Smirkos Eva Lou, Chase and Glenn
Local teens take on big adventure
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Wicked Local on July 30, 2018 and was written by
Each year about 100 young people audition to perform in the annual Circus Smirkus summer tour, but only 30 get selected. After three years of receiving one of the coveted spots, Newton’s Chase Levy does not take the accomplishment for granted.
“I’m much more driven to better myself during the summer because I’m surrounded by such amazing people, amazing artists, and our coaches are so great,” 17-year-old Levy said during Circus Smirkus’ recent stop in Waltham.
For 31 years, Circus Smirkus has given young people aged 10 to 18 the opportunity to experience life as circus performers, entertaining audiences during a seven-week tour across five states. For Levy, as well as Melrose’s Eva Lou Rhinelander and Arlington’s Glenn Doyle, Circus Smirkus provides both an opportunity to showcase their budding skills and a venue to work together to present what the tour’s artistic director calls “a well-polished, professional show.”
The Circus Smirkus tour
A nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, Vermont, Circus Smirkus began touring at the end of June, making stops in Vermont, upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. The tour’s theme this year is vaudeville, the popular entertainment format from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The featured acts include acrobats, jugglers, aerialists, contortionists, wire walkers and, of course, clowns.
Artistic director Troy Wunderle, who has been with Circus Smirkus for 21 years, said the young people arrived in June and had less than three weeks to rehearse before the tour began. This year brought an additional challenge as 14 new performers joined the troupe. Wunderle said the culture at Circus Smirkus helped encourage everyone to work together to learn the new acts.
“If someone feels like they’re valued in this world, if they feel as though they’re adding to this world with their talents and their energies, and if they’re supporting each other, it’s not hard at all for them to step into that ring and feel like they’re a valuable piece of this performance puzzle,” Wunderle said.
Eva Lou Rhinelander – “incredibly talented”
One of the veteran tour members is 13-year-old Eva Lou Rhinelander, who is about to enter eighth grade at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School. In her third Circus Smirkus tour, Rhinelander recognizes a different “vibe” this year and has enjoyed teaching the new members.
“People at Smirkus – they want to help more than try to get out of helping,” Rhinelander said. “The energy is really great and positive, and we have to show that to the new troupers.”
Rhinelander performs as a hula hooper, contortionist and clown, and this season she added wire walking to her repertoire. The wire is about six feet off the ground, and while she lost her balance and had to jump off during some early performances, lately she said she has been able to stay on the wire.
Rhinelander enjoys how audiences react to her routines.
“In wire, I can impress people or scare people,” Rhinelander said. “In contortion I can make eye contact while being bent in half, and in clowning I can make people laugh.”
Wunderle said based on Rhinelander’s skill set, people are surprised to learn she is only 13 years old.
“She is incredibly talented – a wonderful, sweet little kid and a real thrill to have in the troupe,” Wunderle said.
Chase Levy – a quiet leader
Like Rhinelander, Levy is in his third tour with Circus Smirkus. Soon to be a senior at the Cambridge School of Weston, Levy said he sometimes thinks about having a normal summer like his friends but would rather train and perform in the circus.
During the tour, Levy does partner acrobatics, which he describes as “one of his loves.” He also performs with a diabolo, a Chinese yo-yo. This season he had a chance to develop his own act with fellow trouper William Borges based on a routine they had performed at a celebration last year.
Now that he has been on tour for three summers, Levy appreciates interacting with returning audience members.
“It’s nice to see some people again who have been coming to tour for a couple of years and made connections throughout the years,” Levy said.
Wunderle describes Levy as a leader both in and outside the circus.
“Chase is one of the kindest, quiet leaders a troupe could ever wish for,” Wunderle said.
Levy plans to apply to both circus and film schools and in five years hopes to be performing in a circus.
Glenn Doyle – “fearless”
Glenn Doyle, a 14-year-old about to start his freshman year at Arlington High School, would also like a career as a circus performer. He said his first year in Circus Smirkus has helped him to see what it would be like to be part of a traveling circus.
Doyle is among the smallest of the troupers, and Wunderle used his stature to add to the comedy of the clowns by making him the head clown in charge of some bumbling stage hands.
Doyle said his favorite part of the show is the bonquine act, which involves stronger performers throwing smaller people like Doyle into the air for flips and twists. Doyle said he initially had some fears about being thrown in the air, but he learned to trust his fellow performers.
“Occasionally you get scared, but you’re with good people who will catch you when you’re falling,” Doyle said. “There’s a lot of trust involved, but I trust these people with my life.”
Wunderle said Doyle has done “phenomenal work” for the show.
“It’s been a long time since we had a 14-year-old boy come in with his skill set, talent, and complete fearless nature,” Wunderle said. “He’s a real ball of energy and someone you can’t take your eyes off when he’s in the ring.”