-by Amber Parker
It’s nearly summer and there’s lots of changes around SANCA! Our P3 students are graduating, students of all ages are enrolling for new classes and summer camps, and some members of our community are leaving for the season to go on amazing adventures. Among those going on summer adventures are Cirrus Circus members Lyla, Lea, Anna, and Cheya, as well as coaches Nick and Wendy Harden. They are all heading to Circus Smirkus Camp, a youth circus program, for three months of training, performing, and immersion into traditional traveling circus life.
Circus Smirkus is in “the middle of nowhere,” as Nick Harden said when I sat down with him and his wife and co-performer, Wendy Harden, to talk about this incredible journey. Located on a 35 acre pasture in rural Vermont, Circus Smirkus camp is truly an experience of the old circus life. Replete with large, European style Big Top tents, Smirkus accepts approximately 30 students between the ages of 11 and 18 each year to enhance their skills in acrobatics, juggling, aerials, and performance for one month before beginning a 2-month tour all over the northeast.
Nick, who has participated in Smirkus camp in previous years, will be a main acrobatics coach for this year’s campers, and Wendy will be staying in the dorms with campers as their den matron. When asked what they were looking forward to most, Nick reported that, in addition to how rewarding it is to work with youth, having an opportunity to be immersed in circus culture (free from cell phone reception!) and carry on the tradition of the traveling circus is something he loves most about this work. And it is a lot of work! Nick says of their training, “We spend a month in rehearsal putting together the show, and then tour the show around the northeast for about two months. The kids are the show, there’s only one adult in the show. We spend three days in one spot, and then move on to the next town. We go to 10-15 different places and perform between 2-5 shows in each location, but no more than 2 shows a day. It’s a full circus, they have set up duties in addition to their performances. All together we call it 60 shows. In rehearsal we say, ‘remember, you gotta do this for 60 shows.’ ”
This is Wendy’s first year with Circus Smirkus Camp, and she’s excited to be with the campers during such a rich, transformative time in their lives. She says, “Something I’m looking forward to is the bond with all of the campers, or the troupers as they call them. Spending an entire summer with these 30 kids who are away from their parents for maybe for the first time, who are going into high school for the first time, having their first crush or have their first bout of insecurity… that’s a really rich time for these kids going in and out of adolescence and I’m excited to be around that, to bond with them and help them deal with those challenges.”
The campers, or troupers, at Circus Smirkus Camp are indeed entering into a rich time in their lives, a time that will only be enhanced by the supportive, creative, and talented team leading them on their circus tour. We’d like to wish the very best to Nick, Wendy, and the group of Cirrus Circus youth performers as they work hard, learn new lessons, and carry on the grand tradition of the traveling circus!