The run of shows at each site begins with the Troupers arriving early to unload the prop truck and begin setting up. In addition to getting everything ready in the backstage tent, they also lay out the mats, carpet, and ring curb for the ring itself under the Big Top. This is usually finished around lunch time and it’s always exciting to see the ring in place for the first time.
After our shows in Richmond it was off to Sandwich, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. We were visited there by Lilye Chapman who is a long-time Smirkus fan and has seen the show several times already this summer. Clown Coach Jay Stewart, who hadn’t seen the show since it debuted in Greensboro, stopped by as well, and even though he had created many of the gags in the show, he couldn’t stop laughing from his seat in the front row.
Many of the volunteers in Sandwich helped out for multiple shows, and one of the younger volunteers, Emmeline, was very excited to come back on the second day of shows and animatedly wished Troy good luck as she went in to take her seat. Another young audience member asked me at intermission “How do we sign up for the circus?” and showed off her handstands and cartwheels next to the Big Top!
On our last day in Sandwich, Head Rigger (and former Trouper) Andrew Adams did his straps routine (to the song “Sail” by AWOLNATION) for the Troupers and staff. Andrew explained that when going from a duet to being a solo performer, he wanted a prop of some sort to interact with while performing, and in 2009 began working with an umbrella, with his current act being worked on since 2010. He said he “wasn’t always strong”, and in fact being picked on for his size as a kid made him want to exercise – a few chin-ups lead to conditioning on the gymnastics rings and eventually his current straps act. Andrew further encouraged the kids to balance themselves out and be sure to stretch and strengthen both sides of their body, as well as to always continue pushing themselves and changing and improving things in their performance – “Any act is always a work in progress.”
After six shows in Sandwich, (and a few trips to the beach with detours for ice cream along the way) it was off to Waltham, just outside of Boston. The jump day concluded under the Big Top with a Smirkus tradition- dinner from Redbones, a barbecue restaurant in Somerville, MA. As the staff had their fill of pulled pork and baked beans and pecan pie, Tent Boss Nat Brown gave a speech about how much the Big Top means not just to the Tent Crew, but to the whole Smirkus Family. “This is a performance space, but it’s not just that,” he said; the Big Top is a place where magic happens and where friendships are formed.
The circus magic isn’t limited to the staff, of course; as she was taking tickets and passing out programs, one of the volunteers said “I become a three-year-old when I’m here!” Maybe it was the excitement of being near a big city or maybe it was the fact that there were so many friends, family, and alumni around to visit (as well as Creative Director Jesse Dryden, who showed up to surprise the Troupers, winking at them in the ring from his seat in the bleachers), but something about Waltham had the crowd even more excited and in awe of the performance than I had thought possible!
A gag involving Glinda (Sarah Tiffin) and the “Gurwitch” (Sam Gurwitt, the Wicked Witch) had little kids in the front row shrieking with laughter, and as Toto (Ashley Kim) hit the Cowardly Lion (Chase Culp) with her “paw”, the crowd gave a sympathetic “Aw!” This sympathy didn’t last long though, and when they saw the Lion’s reaction to being hit, laughter filled the Big Top once again.
At the show on Friday evening in Waltham, there was a rush of excitement around the whole lot, as someone pointed out that there was a rainbow in the sky, right over the Big Top! I rushed to grab my camera to take a picture of it, and as the rainbow finally dissipated and the sun set, the sky a gorgeous mix of pinks and purples, I couldn’t help but feel that this was a sign of good things to come while we were in Waltham!
With most of our Waltham shows sold out, the site was a blast. I realized Saturday afternoon how much Smirkus has come to mean to me personally, as I found myself holding my breath in anticipation as the Troupers would prepare to do a difficult trick – like a three-high pyramid or an advanced tumbling pass – and applauding, cheering them on, when they stuck the landing and gave the crowd a smile.
At our last show in Waltham, we were visited by a few members of the press, one of whom interviewed Ashley on-camera. When asked what Circus Smirkus is to her, she said very simply “a family.” It is a very talented family and one that is different from any other family I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
We’re getting the lot set up at Rockin’ Horse Stables in Kennebunkport, Maine as I write this- will we be seeing you for four performances of Oz Incorporated, at 1pm and 6pm on Tuesday and Wednesday?