On July 12, 2023

The circus comes to town

UPDATE: The Rutland shows have been canceled.


The circus comes to town

Circus Smirkus brings a vibrant show to the Vermont State Fairgrounds

By Sarah Calvin

July 15-16—RUTLAND— On Saturday and Sunday, Circus Smirkus will come to the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland with two shows each day, on Saturday at 1 and 6 p.m. and on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets can be found online at smirkus.org.

The Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour is the only tented traveling youth circus in the U.S. Performing under traditional European-style circus tents, the award-winning circus company consists of some 80 people including teen performers (age 10-18), professional circus coaches, tent and technical crew and a live circus band performing an original score each year. The tour caravan performs in nearly 20 New England towns each summer, performing to approximately 42,000 patrons each year.

Circus Smirkus was founded in 1987 by accomplished circus performer Rob Mermin. A Connecticut native, he ran off to Europe to join the circus, eventually studying mime under the renowned Marcel Marceau. After over a decade performing, Mermin decided to come home to share his craft and create his own circus. The location he chose? A sprawling farm in rural Vermont.

Deep in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom lies a little town called Greensboro. Follow Highway 1 out of town, make a left onto Circus Road, and you’ll come upon an old farmhouse and the iconic red Circus Barn where 30 teenage performers join the company of Circus Smirkus each summer.

“The wisdom for making a circus would’ve been to do it in Boston or New York, but it was very specifically done in rural northern Vermont,” said Smirkus artistic director Joshua Shack. “The character of Circus Smirkus is greatly informed by Vermont. It brings a certain charm, it brings a certain sensibility. We’re very proud and happy to be [an] export of Vermont.”

Every summer, the company of Circus Smirkus spends three weeks creating a show, then the following six weeks touring New England. Each new show has a story, and this year the troupe will be putting a circus twist on William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” The story follows a pair of lovers, Hermia and Lysander, who run away into the forest to be together. They’re followed into the forest by Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia, and Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. The trickster fairy Puck, witnessing the situation, pours a magic juice onto the eyes of the men that causes them to both fall in love with Helena. Chaos ensues, but everything is reconciled in the end. The story also includes a play, a fairy king and queen, a duke, and the queen of the Amazons.

“There is a little bit of Shakespearan text in [the circus performance], but most of it is acted out non-verbally,” said Shack. “If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll recognize it; if you’re not familiar with the story, you can follow along with the characters. There’s circus acts in between [the story]. Those who are fans of Shakespeare or familiar with the play can get a little bit of extra icing on the cake.”

For the troupers, being part of Circus Smirkus is about more than just putting on a good show. They consider the company to be a family, and many come back year after year. During any given season, about two-thirds of the troupe are returning members. The troupe consists of youth artists from across the U.S. and Canada.

Each fall, Smirkus hopefuls and returning troupers submit video auditions, and a panel of judges selects 40 performers to attend a live audition from which the big top troupe is cast. Third year trouper Solvin Arnold first auditioned in 2021, and was not expecting to be selected.

“I auditioned with very little circus experience,” said Arnold. “I had been longing for something new and challenging and a little bit scary, and my juggling coach, a former Smirko, encouraged me to go for it. I was really drawn to Smirkus because it felt outside of my comfort zone and was brimming with people who cared as much about circus as I did. I’ve done the hardest things in my life here, and had the most magical moments under these tents. I’ve constantly proven my 13-year-old self wrong doing things I thought I would never be able to do, and I’ve grown as a person because of that.”

Arnold and founder Rob Mermin share a philosophy: perfection is boring, and creative fun happens when you allow yourself to not be too serious.

Circus Smirkus is an embodiment of this philosophy. Its talented performers and magical stories leave the audience inspired, evoke a sense of wonder and joy, and send a reminder that life will get dull unless we let ourselves have fun.

For more information, visit smirkus.org.

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