Editor’s Note: This post was written by Head Coach Doug Stewart
It’s been just over a week since campers left, and yet it feels like a lifetime. After all of the campers left on Friday, August , I headed for home in Boston. Once I arrived, I was surrounded by the all too familiar feeling I get whenever I leave Smirkus. Similar to the “Circus Magic” we all talk about, it is impossible to describe. But for those who have experienced it, they know the exact feeling. It’s the feeling of waking up from a dream.
Whenever we arrive at Smirkus Camp or the Big Top Tour, we go through the process of shifting into the Smirkus way of life. Early mornings and late nights are filled with hard work and harder laughter. Days are filled with excitement, antics, pranks, highs and lows, and the sense of community in every moment. This year was particularly unique. Having been in isolation for so long, the jump back to the Smirkus way of life was a big one. It was complete culture shock to go from not seeing anyone for months to never being alone.
When we all arrived this summer, we were a bit timid to see what was going to happen. On the surface we were all very confident with our plans. We all trusted our extended Smirkus Camp family. But deep down there was a small hesitation whispering “what if?” As the summer went on, slowly but surely we began to adjust to our social bubble. We began taking more risks. We started training harder, pushing creativity, and devising more and more ways to connect from a distance.
New games, new traditions, and new training techniques started forming to create a Smirkus Camp that had never existed before. The essence of camp this year was that nothing is impossible and when you work together, you can accomplish anything. Watching the staff and campers during the first two weeks of camp gave me immense hope. I saw how the future generation was eager to work together to hold each other up. Not even a pandemic could stop these incredible kids! Every day I was filled with pride by the amount of passion and talent everyone was bringing to the table to make it happen. It was one of the most special things I had ever had the privilege to been a part of!
And then, we took the masks off…
I was standing in Mama Mia when I heard voices shouting “Take your masks off!” We ran to the door to see Assistant Camp Director Amira and Camp Director William running up the path towards the campers yelling “Take your masks off! We did it!” The camp lawn was full of hugs, high-fives, smiles, and tears of happiness. It was the first time any of us had been able to hug another person since March! I will never forget that historical moment. In that moment, I knew that Circus Smirkus was unstoppable and I was so thankful to be a member of such an incredible community.
The magic didn’t stop there. This summer proceeded to be one of the best examples of what Circus Smirkus stands for. In my time with Smirkus Camp, I have never seen such a high level of coaching and learning. This year we had a stellar line up of coaches with a collective resume including Cirque Du Soleil, Big Apple Circus, Ringling Bros., Cirque Us, Midnight Circus, Cirque Eloise, and Circus Monti. Our tents were filled with campers learning foot juggling, Icarian games, teeter board, slide table, slap stick, duo trapeze and more! With our new five-week program, campers were able to make incredible progress – whether a camper got their standing back tuck, their pirouette, or learned to kick up into a handstand, the entire camp supported them the entire time! Without a doubt, this year offered the highest level of training that I had ever seen at Smirkus Camp. I am so thankful for the dedication from both campers and coaches to make it happen!
In addition to the immense talent we had at camp, we were privileged to Zoom with industry professionals who are changing the world of circus. Campers spoke with Gypsy Snider of the 7 Fingers; Johnathan Lee Iverson the first Black Ringmaster of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Paris Sirap “The Hip Hop Juggler”; Michael Ocampo, head coach of Cirque Du Soleil’s Corteo; Joy Powers, Circus Smirkus Alum and Hospital Clown; and Circus Smirkus Alumni Jade-Kinder Martin and Tristan Cunningham. They spoke about discovering circus, on-stage slip-ups, working as a professional and the struggles and challenges that women and people of color face in the entertainment industry. Although all of our speakers came from different backgrounds and had diverse career paths, they all spoke to the common themes of circus magic, creating deep and meaningful connections with their extended circus family, and how important it is to be yourself and never let anything stop you.
Outside of the tents, our campers, counselors and FANTASTIC kitchen staff brought Smirkus magic into every moment. From lip-sync battles, to rubber chickens and ducks, house points, pretzel goldfish, and never-ending inside jokes, there was never a dull moment at camp.
And now looking back on the summer, it seems impossible that it all occurred in just five weeks. In our bubble, time stood still. For a moment, we were able to escape the world together. We were able to reset and remember the importance of community.
Once the campers left, I felt the all too familiar feeling of heading back to reality. Slowly, I left this magical place where we don’t need to think twice about hugs. Slowly, we all started transitioning back to our normal lives.
With each passing day, Smirkus routines are fading back into memories that blend together. Eventually, it’s hard to separate the weeks or the days. Stories blend together, and you’re left with the essence of Smirkus. You remember the people, you remember the pace, and you remember how you felt. Love and Magic.
And at the end of every session, we end camp with a circle where everyone talks about how much camp means to them. We tell the campers every year that Smirkus Camp is not just a place, it’s that feeling we have when we are together. We encourage everyone to hold on to that feeling and share it with the world. So for any camper reading this, write down your memories, write down the inside jokes, and hold onto them for as long as you can! And for everyone wondering what happened this summer, all I can say is that it was a dream filled with love and magic in every moment.