Circus Smirkus Returns07/03/2023 08:55AM ● By GENEVIEVE MARTINEAU
The Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour—on the road July 1 through August 19—features a cast of 30 young circus artists who will perform 63 shows in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. The shows feature aerial acts, clowns, contortionists and more, all set to live music, under a beautiful big top tent.
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
The mission of Smirkus is simple in theory and thoughtfully executed in practice: “To promote the skills, culture, and traditions of the traveling circus, and to inspire youth to engage in life-changing adventures in the circus arts.” The organization’s three programs—School Residencies, Smirkus Camp, and the Big Top Tour—blend the best of circus tradition and contemporary practice to create immersive experiences that challenge kids to perform and live to the very best of their abilities.
Circus Smirkus programs are committed to offering youth of all ages and backgrounds a spot under the big top. Each year, Smirkus raises money for scholarships to provide youth who might not otherwise be able to attend, the opportunity to shine in the Smirkus ring. Rachel Schiffer, interim co-executive director, said, “We never want money to be a factor for kids dreaming to be a part of Circus Smirkus, and our goal is to share the Smirkus magic with as many children and youth as possible. This year, we were able to award over $80,000 in scholarships, and we hope to offer even more in the future as we grow our outreach and partnership programs.”
The Circus Smirkus troupers are kids ranging in age from 11 to 18, joining from all over the United States. These circus youth perform high-level circus skills in an original show each summer as they travel across New England.
Sleepaway summer camp sessions at the campus in scenic Greensboro, Vermont, come in a range of offerings. Children as young as five can do one-day, get-your-feet-wet experiences. There are one, two, three and five-week camps specializing in the whole range of circus pursuits including acrobatics, aerials, clowning, balance, and juggling. For many campers, Smirkus Camp is a home away from home, where they are celebrated for being themselves.
In all, over 400 campers participate each summer in a variety of programs that range in level from beginner to advanced. Although most of the camps are open to all skill levels, advanced sessions require a video audition for placement.
JOINING THE CIRCUS
When it comes to securing a spot in The Big Top Tour, the process becomes a bit more involved. The audition requires both a written application and recorded audition. After review by the tour’s directorial staff, the pool is reduced to 45 performers who are then invited to participate in a second-round audition. Auditionees then showcase a thematic act and participate in skills assessment workshops, after which 30 troupers are selected for the final cast.
This season’s troupe comprises youth from 12 states. After the troupers’ selection has been finalized, the show script is created over the winter months, and act creation and rehearsals take place onsite in Greensboro during three weeks in June. Then the troupers hit the road for seven weeks in which two-hour shows are performed twice daily.
The amazing performances that audiences enjoy require numerous helping hands and behind-the-scenes dedication to execute. The tour includes 80 people—the crew, performers, counselors, and coaches. It takes eight hours to set up the big top and the backstage and concession tents, and to prepare and organize 200 costume pieces, 100 props, 70 spotlights, and a mile of electrical cable. But ultimately, all this work is worth it for those involved.
Interim Co-Executive Director Joshua Shack said, “We are very excited about this year’s show. We have an amazing group of young performers full of enthusiasm and top-notch skills. Our creative team, both new and returning, come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and all are extraordinarily talented. Each year, after months of planning, we spend three weeks creating an original, inspiring production from scratch. We’ve been planning this tour since the fall, and I can’t wait to see this year’s troupe and staff in action.”
THE SMIRKUS IMPACT AND ALUMNI SUCCESS
So what’s next for kids who participate in the camps or tour?
Many alumni pursue careers in the circus arts, often attending prestigious circus colleges around the world. Graduates have performed with Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Big Apple Circus, Cirque Mechanics, Les 7 Doigts, as well as other international touring companies. You’ve seen Smirkus alumni in movies, on commercials, and on variety shows like America’s Got Talent. Smirkus alumni have even been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The skills acquired at Smirkus, including confidence, team building, and communication, have tremendous crossover in a variety of careers, serving to benefit even those who do not continue on a circus-related career path. The Smirkus experience celebrates participants for exactly who they are, far from the pressures and expectations of family, peers, and school.
“Last year we celebrated our 35th anniversary with a triumphant return of the Big Top Tour after a two-year hiatus,” Shack said. “This year, we are thrilled to have more towns on the route again, including a few new venues. Smirkus is rooted in tradition, but one of the biggest circus traditions is innovation, and creating new traditions. We are excited to continue to deliver the magic that we are known for, in both familiar and new ways.”
Don’t miss the 36th Anniversary Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour throughout New England.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CIRCUS SMIRKUS
1 Circus Road Greensboro, VT