After a long jump on the 4th of July, we arrived in Saratoga Springs, New York for five shows. The first show on Friday, July 5th, wasn’t until 7pm, giving us all time to explore the area during the day. We were located on the Saratoga Race Course, a historic site – this year, they’re celebrating 150 years!
There is something enchanting about the Circus Smirkus environment. Both behind-the-scenes and during the show, there’s a certain kind of magic in the air that’s a result of the combination of the 26 talented Troupers, and one Trouper-in-Training, and all of the hard-working staff. Currently in its’ 26th season, but as I learned from Artistic Director Troy Wunderle, Smirkus carries many old circus traditions.
One of these traditions is the Clown Alley that is located backstage. At Smirkus, Clown Alley is located in a corner of the backstage tent, with old steamer cases and a rack of costumes. Troy described it as “a place for the clowns to be goofy” as they get ready for the show, and says that any circus that is rooted in tradition will have a designated Clown Alley backstage.
The tradition found within the circus is a magic of its own, but where I really saw the magic coming to life was with the visit from Hannah Hughes, a ten-year-old girl from the area who came to the show thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Hannah and her family arrived early for the show on Friday night, and Troy gave them a special tour of the entire Smirkus lot!
The Big Top itself, I learned, came all the way from Italy, and as Troy described the process of building and setting up the tent, a man walking past said to his young son, “This is unbelievable – they built this whole tent! Look at the size of this thing!”
Troy taught Hannah and her family some circus lingo, like “cupola” (the top of the tent) and “pie car” (the mobile kitchen where the cooks prepare all of the meals for everyone on tour). A magical moment happened when they reached Clown Alley – Hannah and her younger sister, Fiona, got to meet some of the Troupers as they were getting into costume and character backstage, and then Troy said he had something very special for them… two red clown noses of their very own, and a set of juggling scarves!
The costume does not make the clown, and neither does the nose; it is about the character inside. Yet maybe the noses have a little magic of their own, a magic that makes wishes come true – Hannah’s face lit up when she saw the clown nose, and she and her sister giggled.
In Troy’s words, the three most important parts of the circus – the three things that get the show on the road – are the food, the Bobcat (a forklift), and the generator. Yet if you ask me, the three things that keep it going are the heart of the performers (before Friday night’s show, Troy reminded the troupers that this was an opportunity for them to be big, and have a big heart), the energy of everyone on tour to work hard all day and night, and the excitement of live performance and constant travel.
“I’ve been here for 18 years, and it still inspires and baffles me,” Troy said when telling Hannah and her family about the backlot set-up. Two more families from Make-A-Wish visited the site over the weekend, and each time as I saw their smiles it was a reminder of how the magic of circus can bring positive change to child’s life.
Saratoga Springs is the hometown of the Wright-Sansons, a very special family for Smirkus. Keenan Wright-Sanson is a current trouper and his brother and his brother Taylor not only is a former Smirko, but also designed and launched the first ever Smirkus iPhone app (which is totally free… check it out here)! Their parents, Robert and Cynthia, were there for the whole weekend helping to run the Saratoga venue. Robert, who is credited with thousands of shots of the Smirkos over the years, including their headshots, and production shots stopped by Sunday morning to take the official cast photo.
It was a hot weekend, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees every day, but that didn’t stop the fun – Volunteer Mary Roberts said “My cheeks are hurting from smiling!” and couldn’t stop talking about how much she enjoyed the show. After seeing how hard the Troupers work, I feel a rush of pride when I notice other people enjoying the show as well – like seeing the audience’s applause when Trouper Alyson Mattei do a back flip and land on Keenan’s shoulders, or hearing a little boy say “This is so awesome!” while Noah Nielsen did a trick with the diabolo.
After five shows in Saratoga Springs, it was back to Vermont for six shows in three days at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction- 6:30pm TONIGHT (Wednesday) and 12pm and 6:30pm tomorrow (Thursday) are our last shows on sight. Will we be seeing you there? Make sure to pick up your tickets in advance here… many shows have been selling out!