Circus Smirkus set to raise the big top

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By Lauren Adler

Journal correspondent

MANCHESTER — Circus Smirkus is coming back to town.

The Vermont-based show, which is in its 32nd year and performed entirely by youth 10 to 18 years old, is returning to Manchester on July 12 and 13 for four shows at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.

"We are thrilled to have the circus come back," said assistant director of parks and recreation Nicole Dexter. "The circus really brings the whole community together. We know that in no time, we will have all the laughs and excitement from all ages. That is really what we are looking forward to the most!"

The theme of this year's show is "Carnival," which artistic director Troy Wunderle says was inspired by the strong bonds that grow between the performers each year.

"The folks that travel with touring entertainment companies become a family unit, and they live the ups and downs of this lifestyle together, and I started realizing that I wanted to write a show that celebrated the effort, the attitude, and the true grit of the traveling entertainer," Wunderle said. "The efforts and energies and inspirations of the working, traveling entertainer, that was really the seed that grew into a really wonderful and entertaining show."

"The carnival itself has been around forever," Wunderle said. "And it attracts a similar form of entertainment in the sense that people go there looking for adventure, looking for excitement, and hoping to leave with memories that will last a lifetime. So there are parallels between the carnival community and the circus community, and I thought it would be a fun challenge for me to put the two together."

Many of the young circus performers, in this year's troupe hope to live the life of a traveling entertainer full time, aspiring to become professional circus performers. Circus Smirkus alums go on to perform in Cirque du Soleil, the Big Apple Circus, and other professional shows around the globe; three of the performers who graduate from the program this summer will be attending a prestigious circus school in Montreal.

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"The one concern I have as director of this company is that people hear 'youth circus' and they have a very simple idea of what it is and what the show may be. Although our performers are youth, this is a professional circus through and through. We put effort and time into every moment of the show it is alive," Wunderle said. "These kids aspire to be in that ring all year long, they only have seven weeks to follow that passion, and it's quite easy to step under our canvas and then get completely blown away."

Wunderle also believes that the performers' youth makes the show more attractive to audience members of different ages. "If you're a teenager, come see absolutely phenomenal teenagers your own age blow you away. If you're a little kid, come and giggle. If you're an adult, come and be amazed, blown away, and inspired, all at the same time," he said.

Last year was Circus Smirkus' first time performing in Manchester after a break of several years, and despite the work involved to host the show — including providing space, permits, safety inspections, and volunteers — the town is excited to be back on the Big Top Tour.

"It is really fun to have our summer staff talk about how excited they are to see the show after a hiatus from when they saw it as a kid," Dexter said. "It also brings in new excitement when the young families that come to the pool talk about how excited they are as well. Manchester Parks and Recreation is thrilled to have the support of the community and the circus of having us back as a Big Top Tour stop!"

Community involvement is crucial to hosting Circus Smirkus, including sponsorship from several local businesses — Charlie's Caf , Union Underground, R.K. Miles, Equinox Square and W.H. Shaw Insurance — and volunteers to work at the show and to host performers in their homes.

"The work of many really comes together to make it a wonderful show," Dexter said. "The payoff is really seeing the community come together and all enjoy the same thing. Finding something for all ages and for all walks of life is a challenge for parks and recreations all over. However, the circus helps us accomplish that challenge and draws in excitement from everyone!"

Will Manchester remain a permanent tour destination?

"Oh, I sure hope so," Wunderle said. "That's always my favorite — any time we can go back to a community, the excited buzz of 'hey! The circus is coming to town!' is generated and is improved upon year after year, and we get to a point where the community is as excited to see us as we are to go back to that same community. It would absolutely be my hope and mission to be able to return to Manchester for many, many years to come."

Circus Smirkus will be performing at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., July 12 and 13 at Knapp Field at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.

Tickets are available for sale at Manchester Parks and Recreation, Manchester Town Hall, and at the Circus Smirkus website


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