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Smirkus Traditions

Editor’s Note: This post was written by summer Tour Communications Associate Lila Chafe

Invisible to the audience yet part of every performance under the big top, Smirkus traditions create a culture of celebration that is central to life on the road. Long standing traditions like the Smirko circle – a full cast meeting before every show– or the unique way we celebrate birthdays (hint: it gets messy) are supplemented by trouper-created rituals introduced each year. 

Blu Catanzaro, Cora Williams, Ian Kent, and Athena Montori wait for their entrance in Greensboro. 

Pre-show traditions are central to the life of a Circus Smirkus trouper. Athena, a first year trouper pictured above, explains that 15 minutes before the show, all of the troupers gather for the Smirko circle. The performers meet their hands in the middle of the tent and are led in movement prompts such as buzzing or dance-like motions, building collective excitement. The circle helps Athena and her friends get into the same mindset and energize for the show to come. 


Troy is joined by Eva Lou Rhinelander in his celebratory post-show dance.

Throughout the show, troupers perform in and outside of the ring. Troy Wunderle has a unique dance he breaks into during the water clown skit, and Blu Catanzaro, a second year trouper, explains that the troupers have taken to joining him in it before they emerge for the finale piece. Dancing in the back exit of the tent and throughout each show transition adds a playful spark to days filled with performance. 

After the last show of a location, troupers help the staff in tearing down the tent and backlot. Immediately after their last ring curb clap, the performers run out of the portal (as seen on the left) and go through a high-five line composed of all available staff before they dash into the backstage tent to change. Amelia Seibel, a first year trouper, is now used to blasting the song “Turn Down for What” and yelling “tear down!” over the chorus many times in one night. On the outside, it is hard to tell what happens to break down the front and back lot, but each trouper and staff knows exactly what to do. From Amelia’s habit of joining troupers in yelling “Med kit!” when the final object is loaded into the prop truck to the random and frequent screams of “Pterodactyl” under the descending tent, tear down becomes second nature to performers on the road.

Early the next morning, the cast joins in a circle over what was once the Big Top tent’s ring to commemorate the shows they have performed. In this “jump circle,” one trouper leads the rest in holding hands and sending energy throughout the circle. Erin Purcell, the 2022 head counselor, adds that it is custom to interlace fingers (something referred to as “waffle hands”) and recite “waffle means friendship” to each other. When the cast is ready, they close their eyes and jump in unison, representing the transition from one location to the next. 









Glenn Doyle, Sasha Misko, Austin Damron, and Lulu Tschider enjoy post-show sunset.

Maddox Morfit-Tighe, Sophie Robinson, and Avery Steere work on new tricks with coach Jon Roitman. 

Amidst the hard work that goes into maintaining a traveling youth circus, Smirkus takes plenty of time to enjoy local treats. Lucky for the troupers, ice cream is central to New England adventuring! From maple icees in Vermont to our favorite cones in Maine and Massachusetts, anyone on the road with Circus Smrikus will have tried an impressive range of flavors by the end of the ten week tour. 

The fun doesn’t stop at ice cream! Birthdays are taken very seriously on the road. On the morning of a birthday, Troy Wunderle can be found tiptoeing around with a bucket of shaving cream, waiting for the perfect moment to begin singing “Happy Birthday” and reward the lucky person with a pie in the face. Cora Williams, a first year trouper pictured below, was lucky enough to get pied on her 17th birthday. In retrospect, she says “it was the highlight of my day, even though I smelled like shaving cream for the entire show.Just one day later, Owen Lawson-Spratley turned 16 and described his pie in the face as being just “like a birthday present, but more wet”. Despite not having seen a pieing, Amelia exclaims that “[she] loves it when pie car makes things feel special.”  

Along with traveling to perform to audiences across New England, troupers get the chance to build new traditions on their off days. This year, troupers have spent hours at lakes, gone thrift shopping, visited museums, participated in local parades, and even gone berry picking! Many troupers are native to New England, but for those that aren’t, Smirkus introduces them to much of the Northeast. All the way from California, Amelia has loved getting to see bits of New England on off days. She jokes “do you know how many Dunkin Donuts I’ve Seen?”



While life on the road might seem like a departure from routine and normalcy, for troupers and staff, the 2022 tour has represented a much deserved return to age-old tradition. Whether celebrated for the first time or practiced year after year, Smirkus traditions carry us from location to location and remind us of the wonder of putting a show on the road.