Friday, October 19, 2012 at 8:30 a.m.
Blood-sucking vampires? Scary. Demonic goblins? Frightening, sure. But the most horrifying part of The Vampire Circus, a big-top act at Bayfront Park that opened its tent-flaps for the first time last night, wasn't the show itself.
With the show scheduled to start at 8 p.m., would-be audience members began arriving to pick up their tickets between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. But the tiny trailer housing the act's box office had just one window open for most of the night, and the employees manning it were either experiencing some sort of technical issue or just taking their sweet time.
Not that it really mattered if you had gotten your tickets in advance. A Miami police officer hired to work the event -- the only staff member we saw outside the tent, aside from the overwhelmed ticketers caged away inside the box office trailer -- turned away people waving tickets in their hand to be let in well after the doors were scheduled to open.
The result: an sweaty mob of people who'd paid anywhere from $20 to $100 per ticket, milling around the sidewalk in confused anger as Miami Heat fans on their way to the match-up against the Detroit Pistons at nearby American Airlines Arena drove by shouting, "Hey! You should have gone to the game!"
The doors did finally open, a little bit past 8 p.m., and the mob -- ticketed or not -- rushed the gate en masse. A shouting and shoving scuffle broke out between two women taking out their frustrations on each other, and was quickly quelled by nearby people; in the crush, there wasn't room enough for fighting, anyway. Still, after waiting for 40 minutes, things were finally moving.
Or so the audience thought. When they did finally make it through the first set of tent flaps, two things were immediately apparent: One, this tent is air-conditioned, thank God. And two: They're still not letting us into the main event.
Audience members were channeled into a circus-themed lounge with kiosks selling drinks and snacks for the show. The curtain into the circus arena was closed and manned by two staffers in ghoulish makeup. Clearly, the audience was expected to hang out here and enjoy the spooky atmosphere decorated by skeletons and hanging "blood bag" energy drinks, dropping a little extra cash into the circus' coffers for the privilege. And under normal circumstances, that would've been perfectly okay. But after waiting in line for nearly an hour to see the show, few audience members were feeling much like waiting around anymore. Were the skeletons merely the remains of audience members who'd been trapped in here too long?
After another 20 or 30 minutes of waiting, the vampires deigned to let its audience members take their seats. This resulted in -- what else? -- another line, as each of the hundreds of audience members took his turn getting directions to his seat from the sole front gate staffer given the job. On top of everything else, the seat rows weren't marked, causing another bout of mass confusion.
Eventually, the audience found its seats (or whatever seats were nearby and unoccupied), and the show began -- at just past 9 p.m., nearly an hour after the advertised start time.
The circus itself was exactly that -- a circus filled with talented, if not especially memorable, performers who nonetheless pulled off some entertaining stunts. There was a motorbike on a tightrope, acrobats tossing each other into the air with their legs, a juggler, and a variety of women in tight bodysuits spinning in the air while contorting themselves into various uncomfortable-looking shapes. In keeping with the theme, each stunt ended with a traditional circus-style flourish, accompanied by a somewhat cheesy grimace baring vampire fangs. Dracula, the ringmaster, was styled like an undead Liberace, but he did have a few funny moments interacting with audience members.
It wasn't Cirque du Soleil, but that wasn't what the audience was expecting. When you sign up to see a vampire-themed circus act, you've gotta know it's going to be at least a little cheesy. Maybe you're there to embrace the schlocky side of Halloween, which is, after all, the schlockiest holiday on the calendar. Or maybe you're just there to be entertained, to let the performers' feats of motor skills, balance, and showmanship take your mind off of things for awhile and ease you into another weekend.
The performers did their damndest to achieve that, but last night they faced an insurmountable task: restoring lighthearted festivity to a group of people who'd been ignored, mistreated, and literally pushed around for over an hour on their way into the arena. After a 40-minute set, the circus broke for intermission, and several audience members ditched the performance entirely, shaking their heads on their way through the flaps.