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Circus Smirkus sets a red nose record

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Mandi Kreisher, one of 3 tour counselors who travel all summer with the young performers.

Circus Smirkus Clowns

They’re Clowns: Eva Lou Rhinelander, Sarah Norden, Alexa Wang, Laska Leonard, Ariana Wunderle

“They’re not female clowns, they’re clowns.”

-Barry Lubin AKA Grandma the Clown

2017 is one for the clown books here at Circus Smirkus! Last year the Smirkus Clown Alley consisted of half females and half males but this year for the first time, and hopefully not last, the Clown Alley is made up primarily of females.

Five out of the six clowns in the Big Top Tour are female, which is out of the norm for most circuses.

Smirkus Clown Coach Barry Lubin as Grandma in the Big Apple Circus.

I sat down with Smirkus clown coach Barry Lubin, who became famous for his character “Grandma the Clown” in the mid 1970’s, to talk about this historic new alley of Smirko clowns and to get his take on why female clowns are so uncommon.

Several theories exist about why the majority of clowns in the circus world are male, Lubin surmised. “One being that females are less willing to ‘humiliate’ themselves as male performers are,” says Barry, who has done his fair share of research on female clowns in his professional role as “Grandma” of the Big Apple Circus..

But Lubin also shared what he’s learned from other female clowns over the years, and why fewer women have been drawn to the artform. “What I hear from [my fellow clowns that are female] is that they have to prove themselves more so than a male clown might be forced to; they have to be twice as good as any male clown.  The problem is you’re already dealing with a difficult lifestyle and a difficult art form and now you’re also dealing with those old school and not in a good way attitudes.”

Circus Smirkus Clowns

Eva Lou and Ariana getting into some trouble

I later sat down with the Smirkus 2017 female clowns themselves to gain their thoughts on this record setting squad. “It’s nice to finally have a majority girl alley because it shows that there isn’t such thing as stereotypical gender acts, and anyone can do what they want,”says Ariana Wunderle who has been a trouper here at Smirkus for 4 years and an official part of the Clown Alley for the last two.

“I’m really excited that almost the whole alley is girls because I feel like it helps push that thought away, and because we are breaking the stereotype,” says Eva Lou Rhinelander, second year clown and one of the youngest Smirkos in this years troupe.

Smirkus’s first year female duo Laska Leonard and Alexa Wang are proud to be in a clown act together in this show. “We are showing positive female characters that allow us to be ourselves and be really funny. It feels like circus is evolving in a really nice way. Our roles could easily be portrayed by men and we’ve heard the same thing with jugglers. We shouldn’t be saying she’s a great female juggler, she is just a great juggler in general. We don’t need to highlight that she’s female, just focus on her skills.”

Circus Smirkus Clowns

Alexa, Sarah and Laska clowning around in Midnight at the Museum

Sarah Norden has been a Smirko in clown alley for 3 years now and is graduating this year.

“Clownish behavior isn’t generally encouraged in young females,” she says. “Sometimes maybe it’s more difficult for girls to be clowns because there are fewer things that are generally considered appropriate for a girl to do, but it’s exciting that we can show the world, through this majority female clown alley, that this kind of behavior is okay and it is funny.”

This is Norden’s last year as a clown at Smirkus. ” I have, throughout my Smirkus experience, been really excited about empowering female clowns and I feel like this year as a senior, that is finally happening,” she said.

So sit back relax, grab some popcorn and enjoy this mostly female Smirkus Clown Alley because as we’ve learned, it’s not something you get to enjoy very often.

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