Since I published this essay about Cole Porter and growing up “different,” I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people saying “I’ve never had the words to describe this feeling. Thank you.”
One email in particular has been on my mind. The subject line was “An ExMid from Peru Indiana thanks you.”
It’s from a fellow Peruvian who lives “out East” now. She still visits friends and family in Peru, but says that some members of her family seem uneasy with her at times. Sometimes they’ll say, “You’ve spent too much time in [City Far Away].
“I cannot help but feel like I don’t belong there anymore when I visit.”
Oh boy, do I know that feeling.
She goes on to say:
“I guess what I am asking you is how did you break the mold on what people in Indiana perceived you to be with who you really are to yourself? Did you find a way to do it that did not result in the ‘too good for us’ label that inevitably follows such a declaration? Indiana will always have a place in my heart and Peru a place in my soul but reading your words about both places made me feel like you understood my plight. I want to thank you for that. Indiana and particularly Peru is where I grew older but I grew up elsewhere. Cole Porter knew this struggle. Of that I am sure.”
Route books are a gold mine of circus history. They’re a yearly archive of a show’s acts and travels, meticulously recorded for posterity, then printed and given to circus personnel as a keepsake.
I have one that belonged to my great great uncle Henry Hoffman, superintendent of the menagerie for the Great Wallace Show.
When I started doing readings for The Circus in Winter, I took lots of pictures and put them in scrapbooks. I wanted to remember as many of those wonderful moments as possible.
But I noticed that many of the pictures from those years featured me standing behind a podium or sitting at a table.
That isn’t how I remember readings and events. I remember looking out at a sea of faces.
So for the last few years, I try to take a picture of the audience at all my readings.
Check out the new Route Book page
When I was creating my Route Book page for this website, I decided to do more than caption the photos. Where. When. I decided to share my memories of those events, and what I realized is that I’ve met and re-met so many people by going on the road.
Readings are hard on me. I have a bad back. I have anxiety issues. I’m an introvert. But I also love the experience of being in the room when people are experiencing my work or reacting to my ideas.
So feel free to follow the link and thumb through the pages of my route book. Maybe you’re in one of the pictures?
Check out the new Events page
I’ll be adding lots of pictures to the Route Book page soon; I’m going to be on the road a lot this fall. For more information, check out the Events page.
It’s July 5th, P.T. Barnum’s birthday, the 10-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, The Circus in Winter.
I. Circus back then
In 2004, I was teaching at The College of New Jersey. I was 35 years old.
That was the summer my sister got married. The first time I saw the book on a bookstore shelf was on June 17. We were on our way to her wedding rehearsal, which was near a Borders. I asked my dad to stop so I could go inside and see if the book was on the shelf yet. It was! I took a picture.
I wondered why my pub date was July 5th if the book was available in a bookstore on June 17?
My agent called me on July 5 to say congratulations and asked “What are you doing right now?” and the answer was that I was shucking corn.
That was a fantastic summer, full of happiness and starred book reviews and wedding receptions and a book tour.
I didn’t realize at the time how special that summer was, that sometimes a book pops and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s been hard to write my third book with this knowledge in the back of my mind. Here’s something I said to Bryan Furness when he asked me how a writer gets past moments like that.
In late July 2004, during my town’s annual circus festival, I did a signing in my hometown historical museum and many, many people came. Ex-boyfriends. Former teachers. Former circus people. Former babysitters. Childhood friends. It was completely overwhelming in a good way. I sat next to the skull of the elephant that killed my great-great uncle, the artifact that started my writing journey.
The next morning, I got to ride in a convertible in my hometown’s annual circus parade and wave at people. My brother and sister walked alongside the car and threw candy at the crowds lining the streets. The sign on the side of the car said: Guest “Author” Cathy Day.
Ah, the unnecessary quotation marks of the Midwest!
In my life thus far, these are the four greatest moments (in chronological order):
Returning to my hometown as a published author and riding in the parade
The morning a few months later when I was solving the New York Times Magazine acrostic and realized that the answer was a quotation from Circus.
The day I got married.
The day in 2010 when I returned to Peru with a group of students from Ball State who had adapted Circus into a musical. They performed in a circus tent on the same ground where the real circus had performed a hundred years earlier. I wrote about that day here.
II. Circus today
I’m incredibly fortunate that people are still reading The Circus in Winter. It was selected as the 2014 Common Reader at Hanover College. The other day, I got an email from a young woman who had just finished it.
I am attending Hanover College in the fall and I was required to read The Circus In Winter. I just finished reading it. While I was reading I didn’t know how I felt about the book. I kind of liked it and I kind of didn’t until the very end when Jenny talks about hometowns and how no matter what you can always go back. Just those very last paragraphs really got to me and it helped me appreciate the book so much more. Besides that I love the little bits of the book that actually happened. I understand some details were changed and so were names but it’s amazing for me to think something exciting has happened in Indiana.
Back in 2004, I sent a postcard to every county library in the state of Indiana asking them to add Circus to their collection. Someone asked me why I’d done that. Why focus on getting the word out about the book in Indiana rather than New York or Los Angeles? The answer is contained in that email.
III. Circus tomorrow
I’m visiting Hanover College on Aug 25 and 26th.
In September, I’ll be in Connecticut for two events with Ben Clark, who wrote the music for Circus. We’ve actually never done an event together where we trace the evolution of a story into song. I’ll let you know more about those events as details are finalized, but one of them will be at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Very excited about that!
Will you do me a favor today? Will you like the Facebook page for The Circus in Winter? If things go well with the musical, I hope that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will reprint Circus, and those likes might help me make my case.
I’m writing this on the porch of my house in Muncie, Indiana. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be back home in Indiana or that I’d be blogging or that there’d be something called “Facebook” or that there would no longer be a thing called “Borders” or that my book would be a musical, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Thank you very much. Today I’m filled with so much gratitude for the blessings this book has brought me.
I “met” Jenny Smith when I was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and she was a graduate student at Indiana University. She’d decided to write her dissertation on the short-story cycle/linked stories/novel-in-stories form, and one of her classmates at IU, Pat Maley said, “You should read The Circus in Winter.”
Pat, you see, had been one of my students at The College of New Jersey, which is where I taught before Pitt.
When I heard that someone from Indiana was writing her dissertation on the linked stories form, I got really excited. I agreed to be interviewed by her. “So, you went to Ball State?” I said. “My brother went there.”
At the time, I had no idea that the book would be adapted into a musical by Ball State students, nor that I’d later end up teaching there.
Periodically, I wondered, “Whatever happened to that person who was writing her dissertation on the short story cycle?”
The book was adapted into a musical, and Pat wrote about it for Stage magazine. He even came to the NAMT festival so I could hang out with him. He’s a professor now, too, at Centenary College in New Jersey.
And then today, I took a good look at a recent post on our department’s blog. It went up last week, but I hadn’t read it yet. Jenny Smith? Why is that name so familiar. Then I got to the end of the post. Oh! It’s her.
The other bit of good news is that Hunter Foster will be coming on as book writer. Please note:
The book is the libretto, the narrative structure that keeps the musical from being nothing more than a disjointed medley of songs.
Hunter Foster is an actor and librettist. He’s also the brother of Sutton Foster, Tony-award winning actress who teaches each year at Ball State and who has been a huge supporter of this project.
Goodspeed is known as a launching pad for many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals. You can see the list here.
If you live on the East Coast, or even if you’re just a fan, I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to see the fully produced show, full-size elephant puppet and all.
This is what it looked like when the show was produced at Ball State in Fall 2011.
The show is moving forward thanks to the ceaseless efforts of lots of people, namely Beth Turcotte, Ben Clark, and the folks at Center Ring Theatrical, which includes two Ball State grads.
You know what’s funny? All those years ago, my then-agent went to lunch with editor Ann Patty, and when he pitched Circus to her, she said, “I’m from Indiana, actually.” How lucky I am that this book has been helped on its way by so many people from my homestate.
I’m reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers, but wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.”
1. Sutton Foster will be there. Not performing. Just watching. But still…Sutton freaking Foster, people.
2. My parents will be there. They are cute.
3. My sister will be there. She is cute.
4. The President of Ball State University, Jo Ann Gora will be there. Note that I put my family before President Gora but after Sutton Foster…please don’t read too much into this. I need to keep my job and my family relations intact.
5. Thanks to Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut and to the hard work of Beth Turcotte, Ben Clark, producer Sean Cercone and others, the book (the story, the script) is better. The plot is different from the version you might already be familiar with. There’s a new character!
6. There’s some new music, new songs by Ben Clark. So yay! new material by Ben! (You’ve probably seen him on teeeee-veeee…)
7. I hear the whole band will be there, too! Yay Joe Young on the mandolin! Yay Nick Rapley on percussion! Will Sean Muzzi be there, too? (He just got a gig playing for the Glenn Miller Orchestra!)
8. It’s a concert reading. And the next morning, they’re taking off for NEW YORK CITY to perform in front of a select group of investor-type folks. So we need to send them off with a bang, like in a pep rally sort of way!
9. WHERE IS IT? It’s taking place at 8 PM, 4/25 at the Cornerstone Center for the Arts, 520 E. Main St., in downtown Muncie, which also happens to be a block from my house, so yay! I can stumble home happily afterwards.
10. It’s free and open to the public, so tell all your friends!
Okay, so let me try to explain what this all means.
A few months ago, the National Alliance for Music Theatre (NAMT) selected The Circus in Winter as a finalist in their yearly new work competition. NAMT’s 24th Annual Festival of New Musicals is a premiere industry event that gathers theatre industry leaders to discover promising new musicals. Hundreds of scripts are considered but only eight are chosen; at the two-day festival, they give two abbreviated, 45-minute performances. Professional, age-appropriate actors are cast in the roles. Basically, it’s a major stepping-stone towards a Broadway production. Ever heard of Thoroughly Modern Millie? The Drowsy Chaperone? Well, they got their start at NAMT.
An imperfect analogy for my readers who know diddly squat about the world of musical theater (myself included until recently): a musical created by college students getting picked for NAMT would be like a high school kid getting a Breadloaf or Sewanee or Stegner fellowship.
All I can really say right now is that Circus was definitely a hit. NAMT rules stipulate a 4-6 week cooling-off period after the festival, which means I’ve got nothing specific to tell you except that many regional theaters expressed interest in Circus. If you follow the link for Millie above and check out its production history, you’ll see that that’s a possible route to Broadway: out-of-town tryouts at regional theaters.
Here are some pictures from the day I went to NAMT.
Now, at this point, I’ve seen Circus about 10 times, but this time was different. I’ve enjoyed all the wonderful performances by Ball State students, but this time, the roles were played by professionals, and their voices filled the room.
I cried a little bit during the first song. I mean, holy shit, Sutton Foster was up there playing Jennie Dixianna. Seriously, who thinks anything like that will ever happen?
I was so happy that my agent Sarah Burnes and Andrea Schulz from HMH (and whose sister went to Ball State! small world!) were able to come and see the reading.
I was also happy to meet the other cast members and thank them. I told Steel Burkhardt that his character, Wallace Porter, was named partly for the real circus owner from Peru (“Lima”) Indiana, Ben Wallace, and for my hometown’s most famous son, Cole Porter.
But I was also incredibly happy to see Emily Behny on stage, playing Catherine. She was in the class that wrote the musical, and she’s gone on to star in the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. And two other students from the class were on stage: the original Wallace Porter, Jonathan Jensen, and percussionist Nick Rapley, joined by Joe Young, who played banjo and mandolin in the BSU production. And of course Bill Jenkins was there. He’s the chair of the BSU Department of Theatre & Dance, someone who understands not only how to make things happen inside a university (which is hard) but outside it as well (which is harder).
It was strange to see Ben Clark introduce the show and then take a seat instead of grabbing his guitar. In my mind, he’s always been one of the characters. But he has another role to play now, one he still performs beautifully.
And yes, Perez Hilton really was there. I didn’t see him, but Emma Turcotte did and snapped this picture.
A few people have asked me, “So did Circus win at this festival?” Which is a fair question and certainly one that I asked myself. Even though there aren’t first, second, and third prizes or Palm d’Or’s or anything like that, trust me: things really could not have gone better at NAMT than the way they did.In a month or so, I should be able to tell you what exactly is going to happen next with the musical.
I can’t wait to find out!
I want to thank everyone for making me feel a part of this journey.
On Thursday, July 19 at 7 PM, I’ll be at the new Indy Reads Books reading a story called “The Girl with Big Hair.” Here’s why you should come.
Because I had some rockin’ hair in 1987. Admit it.
Because you’ve probably never read this story. It was published in The Gettysburg Review in 1999. The story concerns Jenny and Ethan Perdido, characters in The Circus in Winter, but because it’s not set in Lima, Indiana, the editor and I decided it didn’t quite fit into the book manuscript.
Because it’s about my internship at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In 1990, I went to New York with a bunch of other Midwestern college kids. We lived in a Chelsea brownstone and did internships by day and roamed the city by night—and got college credit! It was glorious.
Because one of the other kids in this program was this guy from Wabash College named Eric Kroczek, who I clicked with immediately but pretty much blew off.
Because when I sat down in 1995 to write a story about my Interview experience, I remembered blowing Eric off and put him in the story. I changed his name to “Nate.”
Because when Comeback Season was published in 2008, I was interviewed on WFYI’s Art of the Matter, and Eric Kroczek/”Nate” was living in Indianapolis, driving to the grocery store, and he heard me on Art of the Matter. When he got home, he emailed me and we clicked again and a year and a half later, we got married—17 years after we met in New York City.
[This is where it all comes together.] Because that interview that Eric was listening to was conducted by Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads, who made Indy Reads Books a reality.
Because if it wasn’t for Travis, I might not be happily married.
Because, to thank Travis, I’m bringing wonderful things to give away to people who come to the reading with books to donate., including a vintage issue of Interview magazine that is featured prominently in the story I will be reading.
Because the best reason to come to the reading is that you’ll be supporting a new bookstore in downtown Indy as well as a nonprofit that brings literacy to adults in Indianapolis. That’s something you can feel pretty great about.
And if all of that is not enough to convince you to come to this reading, I offer this: my parents will be there, and they are really, really cute.
Thursday, July 19 at 7:00 PM at 911 Mass Ave., Indianapolis.
Bring books to donate! There will be a drawing! Win things!