In order to make each performance of Oz Incorporated happen, all 27 Troupers have a variety of tasks to perform. Many of them are in multiple acts in the show, from clowning to juggling to rope to trampoline, so it’s important to be well-versed in the circus arts.
Backstage and between shows is used as a time for rehearsals, where the Troupers will perfect a sequence on the rope or a juggling pattern or a funny clown gag. There are scheduled rehearsals between shows, and there’s constantly people practicing on the wire and aerial rig set up backstage.
But what’s pretty cool is that it’s not just what they do in the show that they practice- every day, the Troupers are out there trying new things and working on skills that aren’t necessarily in the show. Before nearly every show, Wesley Williams and Sawyer Oubre each strap on a pair of stilts and grab some juggling clubs to entertain and interact with the crowds waiting in line to enter the Big Top. On Monday afternoon I walked backstage before the show to see what was going on, and saw Trouper Marieke Dailey (who does juggling, rope, and shapes in Oz Incorporated) working on hand balances. Nick Zelle could be seen giving Chase Culp (our very own Cowardly Lion) a few pointers on how to climb the rope.
Though the days are packed with set-up, rehearsals, performances, and tear-down, there’s always a bit of time here and there where the Troupers get to show off their own non-circus hobbies. While we were in Rhode Island, Eyal Bor showed Noah Nielsen how to quickly solve a Rubik’s Cube. Brin Scholekopf and Sawyer Oubre were both walking around with cameras of their own, taking photos, and when he’s not making people laugh as the Scarecrow, Liam Gundlach stencils shirts that many of the Troupers and staff can be seen wearing around the lot.
Last weekend we were in Richmond, Rhode Island at the Washington County Fairgrounds. I grew up going to the beach in Rhode Island every summer and was excited to go back, but more importantly, I was excited to see our new backstage and midway tents in use!
After a long hot day, the tent crew had finished setting them up, and I had a big grin on my face as I took a walk around. Before I got to Smirkus, I don’t think I was aware of the magic that something as seemingly simple as a tent can hold, but here, the tents are where the magic happens and so the tents begin to take on a magic of their own.
The Troupers arrived on Friday morning and were excited to start practicing in the new backstage tent- it’s about the same size as the previous one, but much taller and has an rig for aerialists to practice things from straps to trapeze. Soon enough, it was time for lunch and once it was all cleaned up time to prepare for the first of four shows.
With the two high masts on the new midway tent, anyone who approaches can see the Big Top ahead through the middle. This large tent spans the entire midway and creates a whole new atmosphere where you can get food and novelties all in one place… pretty cool, right? I love walking through the midway tent before a show and seeing audience members- young and old, some who have been coming to see Smirkus for years and some who are brand new to the experience- congregating together and laughing and talking animatedly about what they think will happen in the show – what acts there will be and what the costumes will look like are popular topics of conversation.
It’s a feeling of happiness and excitement watching the audience members waiting in line outside the Big Top, and no matter the day or the weather, the smiles never fail to get even bigger when, thirty minutes before show-time and after Production Manager Josh Shack and House Manager Annette Sousa have everything set, the Big Top flaps open and people rush to take their seats.
When it nears show time, Artistic Director and the Wizard of Oz Incorporated Troy Wunderle calls all Troupers for the traditional “Smirko!” cheer. Ending in a shout of “Smirko! Smirko! SMIRKOOO!”, it’s a chance for the whole Troupe to get together and bond a bit before the show begins. And after that it’s time for the Troupers to smile and hug and wish each other a good show.
Watching the Troupers smile and hug and wish each other a good show is always exciting, but I don’t think anything could really compare to seeing the audience members’ reactions as they wait in anticipation to finally enter the Big Top. There are smiles, always lots of smiles, and chatter as they wonder what the show will be like, but as soon as it begins, everything in the audience goes quiet- the magic is beginning.
The quiet doesn’t last long, of course, and as soon as the opening notes of the charivari theme are played, the clapping begins.
We just finished our last show in Waltham, Massachusetts, and early tomorrow morning we’ll be off to Kennebunkport, Maine for four shows in two days. Four of our shows in Waltham sold out- if you want to catch Oz Incorporated this summer, be sure to pick up tickets in advance here. Stay tuned for a blog post about the shows in Sandwich and Waltham!