We’ve come, it seems, full circle.
After a record-setting two and a half hour tear-down in Hanover, New Hampshire, it was time for Smirkus to head back to Vermont. But Vermont holds more than maple syrup and green mountains – it is Smirkus’s home.
Smirkus has been going to Montpelier for 26 consecutive years, and after being there for six shows in three days it’s easy to see why we keep going back – the crowds were enthusiastic, with many shows selling out! Not to mention, there’s plenty to do and see in town, which is just a few blocks away. On our first day on-site, I painted the town with show posters, and ran into a few long-time Smirkus fans, who said they had seen it before and couldn’t wait to see Oz Incorporated.
That evening in Montpelier, Liam Gundlach flopped and mopped around the ring as the Scarecrow during the hand balances act, to giggles and shrieking laughter from little kids sitting in the front row. When Nick Zelle balanced his bodyweight on one hand, one young audience member said “I could never do that in a million years!” and when he started spinning around on one hand, his legs stretched out in the splits, the same child shouted “No way!”
On our second night in Montpelier, the entire Smirkus Camp – campers, counselors, and staff – came to visit! The Camp was easy to spot in their matching Smirkus t-shirts, and sat down with the Troupers for a special Q&A session after the show. The Troupers all agreed that the best part of tour is the people you’re on tour with, and the worst part is having to say goodbye to everyone at the end. When Artistic Director Troy Wunderle asked who wanted to be in that ring one day, every one of the campers raised their hand.
The air that night was cool, crisp, and clean, and a reminder of what is so special about a New England summer. While the show came to a close, I took a minute to step across the street and watched the sun set over the Big Top, midway, and backstage tents. I’m convinced that when those last rays of sunshine hit the canvas each evening, the magic filters down into the tent, sprinkling an extra bit of energy and laughter and smiles on the Troupers in their performance.
After meals are over and when there’s downtime between shows, many of the Troupers and staff will hang out and play games together – the latest hit has been a card game called “Jungle Speed” – but on Thursday morning these games turned from friendly to competitive: it was time for the annual staff vs. Trouper kickball game! Counselors and tent crew and everyone in-between – even Smirkus’s founder, Rob Mermin! – stepped behind the plate to defend the staff’s winning title, but in the end the Troupers won the game, with a score of 11 to 6.
And yet as fast as it all happened, the tour was slowly coming to an end, and once things were wrapped up in Montpelier it was back to Greensboro – home. As we drove down Craftsbury Road and turned on to Circus Road for the last time, I felt like I was coming home. The Troupers arrived a few hours later, and as Counselors Colin Creveling and Andrew Jones and Head Counselor Dani Kehlman pulled up in the vans – red, white (“The Marshmallow”), and silver (“The Vantasy”) – the staff stood on the porch and cheered.
Traveling all over the Northeast for the past seven weeks has been an incredible opportunity. But as it exciting as it is to be on the road, it always feels good to be home, and that’s what the Circus Barn has come to be for every person that is a part of this company. “That was fast,” Trouper “Whistle” Cottle El Ouahabi lamented as we sat down for dinner at the same picnic tables we’d been eating at for the past seven weeks, but this time looking out at a view we hadn’t seen since June. “I’ve missed this view!” Maedya Kojis added, grinning as she looked out into the rolling green mountains and gorgeous blue skies.
Despite the fact that we come from all over – we have Troupers that live as near as Montpelier and as far as England – there’s something about Greensboro that feels like home. Greensboro is where it all began, and so it just felt right that Greensboro was where it was ending.
Saturday evening was the annual “Joke Show”, in which Troupers snuck some inside jokes into the performance. At breakfast that moment, everyone was giggling over pancakes – plain, chocolate chip, and bacon – as they talked about their plans for the show.
But before the Joke Show, it was time for one last Council meeting up in the Studio. The Final Council began with the Senior Troupers giving out superlative awards – one serious and one funny – to each First-Year Trouper: Wesley “Woo Woo” Williams won the awards for “Most likely to be seen from a mile away,” due both to his penchant for neon yellow clothing and tendency to walk around on stilts, and the “Pre-show Award,” for his ability to entertain the audience before the show on the aforementioned stilts.
Final Council was an emotional event – everyone was incredibly proud of the progress that has been made in the show and the ways they have grown as individuals, but it meant that it was time to say goodbye. Yet as the Troupers took turns saying a few words about their summer, a sentiment echoed throughout the room that the magic of Smirkus is more than swinging from the trapeze or juggling nine balls at once; the true magic is the Smirkos themselves. “Each and every individual in this room has affected me, and I hope that I’ve affected you,” Marieke Dailey said, and added, “We could be in the worst place and it wouldn’t matter because we’re with the best people.”
“Tour flew by and half of Smirkus is ending,” Sam Gurwitt said, “But half of it is what we take with us in the rest of our lives.” Circus Smirkus is more than a traveling youth circus – it is a place where lifelong friendships are made.
As the second act of the show was drawing to a close, Executive Director Ed LeClair walked backstage and said to the Troupers, “Soak it up guys, soak it up.” But there was little time for sentimentality – soon enough Glinda (Sarah Tiffin) was back in the ring with Troy, the “Wunderle Wizard of Oz”, giving him a pie in the face.
And after seven weeks in fourteen different towns, Oz Incorporated finished up with two performances on Sunday. Creative Director Jesse Dryden and Coach Alisan Funk came back to see the show, and at the finale that evening the Troupers’ parents took up an entire section in the bleachers, cheering louder than I thought possible.
It was time, a few minutes before 6pm, for the final Smirko cheer. With only one more chance to do this show with this family, Troy stressed the importance of doing it all together – “It’s not your show, it’s not my show, it’s not Jesse’s show or the creative team’s show – it’s our show” – and encouraged them to “surround yourself by people who inspire you to do more than you think you can do.” The hugs and handshakes were a bit longer than usual, no one feeling ready for it all to be over.
As I write this blog, the Troupers have all headed home, having been picked up by parents this morning, and many of the staff members are getting ready to leave as well. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been eleven weeks since I packed up my things in suburban New Jersey and headed up to Greensboro. My expectations for Vermont included maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (both of which I had my fill of this summer!), as well as a peek into the workings of a circus. Yet there was so much more than that – in addition to meeting some incredible young circus performers, I was welcomed into the Smirkus community and fully immersed in the world of circus.
See you all down the yellow brick road.
2013 Tour PR Intern