The weekend started off on Friday with the best weather we’ve had since I’ve been at Smirkus. The sun was out all day and it was warmer than it had been all week – being able to wear shorts and sandals was a welcome change after a week of jackets and rain boots!
After the troupers learned their parts in the show at the “show pitch” on Thursday night, (when Creative Director Jesse Dryden and Artistic Director Troy Wunderle described the premise of the show, how each act would fit in to the story line, and who would be playing what characters) on Friday they got to start working on their characters. One thing I’ve loved about watching the circus come together is that it combines elements of athletics and art – performing in the acts requires enormous athletic ability, but it’s only when the performers add in the art of acting that everything comes together as a cohesive performance.
Being new to the circus world, I wasn’t familiar with what all of the acts entailed when I first arrived, so it’s been eye-opening and exciting to see the acts rehearse. I’ve learned, for example, that a lot more than one would think goes in to being a good clown; while playing games to warm-up, clown coach Jay Stewart stressed the importance of remembering how the games relate to clowning, and when Jesse entered the room he told the troupers, “Welcome to clowning – the hardest thing in circus!”. Being funny is serious business!
The troupers celebrated the nice weather by spending their break times outside, juggling and riding unicycles. But in classes, it was work as usual, and the troupers certainly were working hard – Liam Gundlach did a double back flip on the trampoline (with safety lines), and Sorrell Nielsen did a split on the high wire! It’s inspiring to see the hard work paying off when troupers perfect something they had been scared of, and they’re always eager to share the news with their friends.
In addition to being World Juggling Day, Saturday was a day off from training for the troupers, and a day off from work for many of the staff. It was nice to have the day off, so I took the chance to explore the area with Amelia Bowen (concessionaire) and Bonnie Kirchoff (head concessionaire) – Bonnie lives less than an hour away so she showed Amelia and I around. It was refreshing and exciting to get out and about – we visited saw the Bread and Puppet museum in Glover, ran some errands, and stopped for awhile at Newark Pond (in Newark, Vermont), which had an absolutely breathtaking view. I haven’t spent much time in the mountains, so I never realized just how far they allow you to see – from miles and miles away, we could look over and see tiny yellow and blue and white dots on a field that were in fact the Smirkus tents. Looking just past that mountain was another faint mountain range in the distance, which Bonnie told us was in Canada- it’s crazy to think that we could see another country from where we were standing!
After spending the day seeing the area, we met up with the rest of the tour staff at Parker Pie Company, an incredible local country store which has been turned into a pizza joint and cornerstone of the community. It was a lot of fun to hang out as a big group in a more relaxed setting, but when we finally got back to the Circus Barn, I realized that Smirkus was beginning to feel like home. The rehearsal period before tour is certainly a unique limbo, but it’s one that has begun to feel normal and that I am embracing.
Sunday was Father’s Day and hopes were high in the morning as the day began a sunny one. While observing and photographing classes in the Big Top, I was struck by how big the ring is, and as troupers rehearsed their acts I found myself overcome with an appreciation of all the hard work that goes in to the making of the magic.
But despite the beautiful start to the day, it started to rain (again!) while we all sat in the mess hall for lunch. Right after lunch, I headed to the academy tent, where Troy, Emily Wunderle (trouper and Troy’s daughter), Ariana Wunderle (trouper-in-training and Troy’s daughter), Sellam El Ouahabi(coach), and “Whistle” Cottle El Ouahabi (trouper and Sellam’s son) did a “Father’s Day Pyramid” to celebrate the day.
It’s crazy to me that the first week of training has flown by so fast. Opening day is less than two weeks away getting closer and the number of days until tech week and dress rehearsals begin is getting smaller, so buy your tickets now! (You can pick them up here.)
It’s really cool to see Oz Incorporated coming together, and through my time spent here I’ve realized what an extensive process it is to make the show happen, and to tell a story not through words but through actions, props, costumes, and music. Through all the hard work, troupers, coaches, and staff are having a great time, because after all, how could you not have fun? It’s the CIRCUS!