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Glover Youth Joins Circus Smirkus

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Barton Chronicle on June 26, 2018 and was written by Joseph Gresser 

2018 Trouper Asom Hayman-Jones of Glover, VT

Asom Hayman-Jones of Glover stood with a crowd of casually dressed troupers in the Circus Smirkus ring on June 21. The first performance of the 2018 season was a little more than a week away, and there was plenty of work left to do to get the show ready to go.

The sides of the big tent, or more properly the top in the language of the circus, were rolled up to let in light and air.

Mr. Hayman-Jones, taller than most of the other performers, walked with them as they went through the outline of an act known as banquine. Choreographer Matt Williams was mostly concerned with moving the troupers around the ring.

Asom Hayman-Jones and Chase Levy (back to camera) keep a close eye on flier Serafina Walker as she performs a flip during a rehearsal of the Circus Smirkus banquine act. William Borges, left, and Nemo Mass stand ready to assist in her landing. Photo by Joseph Gresser

There would be an occasional burst of action, for instance, when a group of performers moved across the ring while doing a zany dance step Mr. Williams called “slap happy.”

When banquine coach Jon Roitman took over, the vibe changed. All of a sudden there were people flying through the air, launched by, or caught by Mr. Hayman-Jones and his performing partner, Chase Levy.

Mr. Roitman guided the company as they performed tricks like the windshield wiper and helicopter.

Where there had been a collection of relaxed teens, there was now an intensely focused company. Mr. Hayman-Jones and his fellow troupers’ eyes were glued to the fliers as if their lives depended on their attention.

That was no exaggeration. When a friend is doing a flip ten or 15 feet over your head, that person’s safety is your responsibility.

A year ago Mr. Hayman-Jones did not see himself as a circus performer. The 16-year-old was satisfied to be a star athlete and skilled musician, he recalled.

He saw his first Circus Smirkus performance during the summer of 2016, when his mother was working for the company. He was fascinated by the show and quickly accepted when he was invited to attend a session of Smirkus camp.

He enjoyed that experience so much he signed up for a second session and during the school year spent six hours a day juggling.

Audiences won’t see Mr. Hayman-Jones juggle in this year’s vaudeville-themed show.

“Juggling was the only thing I could teach myself,” he explained.

He auditioned as a trouper in January and was accepted.

Asom Hayman-Jones of Glover provides a steady base for Isabella Majzun and Saffi Watson (bottom to top). Mr. Hayman-Jones has been accepted as a trouper with the Greensboro-based, entirely professional Circus Smirkus. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In its early days, many Orleans County kids toured with Smirkus, which depended on the volunteer labor of their parents.

As the circus’ reputation grew and circus arts attracted more young people, Smirkus was able to draw from a wide pool of exceptional talent, and the organization became a thoroughly professional operation.

While almost all of his fellow troupers have extensive training and experience, Mr. HaymanJones’ time at Smirkus camp meant he wasn’t entirely a stranger.

Asked how he was able to ascend the ladder to the company so quickly, Mr. Hayman-Jones shrugged.

“There’s a circus skill part and a body part,” he explained. “Sports helped me develop the body part.”

His strength made him a candidate for the role of base in the banquine, an act that calls for two or more people to act as the base for a flyer. The bases make a platform for the flyer by forming a square with hands and wrists, then launching the flyer by lifting their arms quickly like a sling.

Of course, the bases have to be there as catchers when the flier makes her inevitable return to earth.

Mr. Hayman-Jones said he was invited to Massachusetts soon after his acceptance e-mail arrived. There, Mr. Roitman paired him with Mr.
Levy and worked with them to help synchronize their movements so they could work as a team.

“I thought we’d train every second of the day, and we’d all be controlled,” Mr. Hayman-Jones said. “But we’re building not only a show, but a family as well, so we have a better show.”

Mr. Hayman-Jones said he and the other 29 troupers enjoy other activities like swimming, and they also spend time together each evening
before bed.

He said they got to know each other by sharing “fun facts” about themselves. One of his was that he played five musical instruments, but gave up music for sports.

Despite Mr. Hayman-Jones’ juggling practice, his time in the spotlight will highlight a very different skill.

“I have a strongman act,” he confided, but would say no more about it than it allowed him to wear a costume “that shows off about 90 percent of my body.”

Casey Venturelli, the head counselor for troupers who sat in on an interview with Mr. Hayman-Jones, raised an eyebrow.

“It’s really about 30 percent,” she told Mr. Hayman-Jones. “90 percent would only cover about this much.”

She indicated with two hands a small, but vital portion of her anatomy. Mr. Hayman-Jones conceded he may have exaggerated a bit.

In the ring, the practice was getting a bit more intense. Mr. Hayman-Jones and Mr. Levy joined their hands and Ariana Wunderle stood, apparently quite relaxed, atop the small platform they created.

Despite her relative youth—she is 14 years old — Ms. Wunderle is a circus veteran. Her father, Troy Wunderle, who is Smirkus’ ringmaster and artistic director, first had her in the show around the time she started school.

The two young men, working together, tossed Ms. Wunderle lightly into the air. While aloft she folded herself into a V, grabbed her ankles and flipped, landing seated in the men’s arms.

After practicing a few more individual tricks, Mr. Roitman was ready to put his troupers through their paces.

The ring exploded as troupers rushed in. Half stood in place as the remaining performers climbed up their backs, stood on their shoulders
and flipped to the ground.

A pair of clowns, not yet in costume, but readily identifiable by their body language, dove across a table, one flying across its length, the other arcing over him.

Mr. Hayman-Jones stood in a line with other members of the company, as a couple of fliers lay flat and were tossed and spun in the air by the bases. The helicopter was no longer a mystery. A few moments later Mr. Hayman-Jones stood stage right.

Crews of troopers danced around the ring, waving at the empty seats. One of them, a clown, of course, smiled as if every place was taken by someone who paid dearly for a ticket.

Meanwhile, a pair of young women stood behind Mr. Hayman-Jones. One mounted the base’s shoulders, a second — wearing a safety harness — swiftly climbed up behind and onto the first woman’s shoulders.

Mr. Hayman-Jones stood steady, balancing the weight of the two women. All stood still for a moment, the top woman with her arms stretched out as if to encourage the applause that is sure to come when the trick is performed before a live audience.

The top woman climbed down, working her way down her partner’s body to face her, before dropping gracefully to the ground. Mr. Hayman-Jones reached up and took the remaining woman’s hands as she leapt lightly to earth.

Even without glittery costumes, the three performers embodied the magic of the circus, easily performing a feat that most people can’t imagine attempting.

It was hard to believe Mr. Hayman-Jones was one of those who a year earlier had no idea he would be standing in a circus ring as part of an acrobatics act.

He admitted being captivated by the circus. When Ms. Venturelli told him he had the possibility of performing with Smirkus for two more years he beamed with pleasure.

Next year, he said, he hopes to add to his repertoire.

“I want to learn acrobatics,” he said.