There are many things that set Circus Smirkus apart and that make it what it is; one of them is the idea that Smirkus is a story circus. Each winter, Artistic Director Troy Wunderle and Creative Director Jesse Dryden work together to come up with a theme for the summer’s Big Top Tour. This year’s theme of “Oz Incorporated” is a twist on the classic Wizard of Oz story that everyone knows and loves.
Every act in the show fits into the storyline, and every performer in the show is a character in the plot. It’s really cool to see all 27 Troupers getting into character for each show. But being in character is not just about the costume and makeup and hair that make you LOOK the part; it’s about the mannerisms and gestures and behaviors as well. There’s a lot more to being the Tin Man than a silver suit and matching makeup, and it takes more than a pair of ruby slippers to become Dorothy.
Part of getting into character is the preparation that takes place before the show. Two hours before showtime, troupers and staff have a meal – either breakfast, lunch, or dinner (depending on what time the show is). Then, after rehearsals and warm-ups the Troupers head to the backstage tent a half hour before showtime. There they get into costume, fix their hair – Head Counselor Dani Kehlman often steps in to do some french braids – and apply make-up.
But what sets Smirkos apart and makes them so special is that getting into character doesn’t end there. Liam Gundlach plays the Scarecrow, and though he wears overalls and a straw hat and wig, what makes his performance truly shine is how he moves about in the ring! At the end of the hand balances act, Nick Zelle picked Liam up on the edge of a mop, and posts him up… and he flops about like he really is made of straw, which never fails to make the audience laugh.
Not all of the characters get laughs, of course. When Sam Gurwitt enters the ring as the Wicked Witch for the first time, the crowd gives him a round of “Boo!”s as he slinks about and an evil grin grows on his face. But soon enough, the audience realizes the witch isn’t so wicked after all, and the laughs begin as they realize the character is in fact a clown.
Early in the rehearsal period, I observed and photographed a clown class, and heard Clown Coach Jay Stewart tell the Troupers that a clown must remember that in or out of the ring, they are always a clown. This extends beyond the clowns, to all of the performers in the show. As Alyson Mattei waited in the entrata (the entranceway of the Big Top) after intermission on Saturday evening’s show, a father and his young daughter passed by. The father said to his daughter, “Dorothy is awesome, isn’t she? This is even better than the book!”. The young girl then asked Alyson where she lived- Alyson replied “Oz!”, which got a giggle from the little girl. Alyson then told her she actually lives in California… but wouldn’t we all rather live in Oz?
Circus Smirkus will be in Brattleboro, Vermont for four shows at 1pm and 7pm today (Tuesday, July 16th) and tomorrow (Wednesday, July 17th) – shows have been selling out, so be sure to pick up your tickets here!