Award-winning Circus Smirkus troupe coming to Hanover

by Sophia Siu | 6/30/16 5:00pm

If summer classes have you considering dropping out to join the circus, you may be disappointed to learn that professional recruiting might actually be less competitive. At the same time, the circus is actually closer than you think. The award-winning international youth circus, Circus Smirkus, will perform in Hanover on July 5 and 6, bringing along their well-earned international recognition and dazzling performances. Founded in 1987 by performer and teacher Rob Mermin and based in Vermont, Circus Smirkus is currently the only international touring youth circus in the United States. As such, it presents a unique opportunity for youth interested in pursuing a professional career in the circus to hone and showcase their skill sets. Artistic director Troy Wunderle said that Circus Smirkus’ high standing in the circus community means that many organizations that train youth in circus performance look to Smirkus as the next level in circus training.

Circus Smirkus’ Hanover shows are part of its 2016 Big Top Tour, a Northeast tour of 66 shows over seven weeks. The Big Top Tour is an annual event currently in its 29th season. According to Wunderle, “every year the audience knows what to expect for our enthusiasm and talent.”

Circus Smirkus offers only around 30 spots in its Big Top Tour troupe, so the application and audition process is highly competitive. Interested performers must first send in an application with clips of themselves performing, as well as references. A small creative team then selects 40 of the top contenders and invites them to participate in a two-day audition process at Smirkus Headquarters in Greensboro, Vermont. The creative team whittles the group to 30, who will then become troupers. This year’s troupe consists of a mixed group of performers, aged 11 to 18, who hail from 13 states.

“What audiences always comment on with the Smirkus shows is that these are not kids that are talented in just one area. They have very diverse skill sets, and audiences love watching how many different things these kids step into the ring to do,” Wunderle explained.

Smirkus is more than just a touring circus troupe — the organization also runs a summer camp open to people of all ages and of all experience levels. The organization trains campers in all of the circus disciplines and many go on to take part in the Big Top Tour after several years of training.

Liam Ryan-O’Flaherty, a 17-year-old trouper from Norwich, is touring with Smirkus for his second year. He attended a circus summer camp as a child and began training in juggling and tight-roping on his own five years ago.

“A lot of people here have aspirations beyond Smirkus, and a few people are going to circus school in Canada next year.” he said. “Many of the troupers have used Smirkus to launch careers and they’re all over the states doing incredible things.”

Although Ryan-O’Flaherty intends to attend a traditional college in the future, he hopes to take a gap year to perform after graduating from high school and keep circus performance in their life.

In the three weeks before the tour begins, the troupe as well as its coaches, directors, musicians and crew worked to compose music, make costumes and learn the various skills that will be displayed during the shows.

“It is a wildly creative process, and everyone puts their heart and soul into creating a show that we’re proud of and that we can take onto the road and entertain audiences,” Wunderle said.

Each year the group focuses on a new storyline and theme, allowing Smirkus to continue to entertain audiences year after year. Although each season features the same types of skills — clowns, acrobats, aerialists, tight-ropers and jugglers, to name a few — the theme determines the unique ways the group presents each skill.

This season’s theme is “Up, HUP and Away! The Invention of Flight,” a celebration of the invention of flight and pioneering aviators.

“[Up, HUP and Away is] our tip of the hat to the early 1900s and the wildly creative and inventive aviators, so we’re honoring folks with real grit, real passion, real vision, and folks that really believed in the impossible and pushed to make it possible,” Wunderle remarked.

The show will feature a storyline of an inventor and a group of aviators. All of the aerial apparatuses will be unique to the concept of flight. For example, one of the very first aerials is inspired by an airscrew, Leonardo da Vinci’s first illustration of a flying machine.

“All of the show’s elements are viewed through the thematic glasses of the invention of flight,” Wunderle said.

Wunderle noted that the troupers in Smirkus bring to each show not only great skill and talent, but also passion, heart and enthusiasm.

“The most amazing thing that I see in every performance is the smile because these kids are doing the most amazing physical feats. They’re standing on their heads, they’re standing on their hands, they’re doing cartwheels, all of these incredible things and the smiles they sustain while they’re doing that is really the most inspiring part of the show,” tour public relations intern Jane Medoro echoed.

Circus Smirkus will be performing at Fullington Farm Field in Hanover on July 5 and 6. There will be two shows on each day, with one at 1 p.m. and the second at 6 p.m. Each show will be around two hours long, including a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for children aged 7 to 12, and $15 for children aged 2 to 6. The troupe will also be featured in the Hanover Fourth of July parade.