Although it’s been over two months since we all got to Greensboro, time has flown so fast that it feels like it was just yesterday. After four consecutive sold-out shows in Freeport, Maine, it was time to make our way to Hanover, New Hampshire. It was a long drive – about three hours – but soon enough we had arrived and the lot was set up. That night, a successful jump was celebrated with homemade pizza at the outdoor community pizza oven in nearby Norwich, Vermont! Any chance to hang out as a big group off-site is always a lot of fun – it’s nice to get to talk with the other staff members in a more relaxed setting – and who doesn’t love fresh, homemade pizza, baked in an oven right in front of them?
Those who think circus folk eat only cotton candy and popcorn might be surprised – Smirkus’s Pie Car churns out three healthy, delicious meals for the staff and Troupers every day! Just like the tent crew had made dinner while we were in Sandwich, MA, members of the tech crew stepped in to make lunch on our first day in Hanover. With schnitzel, green bean casserole, butternut squash biscuits, and a coffee bar for dessert, it was a real treat, and a great way to get our energy for the first show that evening.
When it came close to showtime, Artistic Director Troy Wunderle lead a group of raffle winners on a backstage tour of the Smirkus lot. While showing them around, he mentioned that the stars covering the interior of the tent had originally been used to patch up holes in the canvas, but are now there solely for decoration. As I looked up at the starry blue canvas I realized how special the tents themselves had become, because of their appearance but more so because of what happens inside.
On Thursday evening, we were also visited by another surprise guest – Jarron Hollander, one of the coaches at Kinetic Arts Center in Oakland, California. Five of the Troupers this year train at Kinetic Arts during the year – Lindsey Barrows, Marieke Dailey, Alyssa Kim, Ashley Kim, and Sarah Tiffin. None of them were aware that Jarron would be flying out to see the show, and when he went backstage after the show ended, there were hugs, smiles, and laughter all around!
The next morning, Jarron lead a workshop on rope and Head Rigger Andrew Adams lead one on straps. Many of the Troupers came to practice their skills, even those who don’t perform on rope or straps in the show! Trouper Wesley Williams gave the rope a shot, as did Counselor Andrew Jones, and Marieke could be seen working on the straps. There’s a lot of hard work involved in touring with Smirkus, but also a lot of room for creativity and trying new things. And with the first show selling out in advance, Hanover was off to a great start!
The time between shows is used for rehearsals and training, where Troupers will practice skills and acts in and out of the ring. On Friday afternoon between shows, I saw Lindsey outside, practicing hand balances on the canes. “Hand balances is so much fun!” she said, and continued to talk about how much she loves doing handstands and how she feels she’s been pushed and challenged by Coach Sellam El Ouahabi – but that she still loves doing it.
At every show in Hanover, the audiences seemed to LOVE the rope act! When Troupers Alyson Mattei, Liam Gundlach, Sam Ferlo, Ashley Kim, and Chase Culp said fearfully “Lions… and tigers… and bears… oh my!”, the crowd chanted along, and when Marieke and Nick Zelle began spinning, they erupted into applause.
Over the course of seven weeks, the Troupers will have performed 69 shows all over New England and New York, a schedule that makes Smirkus distinctive.Troy says the experience of simply doing so many performances in a row really is a unique opportunity for these performers.
It takes so much more than the Troupers and staff to make each show happen, of course. The presenter for each site puts up posters and signs around town, the volunteers help take tickets and pass out programs, and police officers keep the crowds safe. During the last act of the show, Trouper Sawyer Oubre walked over to the entrata, or main front entrance, of the tent, and as he prepared to go on for the finale, told the police officer there that “The finale is the best part!” and motioned for him to come closer and watch the end of the show.
But the energy doesn’t stop when the finale does – once the show ends, the Troupers are joined in the ring by Smirkus fans for high-fives, handshakes, and autographs. Whether they’re shaking Toto’s (Ashley Kim) “paw” or high-fiving a flying monkey (Ariana Wunderle), it melts my heart to see the Troupers talking to fans young and old after each show.
The final show in Hanover concluded around 6pm on Sunday evening, after which it was time for an overnight jump to Montpelier, the capitol of Vermont! On a typical load-out night, after the show finishes up I’ll help the House Manager and Concessions team, and then it’s time for a quick snack before going to bed, then rising early for the jump the next day. Since we would be driving to Montpelier the same night, everyone pitched in to tear down the site as quickly as possible. Once Concessions was done I jumped in to help the tech crew, and after that everyone got together to help tear down the Big Top itself.
The Big Top feels so magical, and I’d like to think that the magic, in combination with the camaraderie of so many staff members working together with tent crew – Executive Director Ed LeClair was on site and helped out, too! – made it all happen in just two and a half hours… the fastest tear down yet! Pulling side poles, rolling fabric, and pulling out stakes is hard work, but by working together we got it done quickly, and had fun doing so! I’m not sure I’d be cut out for tent crew, but it felt good to pitch in and do what I can to help make it happen.
We’re set up at Montpelier High School now, and getting ready for six shows in the next three days! Come see Oz Incorporated at 2pm or 7pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, or come to our closing shows in Greensboro this weekend (7pm on Saturday and 1pm and 6pm on Sunday) – pick up your tickets here if you haven’t already.