Circus Smirkus

Popcorn! Get your popcorn!

It’s time once again for a Big Top extravaganza on July 15 and 16 at the Cheshire Fairgrounds, presented by Monadnock Waldorf School (MWS) and Circus Smirkus.

“This year’s theme is inspired by all of the rides and activities you would find at a carnival – the carousel, the roller coaster, games of chance and skill,” described Emily Schwerin-Whyte, co-chair of the board at MWS and head of the school’s Circus Smirkus Committee. It’s the perfect backdrop for Circus Smirkus’ impressive acts of trapeze, wire walking, juggling and more.

Each year, MWS brings Circus Smirkus and their talented youth troupe to the Monadnock Region for a one-of-a-kind performance. It’s a show specially designed to be enjoyed by all ages, but children in particular.

“All of the performers are actually 18 and under, which makes the acts that much more impressive,” said Schwerin-Whyte.

For 2019, a number of the performers are from within a two-hour radius, but others travel from a great distance to participate. They come together just a few weeks ahead of time for intensive training before heading out on tour.

The entire performance company forms tight bonds, practicing, working and eating side by side. That kind of camaraderie is a must in order to pull of 69 shows in 16 different towns in just 51 days.

“It is inspiring to see!” Schwerin-Whyte said.

For educators and families from MWS, it is truly inspirational, as Circus Arts are embedded right into the school’s curriculum. Movement is understood as a vital way for children to live and learn at MWS.

“From preschool to middle school, we incorporate movement in every aspect of our teaching,” explained Jan Lyndes, the school’s movement and practical arts teacher.

For instance, grade school students jump rope while learning their multiplication tables, and middle schoolers use their bodies as they create art, study botany and conduct science experiments.

“When students use their bodies to learn, we know that they internalize and remember what they learned most effectively,” Lyndes noted.

In the early grades, this includes imaginative activities like circle and playground games, tumbling, circus arts and ice skating. In grade 5, students begin to engage more formally in sport by learning techniques of the pentathlon: javelin, discus, running, long jump and Greek wrestling.

Then in middle school (grades 6-8), they’re ready to take up sports such as basketball, soccer, gymnastics, ice skating, archery and fencing. During the winter, they even participate in a special three-month block of circus arts taught by teacher Marie-Douce Dorion, a professional circus performer. Students work on balance (stilts and tightrope), juggling and spinning, tumbling, acrobatics and aerials (silks and trapeze).

“The Circus Arts exemplify the way that our movement curriculum helps students develop their intellect, social capacities, emotional health and physical skills holistically,” Lyndes said. For MWS, having Circus Smirkus right in Keene is an exciting honor that connects deeply with the school’s own curriculum.

“This event has become an important part of the community and is a highlight of the summer for families,” Schwerin-Whyte described.

As the local presenting organization, MWS pulls together more than 80 volunteers and hosts the performers in their homes.

“This is a true partnership with Circus Smirkus that enriches both of our organizations and the local community,” said Schwerin-Whyte.

The collaboration also serves as a valuable fundraising event the school.

“All of the funds raised go to support our sliding-scale tuition assistance program,” explained Schwerin-Whyte. Each year, MWS distributes more than $400,000 in tuition assistance, with the mission of making education centered around the whole child accessible to more families.

Tickets are available online at smirkus.org and locally at the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene. There is also special pricing available for groups of 15 or more, and lap children under the age of two are admitted free. For group rates, email keenesmirkus@gmail.com.