Cumberland teenager clowns around with Circus Smirkus
FREEPORT — Circus Smirkus will roll into town next week, bringing a troupe of clowns, jugglers and acrobats ages 10-19 to perform for the local community.
Jared Mongeau, a 17-year-old clown from Cumberland, will perform for the second year on the Smirkus tour.
"For me, the second time on this tour has been amazing," he said. "I have improved at clowning and juggling, and am in more acts because of it."
This year's theme, Smirkus Ever After, will highlight fairy tales from Aesop, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. There are 26 performers on tour this year, and Mongeau is happy to be one of them.
"There are no guarantees you will be picked again because you made it last year," he said. "I was so nervous because if I didn't make it, I knew what I would be missing."
Abby Collard, house manager and public relations coordinator for Smirkus, said hundreds of hopefuls submit video auditions from all over the world. From that group, many are invited to a live audition. Then, about 20 performers are chosen for the Big Top Tour.
This year, the 26 performers hail from 13 states and three countries. Three are from Maine this year: Mongeau, and Aaron DeWitt and Shane Miclon of Buckfield.
Collard said Mongeau has gained confidence, skill in the ring and experience since last year's tour.
"People that see him perform this year will see he has taken a big step up," she said.
She said the kids are immersed in the program for three months, they train, complete daily chores, load equipment in and out of the big top and perform more than 70, two-hour shows in seven weeks.
Joyce Mongeau, Jared's mother, said reading about the circus does not do the performers justice.
"These kids are so incredibly talented," she said. "They derive such energy from each other while in the ring. They are in their element. You really have to see it to experience it fully."
The Vermont-based children's circus was founded by Rob Merrin in 1987. It now has a touring company including coaches, performers, musicians, cooks, staff and technicians. The company also runs an overnight Summer Circus Camp, and year-round Circus Residency programs in Vermont schools.
Circus Smirkus is a non-profit organization that partners with local nonprofits wherever the company tours.
Trace Salter, manager of Smirkus Freeport, said the shows provide the community with fundraising opportunities and outreach projects.
She said a program dubbed "Magic Matinee" makes it possible for at-risk children to attend the circus, provides tickets for children who cannot afford to buy them, and allows backstage access to children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She said Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union donated enough money for 100 kids to see the Freeport shows, and the Royal River Food covered the cost of 70 children to attend. There are 277 children who will be able to attend the circus because of the generosity of others, she said.
Salter also said the performers visit the Barbara Bush Hospital and perform for the children there while they are in town.
"The children in the hospital are so inspired by the performers," she said. "The shows and performances are enchanting, and can be transformative for children watching."
She said the proceeds from the shows go to support local school circus arts programs.
Mongeau said he wants to pursue clowning as a career and has looked into physical performance and clowning schools to attend after high school.
"I know it doesn't pay as good as other jobs, but it gives me so much joy," he said. "You have to really love this to continue, and I do."
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.