All Columns in Alphabetical Order

Monday, July 15, 2013

READ THIS: Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion By Mover and Shaker and Living Landmark Paul Binder Foreward by Glenn Close Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

For over 30 years, Stribling and Associates has represented high-end residential real estate, specializing in the sale and rental of townhouses, condos, co-ops, and lofts throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, and around the globe. Stribling has more than 200 professional brokers who use their respected expertise to provide personalized service to buyers and sellers at all price levels. A separate division, Stribling Private Brokerage, discreetly markets properties over $5 million, and commands a significant market share in this rarified sector of residential real estate. Stribling is the exclusive New York City affiliate of Savills, a leading global real estate advisor with over 200 office in 48 countries. 
Check out their listings: 
Whom You Know Congratulates their new President, Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan: 

Today, Peachy is wearing the Ringmaster hat just for you Paul.   Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion has Earned Whom You Know's Highest Recommendation.  We could not more enthusiastically recommend this tremendous autobiographical work and hats off to Paul Binder!  Our panel raves:

Paul Binder is a legend in the world of all things circus! Starting as a mime and juggler traveling around Europe, I am not sure even Binder would have even dreamed of where he would be next. His talent, passion for a more intimate way to show off cultural arts and acts and his great work ethic led him to the found the Big Apple Circus…one of my favorite NYC activities each year and I'm proud to say I took Peachy for her first time when we were 16. Binder has written a great book: Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion (and other uncommon tales from the founder of the Big Apple Circus) captures 35 years of excitement and stories and interesting people and acts.  Binder has a plethora of adventures to share and you are going to love it. Everyone always wants an insider’s take so this book feeds into that passion and delivers. You get to see how tricky the circus life is not only for the people performing but also the animals. The relationships that these acts form has to rely at lot on trust to its deepest level. Some of the challenges they do could take their life in a matter of seconds. So finding trust with your partners human or animal is mind-blowing. Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion (and other uncommon tales from the founder of the Big Apple Circus) is a great read that is on a whole different level of peculiar and heart warming!

Okay, let's be honest. Who hasn't, at some point in their adult life, fantasized about running away and joining the circus? Excitement, daring feats, silly clowns, entertaining animals, and, most of all, sheer joy, seem to follow the circus wherever it goes. I hadn't been to a circus since I was a little girl, until I paid a visit to the Big Apple Circus, for the first time ever, earlier this year! From the second I stepped inside the tent, I was utterly enchanted. The athleticism, grace, poise, and charm of each and every one of the performers was absolutely remarkable. Having been so transported by my experience with the Big Apple Circus, I was delighted to have the chance to read Never Quote The Weather to a Sea Lion And Other Uncommon Tales from the Founder of the Big Apple Circus. Written by Paul Binder, the founder and founding Artistic Director of the Big Apple Circus, this book is an engaging and amusing behind-the-scenes look at what circus life is like. To start, Mr. Binder gives readers a summary of his life leading up to the founding of the Big Apple Circus, from his years on the road, juggling on countless street corners with his partner, Michael Christensen (who co-founded the Big Apple Circus with him), to their first stint in a real circus in Europe, to the "aha!" moment in 1976 when the idea for the Big Apple Circus came to him. In the pages that follow, Mr. Binder shares numerous stories and anecdotes from his 35 years of experience with the Big Apple Circus, from the titular temperamental seals to an acrobat who breaks his nose mid-performance, jerks it back into place, and continues the show, to a power failure on opening night of a brand new show. I found myself flipping pages faster and faster, eager to read each and every tale, and I'm pretty certain I had a smile plastered on my face the whole time; the stories were all funny, unique, and genuinely entertaining. So, although I may never be able to just drop everything and run off to join the circus, reading and re-reading the tales in Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion and Other Uncommon Tales from the Founder of the Big Apple Circus is definitely the next best thing!

A trip to the circus can be an exciting adventure for both children and adults alike. There is a sense of mystery and awe that surrounds the circus tent and draws in an audience captivated by daring acrobatics, high flying performers, magic, comedy, and, of course, exotic animals. Many of us just get a very one-sided perspective into this world. We never get the chance to see what goes on behind the scenes at the circus. Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion, by Paul Binder, founder of the Big Apple Circus, reveals that magical universe. His stories are charming, humorous, and inspiring. He truly engages the reader with his tales of the joys and the challenges of circus life. This is one of those books that you will not be able to put down until you read it from cover to cover. In fact, you will probably look forward to rereading many of its passages. There is also an added bonus. The foreward was written by Glenn Close. This is a terrific book that you must get your hands on as soon as possible.

With tears ( happiness!) and joy in my heart, I read this celebratory collection of anecdotes by Paul Binder. The Ringleader of The Big Apple Circus puts us on the road with Leonard the rubber chicken and his friend Michael Christensen on the road to the Big Apple, with all their juggling through Europe, back in the day. They conceived the idea for the circus, maybe in that first moment they both stepped into the ring at Le Nouveau Cirque in France for the first time. Honed and weathered, the duo had tumbled pervasively in venues too numerous, but recounted in the first part of this delightful book. Once the Big Apple Circus was born, the stories shift to memoir mode, and Mr. Binder shares all of his "smell of the greasepaint, roar of the crowd" stories with us from the New York side of the circus' history. There's no business like circus business in this happy little collection of stories. It will make you yearn for sawdust, and tickets to the show. Filled with characters from circus royalty the brightly lit pages will put you into a childlike dreamworld of backstage and center stage. The foreword by Glenn Close sets the mood of wonder and appreciation, and the bumpy road ahead is one long series of smiles. If you're looking for a great read (perfect for subway riding), or a book to share with children in a "Book Hour", this is it. Pick up a copy, and definitely plan your trip to the circus well in advance. It's a celebration.


In her foreword to “Never Quote The Weather to A Sea Lion” actress Glenn Close explains how Big Apple Circus founder Paul Binder, her “tutor,” turned the daunting challenge of learning how to juggle for her performance in the Broadway Musical “Barnum” into a transcendent experience.

“Slowly during my sessions with Paul I began to feel the magic of the circus,” says Close. “Not in any lights or colors or clapping hands, not even in the music. The magic of the circus first captured me when I gained control over an object as simple as a rubber ball and it became part of me.”

Millions of adults and children have been touched by that magic, gasping with delight at high wire acts, hilarious clowns, exceptional acrobats, talented horses and dancing dogs.

In his newly released 200-page book, Binder, a kid from Brooklyn --- who didn’t run away with the circus, but started his very own --- celebrates his life and the lives of those who worked in and around the intimate, theatrical one-ring show he created for New York City in 1977. Binder served as the founder, artistic director and ringmaster of the Big Apple Circus for 32 years. He still has his hands on some of the ropes as a senior advisor.

Along with his colleague, Michael Christensen, he made the circus non-profit, and had the imagination and courage to keep it going for three decades.

Binder’s highly entertaining and funny book takes us inside the big top for a personal look at the unusual life of the finest circus artists from around the world, their talented animal partners and the roustabouts who spend their days in an environment that at once is close knit and international, high-minded and low comedy, death-defying and ludicrous.

“It’s not an easy life, but you’ll never meet a bunch of people with a more positive outlook,” says Binder, who as director and ringmaster was indeed the cheerleader for all of the acts. “I love being around artists,” he adds. 

With whimsy and intimacy, Binder tells stories about circus life behind the scenes: runaway gypsy wagons that roll off trucks and wind up on the entrance to the Kosciuszko Bridge, desperate ringmasters and fierce summer lightning storms that cause recalcitrant sea lions to not perform on cue. 

Regarding the sea lion event that inspired the book’s title, Binder explains, “Actually it wasn’t the lightning or the thunder, but circus animals can be as fickle as the wind. To work with animals you have to see and hear what their nervous systems are telling them and adapt to them, aligning yourself with the forces of nature.” 

“My book is really about ordinary people going about the business of achieving the extraordinary,” says Binder.

Readers meet memorable circus characters like the understated and side-splitting “Grandma the Clown,” performed by the legendary Barry Lubin and famed elephant trainer William “Buckles” Woodcock. We see photos of the Rios Brothers acrobats performing for the Pope; top animal trainer Roby Gasser and Adolph the “amazing’” Sea Lion, and “Queen of the Air” Dolly Jacobs, a breathtaking aerialist whose act is a stunning demonstration of beauty, grace and daring athleticism.

Some stories are more personal. Binder tells of how he fell in love and married a beautiful, green-eyed fifth generation Danish horse trainer, Katja Schumann. He calls her an “equestrienne extraordinaire.” Minutes after she jumped over barriers on her American Saddlebred horse she gave birth to his son Max in the couple’s circus trailer.

In a nail biting adventure, six Chinese acrobats from the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe defect after a performance on tour in Vermont, forcing Binder into performing his greatest-ever juggling act, involving state police, immigration officers, and Chinese speaking consulate officials, all while driving his pickup truck that is pulling his forty-two-foot fifth-wheel circus trailer down the New York State Thruway.

The Big Apple Circus’ annual 12-week run, alongside the opera and ballet at New York’s Lincoln Center, is a highlight of a season that begins just before Halloween and runs through two weeks after New Year’s Day. It also tours up to eight other locations annually.

Its award-winning community programs include after-school circus skills classes, a ticket program that allows less fortunate kids to see the show and a Clown Care Unit that employs 90 specially trained professional clowns who visit acutely and chronically ill children in pediatric hospitals across the United States.

Politicians and celebrities -- who love the circus like everyone else -- make appearances in the ring. Actor Paul Newman hosts a benefit for the Scott Newman Foundation at the Big Apple Circus, and comedian Robin Williams gets “clown tutoring” to help him nail the part of a visiting Russian circus musician who defects in Bloomingdales in Paul Mazursky’s movie, “Moscow on the Hudson.” 

In 1989, director Woody Allen shot scenes at the Big Apple Circus for his movie “Alice” including one with Katja standing astride two galloping horses with four more in front of her in long reins. After two takes, Woody wanted to do another, but Katja, hands on her hips, said to the director, “No more.” Understanding that she was now the director, Woody declared: it’s a wrap. “She didn’t want to push the horses and put everyone in harm’s way, so she pushed him” recalls Binder.

Among the book’s many great photos is one of the young “Raging Bull” actor Robert DeNiro. He came backstage frequently to visit with Tito Gaona, one of the world’s greatest flying trapeze artists. A photo has the two of them boxing it out with a youthful Binder in the middle of the two, a smiling referee. 

Binder also gives a nod to Big Apple Circus fan former Mayor Ed Koch, who never sat through an entire circus performance until after his mayoral term ended. “He always had a crisis he had to run to,” Binder recalls. And of course Michael Bloomberg, one of the non-profit circus’ most generous financial supporters, who routinely bought two Lincoln Center weekend performances for employees of Bloomberg LP and hosted brunches at the circus for his guests. 

“When it was my turn to greet him as mayor, he obviously remembered my many past pleas for donations,” says Binder. “He (Bloomberg) turned to his two NYPD plainclothes bodyguards and said smiling, “Hang on to your wallets, guys.”

“I always wanted to entertain others,” says Binder, whose dream began to take shape when his mother took him to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1946 and years later he could name in order of appearance every band and balloon character in the parade.

Fast forward decades later, Binder found himself taking that glorious ride atop a float in full ringmaster attire dozens of times, representing the Big Apple Circus as part of Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

After he graduated from Dartmouth College and earned an MBA at Columbia, Binder got jobs at WGBH-TV in Boston where he worked as floor manager for Julia Child, “The French Chef” and as a talent coordinator for Merv Griffin before heading West and learning juggling with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. That is where he met his friend and circus co-founder Michael Christensen.

Together the two traveled to Europe earning a living by juggling on street corners in London, Paris, Zurich, Rome, Athens and Istanbul --- before their act got noticed and they were asked to tour France in a small Parisian circus called Nouveau Cirque de Paris, a legendary one-ring show started by the famed Annie Fratellini.

Binder returned to New York City with a dream to create an American circus dedicated to the same theatrical excellence and artistic intimacy that he experienced in Paris. He found people to share his dream and implement his vision and in 1977, the Big Apple Circus was born.

Back to TOP