Thursday, 27 June 2013 13:35

Circus Smirkus Puts New Spin on ‘Wizard of Oz’ in Return to Saratoga Race Course

By Staff Report | Entertainment

SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than two dozen teenaged stars, including one from Saratoga Springs, will be performing at this year’s Circus Smirkus as it returns to the Spa City this summer. 

This year’s tour continues the tradition of theme-based shows as Smirkus goes “somewhere over the rainbow” with a new spin on the Wizard of Oz, titled “Oz Incorporated.”

The international circus features youths under 19 with polished skills from all around the country and the world. The performance is full of talent and spectacle, with aerials, acrobatics, highwire, juggling, trapeze, clowning and an array of brilliant costumes. In its 26th year, Circus Smirkus is the only American youth circus to put on a full-season tour under its own big top, a 24-meter, 750-seat, one-ring tent in the European style. 

Joining Smirkus for his second summer on the tour is Saratoga Springs’ own Keenan Wright-Sanson. Wright-Sanson, who just completed his sophomore year at The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, specializes in balance acts and will also feature his clowning abilities on the tour. He is the younger brother of Taylor Wright-Sanson, a Waldorf School alum who toured with Smirkus from 2006 to 2010.

This is the seventh year that Saratoga Springs has had the honor of a “hometown boy” selected as a trouper in the prestigious circus. 

“This is the second year that Keenan Wright Sanson was selected as a Smirkus trouper,” said Robert Sanson, Keenan’s father. “Keenan’s older brother, Taylor, specialized in extreme unicyclist and he earned a Smirko spot five years in a row.”

Sanson said that getting into Circus Smirkus is a very competitive process, with hundreds of teens auditioning for only 28 spots.

“Smirkus receives hundreds of video auditions each year for just a handful of spots,” Sanson said. “Even the returning ‘troupers’ have to audition each year—to get into Smirkus is like getting into Nationals in gymnastics or swimming, but in this case your specialty is juggling, wire-walking, aerials or the theatrics of clowning.”

Sanson said his son works at a variety of skills for Smirkus.

“Keenan has worked hard on slackline, wire walking, hand balance and unicycle, and he bases a lot of the pyramids in the show,” Sanson added. “This year, during live auditions, Keenan was recovering from knee surgery so he had to audition a bit less athletically than he had hoped.”

But after auditioning and developing a character sketch based on the show’s Wizard of Oz theme, he successfully made it back into the troupe.

Troupers are selected for skill, character and personality through an audition process that begins in November. This year’s troupe hails from 10 states as well as the United Kingdom, Cuba and Mexico. The show is created over the winter months. Then, in three intense weeks in early June, the troupers arrive, and the show is rehearsed at the Smirkus headquarters in Greensboro, Vermont before going on the road. During the course of the seven-week summer tour, troupers learn the ropes of traditional circus life—grueling hours of practice, full two-hour shows twice a day, months away from home and the demanding labor of loading the show in and out.

Smirkus troupers often go on to successful careers in the circus arts. Smirkus graduates have performed with Ringling Bros., Big Apple, Cirque du Soleil, and circuses across Europe and Asia.

For the sixth straight year, a ticket donation program will make it possible for local children to attend for free through several social service agencies. Thanks to the generosity of area businesses and individuals, children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see the circus will attend through Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girls Inc, Saratoga Mentoring, Make-a-Wish Foundation and other community agencies. 

Circus Smirkus will take place July 5–7 at the Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue. Shows will be July 5 at 7 p.m. and July 6 and 7 at 1 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $21 for adults (13+) and $18 for children (two to 12) and are available at www.smirkus.org, by calling 1-877-SMIRKUS, or by stopping by Crafter’s Gallery in downtown Saratoga Springs. Children younger than two are free on an adult’s lap. The Saratoga Springs shows are presented by The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs.  

Founded in 1981, the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs educates children from pre-school through the 12th grade. The school offers a progressive, hands-on curriculum that successfully integrates arts and academics to cultivate a genuine enthusiasm for learning. For more information go to www.waldorfsaratoga.org.

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