New York’s Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Soars to New Heights

For the New York-based performing group Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, tradition is something meant to be challenged, even as it’s being celebrated.

Bindlestiff Family CirkusAnd while the circus remains a real family tradition, Bindlestiff is turning the genre on its ear, merging acrobatics, burlesque, and vaudevillian humor into one action-packed, surprising show.

A Cirkus is Born

Founded in 1996 by Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson, the talented troupe of two to 16 performers per show regularly performs at theaters, colleges, and festivals, sharing its love of the variety arts with audiences worldwide.

With its founders well-versed in the art of fire eating, Bindlestiff offers audiences a chance to view the nearly impossible, providing a spectacle that for adult audiences stretches the definition of what is traditionally considered a circus, crafting a somewhat raunchy and utterly riveting production that merges sideshow, burlesque, music, and vaudeville.

A Little Bit of Magic

For several years, the troupe performed in what it billed as “the last vaudeville house in Times Square,” presenting several shows a day and giving both audiences and performers a chance to explore vaudeville-style arts better.

They were forced to close up shop when the former shoe store was demolished in 2004, but the group soon hit the road, bringing its finely-honed, edgy acts including sword swallowing, fire eating, acrobatics, contortion, magic, and buffoonery to audiences worldwide.

Kinko the ClownFrom Kinko the Clown, who made a satirical bid for president in 2008, to Mr. Pennygaff’s sword swallowing, Miss Una’s surprising aerial feats and Philomena’s precision bull whip handling, a skill that allows her to slice a rose held between a volunteer’s trembling teeth. The show is a risque celebration of the circus, one that pushes boundaries while still allowing viewers to be swept away for a while by the death-defying feats.

Educational Opportunities

Bindlestiff is also dedicated to teaching performers the art of the circus, and the non-profit organization offers workshops, performances, and lectures for the general public along with advanced classes and internships within the group.

The troupe also performs and presents workshops in schools, ranging from single workshops to two-week programs that explore the circus, vaudeville, Wild West touring shows and sideshows, ultimately offering a study of more than a century of American entertainment.

The courses allow everyone who has ever dreamed about running away to join the circus a chance to realize that dream for a while, generating increased interest in the spectacle that ultimately is the circus at the same time.

Beyond Bindlestiff

More than 400 Bindlestiff graduates are currently performing at a variety of venues worldwide.

Great Singers: Born with Talent or Honed with Practice?

I was unequivocally born a singer. It’s plain and simple. I was singing before I knew what notes were. I’ll have you know; I was also singing in key too! There is no doubt in my mind on this. The only difference is what you, or I, consider a singer. In the traditional sense, at age 5, I wasn’t a singer that could sell records, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kurt Cobain was a great performer but not a great singerThis is such a loaded and unfair question. I fear it may be nearly impossible to answer correctly. But I’ll take a shot. The biggest problem with this question is that everyone has a different definition of “singer.” Some people think Kurt Cobain was a good singer. I can assure you he was not. He had a memorable voice and sang with his soul. That’s what made him famous. But his voice had a particular quality that sold records. The label says “singer.” Therefore that is what he must be right? That’s where my definition of “singer” differs from most.

Be Great with Training

To be an R&B singer, jazz singer, opera singer, etc., and be good at it, you need to have training. The now proverbial 10,000 hours needed to be good at anything, is inevitably required to be any kind of success as a singer. Any yahoo can sing up a storm at the local karaoke bar. They just don’t have nearly the fit and finish of a trained singer will have, like someone who has taken the best singing lessons in NYC. But to be a pop singer, you don’t need as much of the 10,000 hours. Mostly you need heart & soul. Just like Dylan. And to clarify, this is about just “singers” and not “singer-songwriters.” I say this before I get bashed for putting down two of the best songwriters ever. I am not putting them down as songwriters, just as singers.

If you ask any person on the street, not intimately familiar with Dylan’s work, if they think he sounds like a good singer, you would get a resounding, NO! Conversely, you are more likely to get many people who think Miley Cyrus is a great singer. OUCH! I think this is where the possibility to answer this question correctly starts looking grim. What it comes down to is the opinion of the people. The problem is people don’t know what they are listening to.

Maroon 5 songs feature too much audio enhancementsSingers by Technical Enhancements

In today’s fast-paced society, with technically enhanced voices, and a lazy public who couldn’t care less if the singer is good or not. Because they just want a good beat and looped shreds of older good songs, it’s hard, if not impossible, to market someone as a singer without all that extra stuff. The best and only recent example of this was Maroon 5, ‘Songs About Jane’. This was a stripped down minimalist album chalk full of great licks, catchy hooks, and a singer who is a good as they come.

Are people born singers? Again, I say yes. Their talent just needs to be sharpened. There are just varying degrees of what a singer is, or is perceived to be by other individuals. Basically, it depends on who’s listening. Unlike any other skill performed by a human, singers are typically only measured by other humans listening. Singers are not quantified upon hearing them. You hear them and you like them, or you don’t.

Our ability to discern sound and music is unlike any other. We pretty much know right off the bat if we like a singer or not. Sure a particular singer might grow on us, but if we didn’t want them from the beginning, chances are they’ll never be our favorite. I believe every person is born with their respective talents. It’s up to each of us to hone these talents or pursue other ventures.