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Vaudeville Show Pitch

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Tour Communications Intern Jenna Danyew

Smirkus Composer Peter Bufano at work on the show score in his trailer

Trouper Ruby Frank, Age 10, from Golden, Colorado

Longtime Smirkus Composer Peter Bufano slowly turned up the volume on his laptop. His original score filled the rafters of the circus barn and wrapped itself around the troupers huddled on the floor a few feet away.

They paused, coconut and strawberry popsicles hovering a few inches from their mouths as they leaned back into each other, a collective unit. Mark Lonergan’s theatrical voice spoke over the music.

“OK troupers, it’s time for the show pitch!”  he announced, turning on the slide projector and starting his presentation.


For those of us on the tour staff, the show pitch is the first glimpse we get from the creative team into the acts, costumes, and music that would soon become the spectacular show that audiences would fill the Big Top to see.

“Thank you, Peter,” Mark signaled the composer to fade the music.

They clicked to the next slide, revealing another secret costume sketch. The watercolor figures, bold colors, and glamorous patterns were reflected in the eyes of the troupers who would soon become those dazzling characters on the screen.

“And who is our child star?” he baited the audience, the electric costume waiting to find its owner.

“Ruby!” the room sang, as Ruby giggled and melted against the knees of the older trouper behind her.

The excitement was tangible as performers and staff got their first taste of what had been formulating in the minds of both the artistic and creative directors for weeks, months, maybe more. Troy Wunderle, the artistic director, and Mark, the creative director, passed the script between each other, reading pieces and leaving some yet to be discovered.

“And for the first time in Smirkus history…,” Troy began yet again, his effected hush signaling to the crowd the new details of how this show would surprise audiences. Troy then revealed a secret stunt that troupers had never done before.

“I don’t know how to do that,” young voices whispered again and again, the edges of fear and concern being overtaken by the thrill of learning new tricks.

Troupers assembled in the Smirkus Barn studio.

As I glanced between the faces of the excited troupers and the costume and concept sketches projected on the screen between us, I felt the swell of magic and emotion. I felt myself at six years old, sitting beside that wooden ring as troupers stood and clapped with so much joy and enthusiasm, signaling to me that I could be them. I too can have a part of this wonder and this world, even now. The music transported me to my grandmother’s car after a Smirkus show in 2003, watching the sunset as we ate pizza in a parking lot and I imagined what acts I would be in as a little girl, what colorful outfits they might design for me.

A new costume was revealed, “and enter Lola,” they announced in a singsong voice. Peter turned up the volume, music completely taking over our attention. For the first and only time, the room fell silent. Lola stared at her costume, her body reacting to the music as she flicked her legs through the air, toes pointed and ready to perform.

“Didn’t we tell you Peter was the best circus composer in the world?” Mark broke in as I blinked away tears, overcome by the wonder they were able to craft with only a fraction, the smallest fraction, of the show that was set to open in only 20 days.

The glamorous images flashed before us, music rising and falling, culling our investment and pulling us through the narrative of yet another spectacular Circus Smirkus show.  Mark showed a video of a famous vaudevillian clown. “Clowns, this is your guy if you want options for your pratfalls,” he shouted.

I felt the thrill of the ten-year-old trouper, Ruby, who sat on the mat in front of me in the center of the magic, her dreams coming true and expanding as she found herself in the center of a barn in Greensboro, Vermont, preparing to tumble into the most incredible stage on earth; her first tour with the traveling Circus Smirkus.

“And the theme of the show is?” Troy shouted, his joy shocking the audience with energy. The troupers clapped their hands in sync, throwing them out to their sides as they shouted with smiles plastered across their face, “VAUDEVILLE!”

Artistic Director Troy Wunderle (left) and Creative Director Mark Lonergan