Selecting a route for a show can be a difficult and
arduous task. There is a weekly newspaper (make that
Bible) called the AB (Amusement Business News) and in it
one can find ads for all the major carnivals, their routes,
and what exactly they are looking to book. Many carnivals
still book independent shows and you must select an outfit
that will be playing areas you want to play with business
arrangements that are agreeable to both parties.
Usually the carnival wants 50-60% of your gross, dings for
insurance and RV hook-ups, taxes, and other little charges
that add up rapidly. POP (Pay One Price) days are killers in
that the public buys a wristband that allows them free
access to everything on the Midway. If the independent Grind
Show owner is not allowed to sell his tickets independently
of this POP he is sunk; kids will be flooding through his
show while he is stuck with only a small percentage of the
gate based on the tickets he sold on the last regular day
(usually a bad week day). Receiving a poor location from the
lot manager can also hurt the show and getting stiff
competition from a more elaborate Ten-In-One or Gorilla Show
next door can lead to veritable ruination.
The jumps between dates can be long and over many miles of
bad road. The tear-down usually occurs late at night after
closing or early in the morning with no more than 2 1/2 - 3
days in which to get to the next spot. Rain can shut down a
carnival completely, and the economy of the town being
played is a major factor to be concerned with also.
Many carnivals avoid booking shows because they take up the
same space as a ride.
While a kid
might ride the Tilt-A-Whirl three times, he will only go to
the shows once.
shows can only muster fifty cents a head while rides
generate up to several dollars per patron. Many carnival
owners believe that audiences today are too sophisticated to
be suckered into seeing a headless girl, but the stouter,
more traditional showmen are convinced that no carnival is
complete without at least one Back-End show.
As the standard Side Show and Grind Shows are being
unceremoniously pushed off the dry lots of America, a
distinct, unique, and valuable form of outdoor entertainment
is being swiftly eradicated. Only the public can revive the
interest in the Back-End shows and there is definitely a
need for support from the paying audience. Carnivals should
be reminded that many patrons frequent the Midways who do
not want to go on the rides, but still seek entertainment.
There are still people out there who wish to be amazed,
chilled, and delighted by the marvels enclosed within the
tents and trailers of the show owners. There are still
incredible things to be seen in this world and at all costs
the tradition and history of the shows must be preserved.
Hopefully, the day will never come when people sit around
and trade stories of the way things used to be when the
carnival came to town. When the Electric Girl and the Giant
Rat could be seen for a half dollar. When Bigfoot, frozen in
a block of ice, was displayed for the amusement of the
curious and seekers of the unusual. This, truly a vanishing
art form, can not be left to become dust on tomorrow's
Midway. As showmen move forward, attempting to update their
presentations and keep up with a rapidly changing future, I
wish them all the luck one man can wish.
God bless them.
The Good 'Ole Days of the
1940s, (notice the Living Head illusion)