Friday, June 19, 2009

Sure ... Father's Day is coming, but after that we're joining the circus ...

Sometimes being the mother of a toddler can make a person feel like a circus performer. You’re always juggling, chasing after or taming someone or something.

But for aerialist Susan Vidbel, who grew up under the Big Top, the circus is where she relaxes. It’s her time to fly.

"When I’m in the ring it’s my vacation."

She credits her grandparents, Al and Joyce Vidbel, two Ringling Brothers’ veterans who started the Vidbel Old Tyme Circus in 1984, for the circus blood running through her veins.

Her grandparents met in 1927 when they both worked at The Greatest Show on Earth: he performed with the elephants and she worked with horses. They were married under the bright lights of the center ring with a full audience of spectators as their guests. And for the next 60 years they lived and raised their family in the circus – first Ringling Brothers’ and later their own: a two-pole tent that went up and down nightly, moving from town to town with their acts … elephants, horses, dogs, aerialists and clowns.

“It’s was one of about a dozen traveling circus left in the country when it closed seven years ago,” says Susan Vidbel, who decided to resurrect the show in 2008 after her grandfather suffered a stroke.

“It’s really what he wanted; to see the show up and running again. He got to see the show go back on the road before he died. I think he was holding out as long as he did to see it.”

Although the elephants are gone, the Vidbel Circus has most of the same acts it did in during its nearly 30-year history as well as new excitements such as a Russian Cube act and other feats of athleticism. Her own little girl has also gotten into the tumbling act.

“There are so many moments that make (this life) so worthwhile,” says Vidbel, who’s done her share of average jobs during the off season. “There is no other place I’ve ever worked that has fostered relationships in such a way. In this business you just become one family.”

Vidbel says the physical work necessary just to get the circus moved, erected and ready for showtime is intense. As the recession took hold this year, they found their ranks shrink as their ability to make payroll diminished. Performers on the road pitch work tirelessly in thankless jobs and then change their clothes and take their place under the spotlight.

“It’s really so inspirational. Some dates we’ve gone without sponsors and everyone helps out. Everyone pulls together. Sometimes there hasn’t been money to pay people and still they do it. … Most of the people we’ve worked with grew up with it or they worked with my grandparents. They just become part of an extended family and it keeps us all pushing.”

Sponsorship, however, is the life blood of a traveling circus and it is on the decline. The hosts – often organizations looking to raise money – book the show and do all the work to get it up and running, everything from acquiring permits to selling tickets and promotion. After the Valatie show, the circus has no other dates on the slate and Vidbel says they are headed back to New Jersey with optimism business will pick up.

“We try to keep it reasonable,” Vidbel says of the $10 ticket price. “Everyone should get a chance to see an Olde Tyme Circus, especially now that things are so expensive. If you have two or three kids you just can’t afford a major circus’ ticket prices. … We want a tent full of people enjoying the show; we just want to survive and get down the road.”

Vidbel's Olde Tyme Circus, sponsored by the Valatie Fire Department, will be at Callan Park in Valatie June 22 and 23 with shows at 5:45 and 7:45 p.m. each night. Tickets are $10 at the door.


Of course, while mom is juggling the kids, the carpool and a circus ... you shouldn't overlook dad, who is probably outside beating the lawnmower to death with a four iron. My guess is the poor old guy doesn't even remember Father's Day is on Sunday since he's so enraged with the single-stroke engine piece of #4!@ he's been pushing around the yard since he inherited it from his dad on the day of your birth. Dear old gramps is, no doubt, laughing his fool head off as he tools around on his electric ride-on replacement.

So why not do something special for your unsung hero of yard maintenance this weekend?

Go green and serene ...

SunDog Solar is hosting its first Summer Solstice Family Picnic & Energy Fair on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., at Crellin Park, Route 66 in Chatham. This is a BYOP (bring your own picnic) event in which locals can meet their neighbors and everyone can learn about renewable energy. Other events include live music by local and international musicians,and presentations by organizations devoted to sustainable, green and artistic living. The event is rain or shine and admission is free. In lieu of admission attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable food donation (or cash donation) for the Regional Food Bank. For more information, call 392-4000 or visit

Pass the beer and brats ...

Treat dad to a Father's Day Picnic at the German-American Club of Albany Sunday.
The event takes place Sunday at the Schuetzenpark Biergarten on the grounds of the German-American Club of Albany, 32 Cherry St. Schuetzenpark is the only outdoor Biergarten remaining in Albany. Live music from the Schwarzennegger Connection will be featured. The park opens at 1 p.m. and the event runs until 7 p.m. Entry is $3 per adult, children under 12 are free. German food and drink are available for purchase as well as domestic food and drink. Children's activities include a parade. In the event of rain, the event will be moved indoors in our large banquet hall and barroom. Call 265-6102 for more information.

Or if you're dad's crust is more upwardly mobile ...

Why not haul dad on up to Lake George village on Sunday and drop by the Adirondack Winery and Tasting Room, 285 Canada St., Lake George (across from Shepard Park). The tasting is free and a limited edition father's day wines will be available. Dads unaccompanied by their spawn need only a photo to get in free. And remember spitting is acceptable at wine tastings. For more information, visit


Not Your Father's movie (unless he was around 21 in 1969)

"Taking Woodstock," the Ang Lee film shot in part in our own backyard, is rumored to be having its world premier in Chatham's historic Crandell Theater. Of course the REAL opening is set for August in NYC, but upstaters might be able to see it first if they keep refreshing this link obsessively.

A comedy, Taking Woodstock, was inspired by the true story of Elliot Tiber and his family, who inadvertently played a pivotal role in making the famed Woodstock Music and Arts Festival into the happening that it was.

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