Circus Smirkus returning to Northampton
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on MassLive on July 25, 2018 and was written by
She’s just 15 and about to enter her sophomore year of high school, and already Serafina Walker knows what she wants to be “when she grows up.”
One of the stars of the Circus Smirkus 2018 Big Top Tour coming to the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on July 31 and Aug. 1, Walker said she hopes to go to circus college in Europe or Canada after graduating from the Stoneleigh-Burnham School, then join a traveling circus.
The Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour is the only traveling youth circus in the United States. Performing under traditional European-style circus tents, the award-winning circus company will perform 68 shows this summer in 17 New England cities and towns, as well as upstate New York, to some 42,000 circus lovers both young and young at heart. The touring company consists of some 80 people including artists, tent crew and a live circus band requiring 23 support vehicles to get them where they are going.
“My cousin went to their camp and I went to see their touring show and really loved it. That’s how I got connected,” said Walker, a third-year trouper with Circus Smirkus.
She joins 29 other budding circus troupers ranging in age from 10-18 who hail from 14 states and Canada. There are 16 returning troupers and 14 new troupers, including six from Massachusetts – the largest number from one state.
“Serafina is a phenomenal trouper with a real passion for the circus. She is fiercely talented with the kindest heart and an unstoppable drive to improve her skills. I wish she could stay with us forever,” said Troy Wunderle, artistic director for Circus Smirkus.
Wunderle and other trainers worked with the 30 troupers for three weeks of rehearsals at their headquarters in Greensboro, Vermont, prior to taking the circus on the road on June 29.
“I’m the only adult to perform in the show with our troupers. I’m there to make sure they remain impassioned about what they are doing, and I’m constantly tweaking the acts to maintain our vision and improve every aspect of the show,” Wunderle said.
The show’s artistic director said that with the exception of live animal acts, there is nothing performed in a regular circus that you wouldn’t see performed in Circus Smirkus. The show is full of aerials, acrobatics, wire-walking, juggling, rola-bola, clowning, live circus music and an array of brilliant costumes tailored specifically to each trouper. This year’s tour continues the tradition of Smirkus’ theme-based shows with “Vaudeville!”
“Vaudeville is a celebration of novel and unique acts with many of them similar to what you see in the circus from juggling to comedy acts and from acrobatics to even riding a unicycle. So, we have created a display of great circus talents that is presented with a twist akin to vaudeville. Take the high wire, for example. It’s not just walking on the wire, but using a hula hoop while doing it or jumping rope on the wire or walking in high heels,” Wunderle said.
“There are 27 acts in the show, even a magic act that we haven’t featured in the past 20 years. We’re going to suspend someone upside down while in a straight jacket. Then there’s a spoof animal act with our clown team that involves a seal. And, you’ll see Serafina being tossed 15 feet into the air and landing back into the hands of her tossers,” he added.
Walker is also in two additional acts, including a strap act where she performs on straps hanging from the top of the tent.
“I was a little sore the first week of rehearsals, but then I was fine. I may be a little hesitant at first, a little nervous when starting to learn a new trick, but nothing holds me back…..I do it, then I’m fine,” Walker said.
The Greenfield youth said she never really saw many touring circuses, but became interested in the Big Top while competing in gymnastics tournaments. When she is not traveling with Circus Smirkus in the summer, Walker continues to hone her skills during the rest of the year at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Circus Smirkus is a nonprofit arts and education organization whose mission is to promote the skills, culture and traditions of the traveling circus. Since 1987, it has inspired youth to engage in life-changing adventures in the circus arts through three principal programs: the Smirkus Big Top Tour, Smirkus Camp, and Smirkus School Residency programs.
Tickets are $22 for adults age 13 and older, $18 for youth ages 7-12, and $16 for children ages 2-6, free for kids under 2. They can be purchased by calling 1-877-SMIRKUS toll-free or visiting smirkus.org