I have always enjoyed driving in Vermont simply because of the lack of heavy traffic and the ability to have the entire road to myself. I do my best thinking when I’m driving alone. But on the drive back to Greensboro, I was not behind the wheel, nor was I traveling alone. Instead, I was cramped in the back corner seat with a paperback novel and seven troupers and I was splitting time absorbing the words on the pages and then looking up to watch the pastures, farms, and woods fly by in a green blur. Counselor Danielle Kehlmann is a very safe driver and she deftly handled the whale-sized van around corners and over gravel rutted with washboard and cracked pavement littered with potholes and frost heaves. It was predictably unpredictable Vermont road conditions for the entire afternoon before we peeled off of the pavement and onto Circus Road, marked at the intersection by a sandwich board sign reading “FINALE, SHOWS AUGUST 18th AND 19TH.”
As we turned down the final winding turns of the driveway, “Home” by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros was playing at full volume and everyone in the van belted out the chorus:
Let me come home
Home is whenever I’m with you.
[Insert catchy whistle hook]
I returned to the Circus Barn in the same conditions as I found it in June, with the “Big Top” tent, backstage tent, and the concessions and novelties tents all laid out identically. Even the weather was the same as when I first arrived in late June, cool and threatening rain. As I extracted myself from the backseat and the troupers unloaded their luggage, I saw tears in their eyes.
In the evening, I was recruited to help begin arrangements at the site of the 25th anniversary gala at Windswept Farms, just a few miles down the road. This time, Operations Director Judy Gaeth drove the van and I shared a seat with her dog, Gypsy. Windswept Farms is located on a wide hillside overlooking the hills around it and we arrived as the sunset was turning the horizon shades of orange, pink, and purple, and then it was dark. I moved tables and chairs as determined by the schematics sketched out on graph paper while others strung the ceilings with Christmas lights. Like an empty circus tent, it possessed a silent sort of potential energy and when it is full of people celebrating Smirkus’ 25 topsy turvy years, that energy will come alive and ripple throughout it. As we drove back in the dark, I felt the excitement begin to well up inside of me.
We returned to find most of the camp asleep; the troupers had gone to bed and the staff was thinking about doing the same. For the most part, I had the farmhouse to myself and I was able to sort through a jumble of thoughts and emotions in peace while composer Tristan Moore was back at his desk much like when I first met him; diligent as ever and reviewing footage. Sitting down on the floor next to me, Dani continued to work relentlessly on finalizing details for the gala. And I had my own things to take care of so I loaded my laundry into the (free!) washer downstairs; Dani made chamomile tea, and I sat in the marketing and PR office and thought long and hard about this whole adventure started.
I could say that this began the day I drove north, but I prefer to say that I was already anticipating what the summer would hold while I was still studying in Freiburg, Germany and had applied and interviewed for the position via Skype. My girlfriend, whom I had told about the possibility of running away to the circus, was visiting when I got the invitation to come aboard. I had hardly sent my email replying with the affirmative when she walked into my room.
I remember she immediately noticed the grin I was trying so hard to conceal.
“You got it didn’t, you?”
I didn’t have time answer before she wrapped her arms around my neck and planted a kiss on my cheek. “You did it,” she told me.
“I’m going to join the circus” was all I was able to say, feeling the initial anxiety of what the coming months would hold in a workplace that was unlike anything I had previously experienced. My German flat-mates were convinced I would smell like cabbage, and I had them convinced for a few minutes that I was joining as the understudy for the bearded lady.
That was in May. I joined Smirkus a month later during the final stages of training and as soon as I felt adjusted and settled into this new place and community, I was on the road on tour. I really haven’t had the opportunity to stand still since and now I am back where it started. Time is relative and the only way I’ve been able to cope is by documenting it. This blog has helped condense that elapsed time into something manageable, something tangible I can recollect and share. But now my remaining time at Smirkus is dwindling and I only have a handful of thoughts remaining to write out. We’ll see where they go.
Thank you for reading.
Evan Johnson, Communications Intern