Putting the “Mud” in “Mud Show”

A rainy night in Sandwich, MA

In its quarter century, When Rob Mermin founded Circus Smirkus in 1987, he created it along the lines of a “mud show;” ­ the traditional, small, one-ring show that would travel the countryside and set up a tent regardless of the weather.

Smirkus has seen plenty of mud. Rob’s new book, “Circus Smirkus: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus,” (written with journalist Rob Gurwitt) details the trials of the “Great Killington Flood of 1988” and the “Great Kennebunkport Mud Bath of 2008.” Last night I got my first taste of, well, mud.

It started raining in the evening and my two uncles picked me up and we drove to dinner. We ate seafood at a restaurant overlooking the Cape Cod Bay and talked about the Olympics, the election season, and car repair. When we left the rain had increased to a downpour. As they drove me back to the site, I expected to find a scene of chaos when I returned.

I made it back to the Big Top  shortly before the end of the second act, in time to see George Washington take a toilet plunger through the gut during his “gladiator match” with King Louis XIV. I stood at the entrada (tent entrance) and watched the clown act unfold with the practiced precision I had witnessed so many times. From inside the dryness of the tent, the rain’s steady softness all around me was positively soothing.

The coziness was broken at intermission when I fully comprehended the situation Smirkus was in; our site was rapidly becoming swamped. From the backstage tent, about ten yards away, troupers hustled the trampoline across the muddy grass into the Big Top in preparation for the second half. While standing at the back stage entrance, I emptied an aluminum bucket that rapidly collected rainwater that ran off the roof in a waterfall. Unlike the rain we experience at a show in Essex Junction, VT, when the storm lasted 45 minutes, the rain this time was constant and drenching.

“To think the forecast said mostly sunny.” Rigger Cris Clark said outside the backstage tent. “I think that was the “glass-half-full” prediction. I responded. “Turns out there wasn’t even a glass.” He quipped.

It was about that time that composer and keyboardist Tristan Moore called down from the bandstand that there was no power and that we had thus lost all music and sound effects. An extra 15 minutes was spent, trying to sort out the electronics and I kept emptying that bucket. With an expectant audience assembled,  Artistic Director Troy Wunderle entered the ring, informed the audience of the technical difficulties that were being managed and then kept them laughing and engaged in a series of hilarious exercises and audience participation gags that had everyone laughing while the tech crew ran about, troubleshooting.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: If I could please have your attention for just a minute. Please take your left hand and make a triangle with your index finger like this… Everyone got that? Good. Now take your right hand and make a square at the same time…”

The audience cooperated, laughing and cheering with each new trick. After the brief interlude, the second act commenced with only Parker Bert on the drums to supply the “music,” giving an “unplugged” performance. Full sound was restored just minutes later. Everyone applauded and the second act continued. At the conclusion,  audience members made a break for their cars and left the once green field a soggy muddy pit carved with tire tracks.

This morning, the sun rose bright and warm over the Heritage Museums & Gardens, where our Big Top is raised.  I found yesterday’s New York Times on a picnic table and I sat and enjoyed the clear summer weather on this first of August while reading yesterday’s news (it was still news to me). The grass is still drying and groundskeepers are out laying woodchips to dry up any remaining mud in the parking lot. Across the field, the long, long fabrics for the fabric act are strung out to dry between the prop truck and the Big Top, the tie-dyed colors blowing loftily in the breeze.

It is a beautiful day for a circus.

Evan Johnson, Communications Intern

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