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Letter From A Trouper: Auditions


Letter From A Trouper:
Inside Circus Smirkus Live Auditions
by Eva Lou Rhinelander

My name is Eva Lou and I am a second year Circus Smirkus trouper and a third-year auditionee for the Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour. On January 13th weekend, I drove with my family to audition for another chance to have amazing summer experience under the big top. Many of the forty-one kids and families that are invited to show their skill sets have come from all around the country, with just thirty spots open in the troupe.

The audition process takes a total of three days, which may sound long but is completely necessary for the directors, Troy Wunderle and Mark Lonergan, to assess who you are. While I’ve been a former trouper, I have to audition just like everyone else and there is no guarantee that I’ll make it. I spent the year learning new skills in hopes to get on the troupe again!

The first day is only for a couple hours and is very relaxed. All the parents and auditionees meet in Brattleboro, VT at the New England Center for Circus Arts and spend the evening getting to know each other. We are introduced to some of the staff and, of course, the directors, Troy and Mark. The kids then separate themselves from their parents and go to a different space to play to icebreaker games. This helps us be less nervous because we can show up the next day already knowing each other.

The second day is probably the most stressful on everyone. We arrive at the gym in the morning and start the day off by checking in and giving the tech staff our music and cues for our afternoon performance. Before we start assessments, we have a group warm-up, which is led by one of the coaches. After we are warm, we are evaluated on our tumbling, group acrobatics, and clowning.

Circus Smirkus

Warm-ups at Live Auditions. Photo by Marvin Wang

During tumbling, there are different tumbling lanes, one for very experienced people, one for people who can do bendy versions of tumbling and one for kids who don’t tumble as much. The coaches ask what you can do and give spots if you need them. The number one priority is to not get hurt.

The same rules apply during group acrobatics. We are divided into bases, middles, and flyers, and asked to do basic things such as two highs, and thigh stands. It’s okay to show things you don’t often do, because there are many spotters there to help. For example, I don’t normally practice partner acrobatics, but I did get a chance to show that I can fly hand to hand.

At about noon, there is a lunch break which gives us time to eat, get into our costumes, and do our hair and makeup. After the lunch break, the afternoon is dedicated to individual performances. We perform our acts for the directors and everyone in the audience, which includes staff, parents, friends, alumni and all the auditionees – approximately 200 people.

The directors and staff explain to us that we should try and be as comfortable as possible and if anything is wrong, to just stop and re-adjust our props or apparatus to make sure that it is safe. This year I auditioned on tight wire, but I do wish that I took their advice and used the opportunity to level out my wire. It was very wobbly on the mats, but I didn’t stop my act to make it stable because I thought it would be embarrassing. This was a big mistake and as a result I fell off the wire during a usually solid trick. If you are ever performing or practicing on apparatus that is wrong, my advice is not to be afraid to stop and adjust it, so it doesn’t jeopardize your safety or your act. I learned this the hard way.

 The whole show takes a few hours, but it feels much shorter because everyone’s a little anxious. By the end of all the performances, it’s time for dinner, and we’re all invited to go bowling and eat pizza. Bowling is super exciting because we do this little thing called “community bowling”. This means we think of every possible way to incorporate more than one person into each turn we get, which means often more times than not there are bowling fails and the bowling balls get stuck in the lane or gutters.

The third and final day of the audition weekend is my personal favorite. When we get to the gym, there is casual discussion about everything that has happened so far as everyone arrives. Troy and Mark explain the next assessments and how they will work. There are stations with different skills, such as juggling, partner acrobatics, contortion, aerials, handstands, clowning and a couple others. Before we start, the parents leave to go to a special meeting where the process of tour is introduced and described.

After it is just the auditionees and coaches, we begin the workshop stations. There is no required order for each, and the goal is to get to as many as possible to show the coaches running each station what you can do. My favorite station is clowning. The coach leads us through a bunch of activities to show how we can express ourselves comically in different situations. The number of people that were at the clown station when I went was small, so it meant that I could interact a lot with the other auditionees.

During workshops, we needed to plan time to visit the photographer for headshots and another person for costume measurements. We also were interviewed by the directors. They asked us questions about what we thought we could improve and what acts we would want to be in this summer if we are invited to be on tour. The first year I interviewed with Troy and Mark, I was only 11 years old. I remember, specifically, that they asked whether I was ready to leave home for 10 weeks.

Once the workshops are over, our families come back to the gym to pack up our things and take us home. Leaving is the hardest part of the whole audition process because all of the auditionees become such good friends over the weekend and no one wants to say goodbye. Often there is an informal gathering at the local food co-op where everyone has lunch together one last time. We give everyone goodbye hugs, in hopes we will see them in the summer.


Editor’s Note: The article above is by Eva Lou Rhinelander, 3rd year Big Top Tour Trouper and was originally published as part of the American Youth Circus Organization’s (AYCO) Hup Squad Action Team blog on January 29, 2018.

2018 Smirkus Troupers Julaine Hall and Eva Lou Rhinelander were recently selected as writers for AYCO’s 2018 Hup Squad. They will be writing guest material for AYCO’s Circus Is My Life blog , a blog about American circus written by teens for teens.

 

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