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Fairground Redevelopers Hope Youth Circus Draws Support

Facebook: Circus Smirkus at Great Barrington Fairgrounds

A traveling youth circus is performing at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds as the group makes its way throughout the Northeast. The fairground owners hope the event can boost redevelopment efforts to make the space a community hotspot once again.Ivan Jermyn will be busy clowning around the fairgrounds this weekend along with 30 other performers.

“I really like a part that is about halfway through the second act when me and the other clowns are on a life raft,” Jermyn said. “We just hang out there during the intermission. We haven’t actually started doing our act yet. We just improvise doing funny things and interacting with the audience. I really like that part.”

The Greensboro, Vermont-based Circus Smirkus is in the midst of its Big Top Tour; a nod to its classic European-style circus tent familiar from the movies. This year’s theme is “Anchor’s Away For Atlantis!” Circus hopefuls submit videos of their skills with the most impressive invited to a two-day live audition in Vermont, before the final troupe is chosen. This year’s search brought in kids from as far away as Mexico and even a nine-ball juggler.

Janet Elsbach and her husband are driving the fairground redevelopment efforts.

“As you can imagine bringing an event this complicated to the Fairgrounds is a little bit of a nine-ball juggling task as well so I feel a sense of compassion for the nine-ball juggler,” said Elsbach.

Since buying the 57-acre lot in December 2012, the couple has led volunteer cleanup programs while the Great Barrington Farmer’s Market has made its home there every Saturday this season. The fairgrounds was once the site of the longest continuously operating agricultural fair in New England. Now, Elsbach hopes the circus can move redevelopment along.

“We’re hoping to see a really great turnout from the community; voting with their feet that this is in fact the kind of event that they’d like to have happen,” Elsbach said. “We’ve heard that from a lot of people, but this is really a test of that. To see if in fact this is the kind of thing they’d like to see happening at the Fairgrounds. That will tell us a lot about the support we have for a community venture like the Fairgrounds and what direction it can go in from here.”

The circus features 200 costume pieces, 100 props, 70 spotlights and a mile of electrical cable all underneath the 750-seat canvas tent. Performances from the 10-18-year-olds range from acrobats to clowning, 16-year-old Ivan Jermyn’s favorite.

“It is a good way for me to experience being in the ring, being myself while also making fun of myself at the same time and making other people laugh,” said Jermyn.

Bringing the circus to town is a big financial undertaking for the non-profit Fairground Community Redevelopment Project. So volunteers have helped prepare the grounds, sell tickets and house the young performers, called Smirkos. Wendy Casey is opening up her doors to one of those Smirkos and says it was an easy choice after seeing Circus Smirkus in Great Barrington about 15 years ago when she moved to the area.

“Of course as soon as they saw it, my kids wanted to join the circus,” Casey said. “We were looking forward to it as a family event every year, but it didn’t come back.”

Casey hopes her now-grown kids can come back to create a new, yet old family memory. Her son is the final holdout, but she’s confident he’ll make it back to town…even though a Smirko has already taken his bed.

Click here for more information on Circus Smirkus at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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