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What Are Live Auditions?

Editor’s note: Watch the video above by Smirkus volunteer Andy Bell and read the post below to learn more about what the live auditions weekend is like, which occurs each year in January. Troupers who apply, submit videos for preliminary review, and are then chosen to attend the audition weekend participate in a series of evaluations, workshops, and open performances that judges review to choose the final Smirkus Troupe each year.


Since 1987, The Big Top Tour has brought together 30 highly motivated young performers in a traditional traveling circus environment. These young performers (called Troupers) experience a unique opportunity—performing 60-70 shows across New England, bringing circus arts to over 50,000 children and adults during the course of a summer.


The New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, VT, where the 2018 Live Auditions Weekend was held in January.

2018 auditions took place in January at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) in Brattleboro, Vermont (pictured at right).

So how does Circus Smirkus choose these lucky young circus artists to be part of this wonderful adventure? The answer is through a multi-tiered audition process.

Each fall, Circus Smirkus puts out a call for auditions on our website, social media, and our email lists. Our goal is to let as many people as we can reach know about the audition opportunity. Anyone ages 10-18 (who haven’t started college) is eligible to apply. Many of our applicants have trained for years at Smirkus Camp, but many have trained at other gymnastics, circus and drama programs elsewhere – and, of course, at home!

Applicants typically come from more than a dozen U.S. states and often include citizens from other countries. Here’s how a budding circus artist can apply to audition for the summer Big Top Tour.

The first part of the audition process is to submit an application and audition video that showcases circus skills, performance ability and personality. The application also includes a series of questions to answer, photos and letters of recommendation to submit.

Next, the directors of the tour – Troy Wunderle and Mark Lonergan – review applications and watch every video to find performers that will suit the needs of the show. Most often there are hundreds of videos to watch, so it is a time-consuming task to find just the right talent for the show they have been developing. Approximately a month later, the directors extend invitations to Circus Smirkus Live Auditions to about 40 auditionees.

Live Auditions are one of the most exciting and anticipated events of the year for both the Circus Smirkus staff and the auditionees and their families. It is the first time everyone comes together to get to know each other and there is a buzz in the air created from the possibility of being on tour. The energy and excitement are palpable. This weekend-long audition in mid-January is part two of the audition process. This year, Circus Smirkus Live Auditions were held at the new Trapezium building at The New England Center for Circus Arts. We were so grateful to be hosted in such a beautiful, warm, professional circus space.

The short video below shows some of the behind the scenes activities over the weekend:

The auditionees and their families arrive Friday night for an informal meet and greet. The evening includes ice-breaking games and socializing intended to shake off some of the nerves and let everyone get familiar with each other and with the Circus Smirkus staff. Staff includes the directors, coaches, marketing, the executive team and alumni troupers.

On Saturday the real fun begins. The morning block starts out with coach-led warm-ups, followed by tumbling assessments, partnering skills such as human pyramids, two-highs, and acrobatics. The next block is a clowning and improvisation assessment, where the auditionees are asked to respond to situations by exhibiting a variety of emotions and working with their peers to quickly solve problems. Of course, much hilarity ensues.

After a quick lunch and time for costumes and makeup, the afternoon is dedicated to individual 3-minute performances by each auditionee. When the kids received their Live Audition invitations in the fall, they were informed of the 2018 Vaudeville theme that could inspire their act. The afternoon performances take about 4 hours, and is a highly entertaining showcase of circus arts including everything from juggling, dance, aerial arts, wire, clowning and more. This year’s auditionees were spectacular, making the job of choosing the new troupe extra difficult for directors Troy Wunderle and Mark Lonergan.

The day closes with an evening of bowling and pizza, where everyone socializes and relaxes.

On Sunday, the parents are taken off-site for an information session on next steps if their child is selected for the Tour. At the same time, the auditionees are in their final assessments – a series of more intensive workshops, where they are encouraged to visit at least 4 stations in which the coaches will take a more in-depth look at their skill sets. There are workshops in things such as handstands, contortion, vertical aerials, horizontal aerials, wire, clowning, juggling, hula hooping, and partner acro.

At lunchtime, the Live Auditions are over and families are reunited. Everyone has become much closer and there are heartfelt goodbyes.

After Live Auditions, the directors sit down with the coaches and various staff to go over evaluations from the weekend.  Mark and Troy then need to take into account the show needs to figure out who they will invite to join the troupe for that Big Top Tour. It surely cannot be an easy job.

After about 3 days, sometime mid-week, auditionees are contacted to let them know if they will be going on tour that summer. Although it is disappointing to those who do not make it to tour, the directors don’t want people to give up – this is not the end of their circus career – only part of the journey. Keep practicing your skills, keep performing, keep auditioning.

To everyone who auditioned and everyone who believes in the transformative power of the circus arts – we thank you for participating and we hope to see you down the road this summer!

Scroll through the photos below to get a sense of the fun from the weekend:

2018 Circus Smirkus Live Auditions