When speaking with the Barton Chronicle on Friday morning, Creative Director Jesse Dryden discussed how Smirkus troupers are known in the circus world for having a good work ethic. At rehearsals they will try, try, and try again until a move is perfected and ready for performance. Theyencourage each other to work hard. When a fellow trouper was having some hesitations about trying a new, challenging move, fourth-year trouper Nick remarked, “Better to fall than not do it!”- when you’re wearing a safety harness, of course- which is a remark I appreciated and believe applies in many areas of life. If you fall, you can always get back up and try again, but you have to push yourself and do things that push you in order to move forward.
This work ethic is evident both in and out of the ring, but it is not sufficient in describing what the troupers bring to the table. Smirkus’s Big Top Tour every year has a theme to the performance- this year is Oz Incorporated (a Smirkus spin, flips and twists included, on the Wizard of Oz). Jesse commented to the Barton Chronicle that he wants the audience to be surprised when they come to see a Smirkus show. Every year, he said, brings “The same heart, the same energy, but a new experience” in terms of the acts that perform and how they are incorporated into the theme.
After dinner on Friday night , wire coach Estelle Borel held a wire class for the staff! I had never stepped on the wire before (and not so sure I ever will again… I’ll leave that to the Troupers!) but in true Smirkus spirit, had to give it a shot, and was joined by everyone from Artistic Director Troy Wunderle to Head Cook Kate Schroeder to Sound Designer/Engineer Jason Eckenroth. Watching the troupers rehearse is awe-inspiring anyway, but especially after trying it out myself, I have even more respect and admiration for what they do every day! It’s certainly not easy, but maybe what’s so difficult about it is being graceful and making it look so easy.
Most of Saturday morning was spent rehearsing the finale dance for the show. Jesse and Troy worked with Choreographer Matthew Williams and Stage Manager Kate Rourke to get the dance moves down and to get the troupers in their correct places for the entire routine.
There were no rehearsals after lunch Saturday, but the troupers all went down to the Big Top to help set up the ring carpet which means… the first show is getting closer! It was a group effort, as everyone had to work together to lift the carpet into the pick-up truck and then carry it into the Big Top and make sure it was placed just right in the ring. The production team also worked together all day to hang lights all the way in the cupola, or top of the tent- it was pretty impressive to watch them climb all the way up there!
On Saturday evening, Troupers, staff and crew gathered in the dressed up Mess Hall- candles, flowers, and all!- for Banquet, an 18 year old Smirkus tradition that involves a feast, and a moving display of thanks and admiration. Everything the pie car makes is fantastic (it always impresses me how they manage to cook delicious, healthy meals for so many people three times a day- not to mention cater to everyone’s dietary needs like vegetarian or gluten-free), but I have to say that the feast they made at Banquet last night (smoked barbecue pork shoulder, jalapeno poppers, and homemade gelato for dessert, just to name a few!) absolutely takes the cake as the best meal they’ve served since I’ve been here! We all work hard during the day, and it was so much fun to see each other all dressed up for the occasion.
Towards the end of the meal came the speeches and toasts- and even some original poetry!- where the troupers, coaches, and staff thanked each other for all their hard work. It’s impossible to narrow it down and choose a single moment as the most meaningful, because what’s magical about Circus Smirkus is that there is no one single department nor is there one single person that is most important. But a moment that really touched my heart was hearing Coach Milagros Luis Alonso give her speech in Spanish. Mila is from Cuba, and this is her first summer with Smirkus; I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but as Tent Boss Nat Brown translated her words in to English, I was moved by realizing the impact the Smirkus family- and that’s what it really is, a family- can have across cultures, borders, and language barriers.
Molly Hudelson, PR Intern