun and guffaws for me.  Hanging around to get a glimpse of their backstage life at the Boston Garden was my kind of entertainment.  Along with all that wonder that pours out into the ring, the colorful costumes, the mesmerizing music, the acrobats, the animals, the feats of strength and surprises aplenty, they epitomize circus and the kinship that happens between you and them when you go to see the show.

Although I’ve grown up a bit and have some grey hair and few laugh lines to prove it, it’s still “the greatest show on earth” to me.  So, when the circus came to town here last month in Campia Turzii, I grabbed a pen, a notebook, my Nikon camera, and a bit of cash to buy a ticket and maybe garner an interview with the performers themselves.  I’d always wanted to know why they do what they do and how it feels to be part of a circus family.  That weekend, I spent time with the ringmaster, Mr. Maraoneanu Cornel and his wife, daughter, mother and father-in-law, sisters and brothers-in-law, who hail from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.  The Circus International King has been around for 18 years and they are part of a dying breed of entertainers.  I thought it was important to find out what kept them going and kept them together in today’s world of big business, top-dollar advertising, and technology which inevitably takes away much of the personal and the personality of live shows.

No matter which circus you’ve ever been to, there are common elements of suspenseful moments, talented artists, flashing lights, glam and glitter, and good old-fashioned fun.  Along with popcorn, peanuts, gooey snacks and lots of smiles and applause, well, they sure can make a party!  Showmen and women to the core, this troupe:  dad the ringmaster/owner, mom the trapeze artist, sisters who juggle and take turns being the target for the knife thrower or going to heights high up above the ring without a net, grandma and grandpa who train the animals, juggle a bit, too, and set up the apparatus, and the brothers who tag-team as clowns, acrobats and fire-eaters, this family unit puts forth a lot of soul in their two and a half hour program on a shoe-string budget.  Mr. Cornel told me that he has a small staff which he can only pay 30 RON (@10 USD) per day and that some days, it’s really hard to be able to do even that.  He said that together, they eat, sleep, rehearse and travel as a team, without regard to how much they will make, as it is the work that they love and aside from money, it is the heart that they have for being a circus performer and that was most important for each of them.  Their deep belief in the circus and their commitment to their craft didn’t waver from town to town, Mr. Cornel said, although they had little time to vacation at all, and certainly not the funds to do so.

This circus and others like it are not the spectacle that we, in the United States, know.  It’s not Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, but still, they surely could stir up those same feelings of awe and grant wishes which come true in the land of sawdust and the greasepaint.  The faces of the children showed as much. And as a completely unexpected pleasure they invited me to ride bareback around the ring on their show-horse during the second half of Sunday’s performance (personal bucket list…”circus performer”…check!)

Now I can appreciate what they do more and will have another story to tell my granddaughter about when we go to the circus together again.  I learned that this family, even though they spent almost every week on the road, was just like any other family.  They missed their homes, their friends and their relatives when they were away.  They needed to exercise and try to get enough sleep, practice their routines daily and spend over three hours setting up the tent before beginning in a new city. And then take it all down again in hopes of getting another enthusiastic audience to pay the bills, even though it was getting harder and harder to do that with the economy the way it was.  Mr. Cornel said that he’d just like to make sure they all had enough to go on and that he really just wanted his circus to be a success for all concerned and in his “other life” to be fabulous on the tightrope.

One of the men, 21 year old Slanic, told me that he liked dreaming about traveling to exotic places and wanted to be able to perform in Monte Carlo some day.  The other said that he worked out three hours a day and made sure that he ate a lot of fiber, and took vitamins sticking with mostly vegetables for nutrition.  Mrs. Cornel said that it was difficult getting her family to accept that she would marry someone from another country (she is Slovakian and her husband Romanian, from Bucharest).  They both enjoyed telling me the story of how they met and all the arguments that went on to keep them apart, but to no avail.  Their young daughter, Claudia, who is only 12, said that she loved listening to Rihanna, Beyonce and Elvis.

The girls, in their twenties, Mr. Cornel’s sisters, wanted to know where I came from back in America and after we talked for a bit during intermission, Claudia’s grandma and grandpa offered me more popcorn to watch their pride and joy perform and afterwards, they all invited me to see them again when I could.  This was a family, albeit a circus family, nonetheless a regular family with not-so-regular schedules or duties, but just like any other family you’d ever wish to meet.  I enjoyed their show, I will remember their spirit, and I look forward to their company if we can meet again. I wish them all the best in their next year on the road.

So the next time the circus comes to town, I hope that you’ll grab yourself a ticket, no matter what the cost, take along a friend, and step right up to pay homage to the folks who bring so much joy to so many for so little. Thanks to the Circus International King, and their entertaining performances, I got one more taste of what it’s like to be a kid again.  It was the best “sweet and shiny as a red candy apple” time I’d had in a long while.


  • Cristina Dobrin: (15-11-2010 la 01:07)

    Draga Natalie,

    Iti multumesc pentru aceasta frumoasa poveste de suflet. Dintotdeauna am iubit circul, atmosfera, luminile, costumele stralucitoare, animalele dresate, acrobatii, dar mai ales CLOVNII. Copil fiind, nu pierdeam nici o reprezentatie a trupelor de circ care poposeau in Arad. Tata era cel care ma insotea, mancam floricele de porumb, radeam la poantele comicilor, care se impiedecau, se loveau, radeau si plangeau, intr-un amestec straniu de bucurie si tristete. Mama nu venea niciodata cu noi; avea un sentiment de mila fata de CLOVNII nevoiti sa isi castige astfel existenta, dar mai ales fata de acrobatii de la trapez, care se lansau in zboruri atat de periculoase (fara plasa de siguranta). Imi spunea ca suspansul, muzica prevestitoare salturilor mortale, ii faceau rau.

    Mare le-a fost surpriza parintilor mei cand, intr-o zi, la intrebarea unor rude „Ce vrei sa devii cand vei fi mare?”, am raspuns fara ezitare „CLOVN!”

  • Paulina Eliza Duta: (16-11-2010 la 11:35)

    Lumea circului este un univers din care un copil poate afla ceea ce se găseşte în culisele suspansului răsucirii în aer a corpului unui acrobat, a mersului lăbărţat al clovnului, sau a dresurilor cu câini, şerpi şi alte necuvântătoare…Aplauzele devin un bonus adăugat costului biletelor. Când eram copil mi se spusese că artiştii sunt plătiţi după cât de tare şi de mult se apaludă, aşa că îmi înroşeam palmele… Dar mai este ceva…
    Să poţi privi dincolo de toate acestea şi să cunoşti eforturile, durerile, neajunsurile şi dorinţele celor care nu¬-şi părăsesc nici-o clipă pe scenă zâmbetul…Este o putere a exemplului.
    Îi admir pe toţi aceşti oameni şi nu mă pot abţine să nu-mi amintesc de tristeţea poveştilor din spatele cortinei şi de nostalgiile bietului “ Fram, ursul polar ”…
    Şi totuşi aştept cu nerăbdare să merg din nou la circ !
    Mulţumesc, Natalie, pentru că mi-ai reamintit !

  • Natalie Montanaro: (17-11-2010 la 13:50)

    Dear Cris and Paulina,

    I am so grateful to be able to share all of the experiences which I am having in Romania with your audience, especially those times and stories that showcase the talents, the heart and the hard work of others whom I meet everyday. From the shepherd on the hillside, to the teachers who share the children with me, to those who make such memorable moments for myself and for others, well, I am truly blessed. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and be interested in what it’s like to see the world through my glasses.

    And may all your days be circus days!


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