Meeting Waldorf at the Circus.

As development coordinator for Meadowbrook, I was asked by a reporter why our school promotes Circus Smirkus.  On camera, a 30 second sound bite –  where to start!  Sure, from a development stand point it is a fundraiser but for me as a Waldorf parent this event has a value far beyond dollars and cents.  How to explain it?

An usher at a show attended by 107 day campers from Burrillville, RI shared some comments made by a group of young boys.  “I could do that,” they assured each other as they watched some of the opening tricks.  A little further into the show there was an exclamation – “I couldn’t even do that!”; though someone else thought his dad could.  It didn’t take long for them to realize they were no match for the trained and talented Smirkos (as the troupers call themselves).  By the end of the show all the boys were in agreement – “I want to learn to do that!”  Artistic director Troy Wunderle writes in the playbill that, “In addition to talent, [Circus Smirkus] programs strive to cultivate focused individuals with sturdy minds, solid work ethics, positive attitudes and humble hearts”.  Who doesn’t want that for their child?  As a parent I know that no-one inspires a child in the way another child can, for better or for worse!  The passionate, hard working, joyful Smirkos are a gift to everyone engaged with growing children.

Circus Smirkus has no animals, it doesn’t boast spectacular effects or extravagant sets.  It does have a highly professional and dedicated crew who produce extremely high quality, theme driven shows.  This meshes well with the Waldorf love of story, expressive movement and meaningful use of color and live music.  The success of each show depends on the skill and showmanship of the performers.  As physically demanding as any competitive sport, circus requires the highest levels of teamwork with performers literally putting their lives in each others’ hands as they hang and balance high above the ring.  In this youth circus as in Waldorf education relationships are built by facing challenges together, by following through with tasks and responsibilities – doing the chores behind the scenes as well as the fun stuff in the limelight.

Three of the 29 troupers this year are Waldorf students, a high proportion when compared to the number of Waldorf students in the general population.  This finding is consistent with past tours so I asked Sara Wunderle the assistant operations director if there were any qualities that made Waldorf students particularly well suited to joining the circus.  She said, “Smirkus loves Waldorf kids.  They are well rounded and fit in easily socially”.  As she looked for a word to define how Waldorf kids typically tackle the demands of circus life I suggested ‘independence’ but the difference was something else.  Finally she chose the word ‘competence’.  A well developed sense of self that helps the individual to meet anything that needs doing with a grounded, ‘can do’ matter-of-factness.  They can be relied upon to get the job done.  She also said that the Waldorf troupers out perform in the Smirkus ring and all continue to excel after graduating, be it at other circuses or some quite different career.

It’s great fun to be part of this event.  Many members of our school community volunteer their time and effort to help with the logistics of presenting Circus Smirkus in Rhode Island.  We also provide the hospitality of our homes to the performers, making friends and hearing their stories – they really are a great bunch of kids!  My family was thrilled to see our home-stay troupers again from last year.  Over two days of shows we also see thousands of new faces.  The circus is an opportunity to meet people from other walks of life, to partner with local businesses and share our values with hundreds of local families.  As a parent at the school, I am proud that we make this wonderful event available to our neighbors.  As a parent at home, I am delighted to see my children caught up in happy circus imaginings, inspired to practice some of the skills they’ve seen and full of the joyous possibilities of life.

Smirkos back stage

I would love to hear your comments on all things circus, Smirkus and what events like these mean to you!