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Vermont's Circus Smirkus Celebrates The First Summer In Its New Home

Courtesy Circus Smirkus
This is the first summer that Circus Smirkus troupers have practiced in the new permanent home of the 28-year-old institution. Last year, Circus Smirkus purchased a 135-year-old farmhouse and barn on 35 acres in Greensboro and overhauled the property.

Meet "The Smirkos." That's the affectionate name for the troupe of young performers who diligently train and eventually appear in shows put on by Circus Smirkus, an award-winning international youth circus.

This year’s theme, “Bon Appetit,” is celebrating food — the acts include using plates as props, vaulting off tables and creating human pyramids. 

The 28-year-old institution recently acquired a new property for its summer camp. Last year, Circus Smirkus purchased a 135-year-old farmhouse and barn on 35 acres in Greensboro and converted it into a practice space, dining hall and housing for the Smirkus Camp.
“The support we’ve been receiving from the community of Greensboro is amazing,” says Ed LeClair, the executive director of Circus Smirkus.

“Our new property there gives us more time to be in our own hometown, so we’re developing relationships. We were in the 4th of July parade, people are volunteering to come over and work on the projects we have,” he says.

LeClair says one of the strategies of this new camp is that it allows Circus Smirkus to provide more funds that support the institution— and it can use that money to support scholarships for kids in the Northeast Kingdom.

LeClair says it has really rewarding to be able to give back to the community of Greensboro and the whole Northeast kingdom: “We’re really fortunate in that we’re starting to become economic engine for that group, so we can provide tourism dollars and we can provide work for people.”

Still, he says the never feels like the institution is fully over the financial hump. LeClair  jokes, “we’ve been going bankrupt for 28 years now.”

The institution did have to close its doors for a few months in 2005, but LeClair says it was able to reopen thanks to “a huge outpouring of generosity and donations.”

The Circus Smirkus staff are dedicated, energetic – and many are veterans of professional circuses including the Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil. But they say the kids are the heart of the show.

“These kids are incredibly driven,” says artistic director Troy Wunderle. “These are kids who dream about being in our tent all year round. And they spend all year practicing to become qualified for this show.”

“As you can see throughout the course of the show, not only are they collaborators in the ring, but they’re also at times supporting each other, physically and emotionally. We have to be one team.”

"The support we've been receiving from the community of Greensboro is amazing." - Ed LeClair, Circus Smirkus executive director

That team includes Troy’s two daughters, both of whom have been involved in the circus since they were younger than 2 years old.

“It’s funny to think about summer camps and stuff, I’ve never been to one of those, I’ve always just come to Smirkus,” says Emily Wunderle, 14, who enjoys doing aerial acrobatics. “Then ever since I’m 10 I’ve been touring with the troupers, and it’s just a lot of fun.”

Other troupers echo that sentiment.

“I saw a Smirkus show and I knew it’s what I really wanted to do,” says trouper Liam Gundlach, 18, of Thetford, who has been touring with the team for several summers. “The opportunity to perform in a professional environment as a teen is really special.”

"These kids are incredibly driven. These are kids who dream about being in our tent all year round. And they spend all year practicing to become qualified for this show." - Troy Wunderle, artistic director

Ivan Jermyn  of Montpelier says his favorite act is clowning. He says it’s empowering to perform in front of people and make them smile and laugh.

“Clowns are the people who carry the story along for the audience — and get them connected with the shows,” he says. He says it’s really helped him develop confidence.

Liam Ryan O’Flaherty, 16, of Norwich, agrees.

“I’m a pretty shy person, and I was amazed at how within hours of coming here I just felt comfortable around everyone, and could just be myself.”

Director Ed LeClair says about 20 percent of Smirkos go on to join professional circuses, including Cirque du Soleil and some European troupes. And even troupers who don't intend to become professionals say the confidence they've gained and sense of teamwork have been invaluable.

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