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Putting up the big top for Circus Smirkus at Mount Greylock Regional High School.

Circus Smirkus Brings Big Top Tour to Williamstown

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Professionals raise the circus tent for this weekend. The youth performers were to arrive in the area at 5 and be treated to dinner next door at Sweetwood, where they would also give a brief performance for the residents.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The big top raised at Mount Greylock Regional High School on Friday was the sure sign that Circus Smirkus has returned to the Berkshires.

Some 27 youth from across the nation (and one from overseas) will perform daring feats, juggle and clown around this weekend to benefit North Adams Regional Hospital's Reach for Community Health programs for a second year.

"You'll see everthing here you'll see in a professional show — minus the big animals," said big top tour artistic director Troy Wunderle. "We don't have the large animals and we don't really have a tent large enough to shoot human cannonballs, but you'll see jugglers, tightrope walkers, aerialists of all different kinds, clowns, stiltwalkers ... ."

Polly MacPherson, interim director for North Adams Regional Hospital's Reach program, said the youth circus fits well with the goals of community gardens and smoking-cessation programs that will benefit from the four performances.

"For the community gardens, one of the focuses is to get fit and, of course, these kids are tremendously fit and they're great role models for kids to look at what happens if you exercise and eat right," she said. "And they're smoke free. These are kids who have decided not to smoke, haven't tried and aren't going to experiment with it ... again a good role model."

'Frontpage Follies: Big Top Big News'
Saturday & Sunday:  1  and 6 p.m.
 
Tickets: $18 for adults; $14 for children age 2 to 12 and for seniors age 62 and older. Children under 2 may attend for free.
Wunderle, a graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College who's done time under the Ringling big top, said the youth who perform with Circus Smirkus are passionate about their craft. His own daughters, Ariana, now 7, and Emily, 10, have both been performing since age 2. Ariana is the youngest performer; the oldest is 18.

While the Greensboro, Vt., based circus offers a summer camp, the youngsters who perform more 60 shows each summer on the big top tour go through a competitive audition and stick to a grueling schedule of shows and rehearsals around the region.

"I pick the best of the best from those applications and audition approximately 45 kids live in a two-day audition process," said Wunderle. "They present a three-minute thematic piece that has inspired them ... if they are a trapeze artist they have to figure out how does a trapeze act fit the mood of this year's show ... what kind of music should I have, what kind of costume what kind of movement should I have."

Working with him and other co-directors, the children put together a show in just three weeks.

"It's incredibly intense but incredibly inspiring as well," said Wunderle. "Because you're doing what shouldn't be possible and there's always something really exciting about overcoming significant odds and inspiring others in the process of doing so."

They pay tuition but no one's denied a place for lack of funds, he said, adding the circus was founded by Rob Mermin [former dean of Ringling's Clown College] in 1987 to pass traditions of the circus.

MacPherson said hospital officials were intrigued by the circus last year after a former employee touted its wonders after taking her son to a performance in Manchester, Vt. The circus invited the hospital to "invite" it back, she said.

"It's the hospital's gift to the community," she said. "Here's something that's accessible to everybody."


Images from this year's tour can be found on the circus's Facebook page.
Business sponsors have made possible to give free tickets to 460 kids who are particaptings in summer programs," said MacPherson. "We call it the 'magic matinee' and many of them would not ever have the opporutunity to see a circus or be part of something like this."

The difficulty is trying to explain what the circus is, she said, noting the gate take was low on the first day of performances last year but swelled on the second day. "People clearly went and told everybody, 'oh my gosh you got to come and see this.'"

Some 15 percent Circus Smirkus performers to on to the big time, including Ringling Bros. and Cirque Du Soleil.

"It's unique because it's made up of youth performers," said Wunderle. "But no one should ever come thinking that you'd see a show like this at your local caberet.

"This is a well-thought out, well-polished show that many circus fans come to year after year and get inspired by what these kids are capable of doing." 

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