ROCKINGHAM >> Twelve-year-old wire walker, clown, acrobat and aerialist Ariana Wunderle of Rockingham has earned a coveted spot in Circus Smirkus, the country's only traditional traveling youth circus. Friends and fans can see Ariana - and Circus Smirkus – in action, when the circus comes to the Fullington Farm Field in Hanover, N.H., on July 5 and 6, or at Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey, N.H., on July 11 and 12, or Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Mass., on July 14 through 16.
"Ariana literally grew up in the circus environment", said her mother, Sara Wunderle, Assistant Circus Operations Director for Circus Smirkus. "She was immersed within the circus environment as a toddler and three years ago officially became old enough to become an official Smirkus trouper," Sara recalls. "This will be her third summer as an official performing member. Watching Ariana's character work and amazing circus abilities in the circus ring each summer is such a proud parent moment!" When Ariana is not performing with Circus Smirkus in the summer; she continues her training at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, and LeStudio Gymnastics in Westminster.
Ariana's father, Troy Wunderle is also involved with the company as Artistic Director of Vermont-based Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour. This will be his twentieth year with the company and has made his mark on each of its three programs: Big Top Tour, Smirkus Camp and School Residencies. "To have Ariana be a part of such a tremendous unique organization is truly a blessing," said her father.
In order to be selected for this year's troupe, Ariana attended a live audition back in January. After the live auditions, she and 29 other performers ages 11 to 18 were selected for the 2016 Big Top Tour. The performers will travel to Greensboro for three weeks of rehearsals at Smirkus headquarters in June, and will hit the road on June 25 for a 66-show tour that touches down in 15 cities and towns in the Northeast.
"Life on the road is exciting and fun, but it can also be exhausting", says Ariana. As a "Smirko," she will join her fellow troupers in doing such tasks as taking care of props, selling tickets and popcorn, and working cooperatively with the tent crew, light and sound technicians, equipment riggers, costumer, musicians and others who travel with the one-ring show. But the payoff, she says, is the opportunity to spend the summer with teens from all parts of the country and the world, bringing their love of circus to each performance. Troupers' skills include juggling, wire-walking, clowning, acrobatics, rola bola, hula hoop, aerials and unicycling, and acts involving the diabolo, trapeze, and lyra.
Over the years, Circus Smirkus has become known for its theme-based and "story" shows. Themes have included Chefs, Pirates, the Wild West, and Superheroes, while stories have included original circus versions of "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Pinocchio." This year's tour continues the tradition of theme-based shows with "Up, HUP and Away: The Invention of Flight!"
When not walking on a high wire, hanging from a trapeze, clowning around or tumbling, Ariana is a student at Bellows Falls Middle School, where she will enter her seventh grade year in August. As a sixth grader, she made the school's honor roll for all three semesters, while also being involved with her school band, competing as an Excel Platinum gymnast, training circus and playing indoor field hockey.
"Smirkus is my home. Smirkus is a unique place where the staff and performers understand everything about you; they all support you and laugh with you. I never want to leave this magical place I call home."