Aiming high: Smirkus troupers prepare for professional academies

From training in mid-June until the end of tour in August, Circus Smirkus is a serious commitment for the troupers. While many will return to school or head off to their first years of college in the fall, others have decided to make a longer commitment to the circus craft. Olivia Saunders, 19, of Acton, MA and Ezra Weill, 18, of Seattle, WA are troupers with plans to go on to study professional circus. Olivia will begin in the fall of 2012 at École de Cirque de Québec in Quebec City and Ezra at the École Nationale de cirque in Montreal. They join a number of recent alumni studying at those schools.

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At Smirkus, Olivia performs in wire, trampoline, tumbling and pyramid acts. Ezra also performs in wire as well as aerial rope. Both troupers say that an affinity for the circus lifestyle and craft were what allowed them to make that decision.

“[Circus] was where I was happiest,” says Olivia.  “I never thought ‘well let me find my passion and then find a job;’ I thought ‘let me find a job where I’m happy.”

Ezra agrees:

“In high school, nothing really jumped out and inspired me as I had seen happen to my friends,” he says. “But circus was something that has always been there for me and it’s something that I love to do.”

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Both Olivia and Ezra learned about their schools from peers or trainers at Smirkus. “I did Smirkus and I didn’t think too hard about going professional,” Olivia says. “But it was always talked about and it’s how I learned that professional circus schools were out there.”

Prospective students at the Canadian academies undergo an audition process much like that of any professional circus. Olivia and Ezra each underwent a series of examinations that tested their strength, flexibility, and technical knowledge, as well as their respective aptitudes for acting and dance. They were each permitted to perform a short piece of their own design. An important component of an applicant’s profile is an interview. Olivia’s interview lasted only one minute, during which they asked her to describe herself in just one word.

“I picked ‘determined’,” she says.

“In terms of my thoughts on getting in, I really doubted myself in terms of preparation and experience,” she says. “But you never know what they are looking for.” She describes receiving her acceptance notice: “I was getting ready for work and I checked my phone, jumped around the house for a little bit and then ran off to work.”

Having confirmed their enrollments in their respective programs, the two say that their time at Circus Smirkus has been rewarding and has prepared them for their respective futures. At the end of their four-year training program in circus arts, they will each receive an institutional studies diploma.

The two look forward to the coming semester and feel ready for that next step towards that they both describe as a lifetime of performance. As an alternative, Ezra has considered teaching while Olivia contemplates physical therapy. “It’s different but you need that base,” Saunders says, “[you need] that relationship with circus.”

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