By Patrick McArdle
MANCHESTER — It’s news as American and exciting as Fourth of July fireworks: The circus is coming to town.
Circus Smirkus will perform four times in Manchester, two shows each on July 12 and 13. The four shows are the closest to Rutland County this season.
Troy Wunderle, creative director at Circus Smirkus, described it as the only touring youth circus in America. This year, the circus has 30 performers between the ages of 10 and 18, from 14 different states and Canada.
Wunderle said people sometimes mistake Circus Smirkus, which has its headquarters in Greensboro, as a “kid show” but the performers come to Smirkus because they’re interested in professional circus careers.
“These kids are incredibly passionate about the art form of circus and have huge hearts. They go out there and they dazzle our audiences daily by exceeding our audience’s expectations,” Wunderle said.
The performers include jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and aerial artists, but Wunderle said Circus Smirkus might be best known for “world-class clowning.”
“One of the things that Smirkus has made a name for itself for over the years is really clever, high-class comedy. We have a ton of it in this show,” Wunderle said.
Manchester Town Manager John O’Keefe said Circus Smirkus hadn’t been performed multiple shows in town in town since before he became town manager in 2007. O’Keefe said the local Lions Club had sponsored a show at the Dorr Farm about eight years ago.
“It’s been a long time, but we do have a little bit of history with them and it’s good history,” he said.
Asked about Rutland County residents coming to see the show, O’Keefe said with a laugh, “Right down Route 7, baby.”
Having the circus in town is part of O’Keefe’s ongoing efforts, working with the Manchester Recreation Department, to expand the scope of the park’s uses and the number of people who would have a reason to visit.
“There’s an attraction there. It’s something that brings people to town. It’s a cultural event. It’s got a lot of Vermont history, so that’s something that’s really appealing to us,” he said.
O’Keefe pointed out there were three fairly large towns along Route 7, Bennington, Rutland and Manchester. Not all of them could offer every kind of entertainment but among the three, there was an offering of a number of different events for Southern Vermont residents, O’Keefe said.
Hosting the circus was Manchester making its contribution, he added.
Wunderle said kids may find a Circus Smirkus show more than entertaining. Many of their performers were once audience members who were inspired by seeing their peers do amazing acts in front of an appreciative audience.
Families attending the show will also see something new, even if they’ve been to a Circus Smirkus performance in the past.
“One of the neat things about Circus Smirkus and my philosophy is, we listen carefully to every audience that comes into that tent, and we adapt the show, live, to meet the needs of each individual audience,” he said.
The Manchester shows are sponsored by local businesses: rk Miles, the Spiral Press, the Perfect Wife, the Vermont Country Store and Langway Chevrolet Volkswagen.
This year’s tour, based on and named, “Vaudeville,” began last week and will end Aug. 19. The tour, the company’s 31st annual summer tour, will have almost 70 performances, across five states and more than 15 towns.
There will be four shows in Manchester on July 12 and 13, one each at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, which is Manchester’s main municipal park. Attendees must buy a ticket, which can be purchased at Manchester’s Town Hall or through the Circus Smirkus website.
When Circus Smirkus tours, the proceeds from the shows are used to benefit local nonprofits. In Manchester, proceeds will be donated to a project to replace the kiddie pool at the town’s municipal pool, which is also in Thompson park.
Wunderle said the tours have raised more than $2.5 million over the show’s 30-year existence.
Circus Smirkus also runs a summer camp for kids who want to learn about performing for a circus.
Information about the camp and buying tickets to the Manchester show is online at the website at www.smirkus.org.