As we travel all across New England and New York, the process of packing up everything at one site and jumping to another gains a methodic momentum: the bleacher pads come off, the lights come down, costumes are carried back to wardrobe. In particular, a ritual surrounds the rolling and transportation of the ring rug. This year, the red rug that adorned the floor of the ring for years was replaced with a more versatile gray rug. But the traditions surrounding the ring rug remain.
During teardown yesterday in Northampton, MA, as tent crew swiftly disassembled the tent around them, the Troupers assigned to care for the ring rug and the mats that accompany it gathered in the center of the ring. “Make roll to these pieces,” they shouted, before vigilantly rolling first the ring rug and then the mats underneath. This phrase, though seemingly peculiar, has accompanied the rolling of the ring rug for years at Smirkus. It is an endearing impression of the syntax of many Russian coaches who worked here over the years, a homage to past teachers.
As the rolling of each section is complete, it is tightly bound with ratchet straps (and occasionally duct-tape!) to hold it in place. Moving the ring rug is a sizable project, one that requires many hands to lift the heavy, sagging material. When the time comes to lift and carry it out of the tent, the few Troupers who rolled the rug loudly cry out, “ALL HANDS ON RING RUG!!!” to gather the rest of the troupe. The rug and mats are carried out of the tent and eventually loaded into the large truck that carries all of the show props from site to site.
For Troupers, load-in to the next site happens the morning before their first show. They will unload costumes and props, set up the backstage tent, and ready the ring. Troupers survey the ground in the center of the Chapiteau, making sure it is level. Any divots in the surface must be carefully filled in with sawdust before the mats can be laid down. Once the ring rug is placed atop mats, Troupers surround it, tugging evenly from all sides to smooth the wrinkles. Only then, can the ring curb be set in place.
The final step in the care of the ring rug happens before each show, just minutes before the house is opened to the public. Ring sweeps, two Troupers who have taken on this responsibility, take coarse brooms to the rug and carefully sweep off any dirt or pebbles. This makes it comfortable and safe for the dancing and tumbling of the show. Once the last show at a site has ended, the ring rug rituals will begin all over again!