Troy Wunderle directing Ringling clowns.

‘Incredibly serious work’

Local man trains Ringling Brothers clowns

CircusSmirkus artistic director Troy Wunderle of Cambridgeport gets a kissfrom his daughter Ariana Wunderle during the Circus Smirkus performancein Brattleboro. (Reformer file photo)

CAMBRIDGEPORT - There is a lot of pressure in being one of the most important clowns in the country. For the past month, Rockingham resident and Circus Smirkus artistic director Troy Wunderle has been in Tampa, Fla., training two groups of clowns for the upcoming season of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Wunderle, 36, was invited to go to Florida and even though he was already busy with Circus Smirkus, as well as with his own company, Wunderle's Big Top Adventures, he could not pass up the opportunity to work with Ringling Brothers.
"Clowning is incredibly serious work," Wunderle said while taking a break from his 12-hour work days. "Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey have been producing the best American clowns for generations and this was a golden opportunity. There are very high expectations. There is a lot of weight on my shoulders."
Wunderle graduated from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1995 and has been working with Circus Smirkus for 13 years.
Although at this point he is a seasoned performer, and professional clown, Wunderle admits that the time he has spent over the last three weeks has been very intense.
Along with working with the young clowns, Wunderle has also been responsible for developing all of the routines. He is in constant communication with costume designers, makeup artists and prop specialists, along with pyrotechnic experts, sound engineers and circus producers.
He went to Florida with the intention of developing the main show that Ringling Brothers will take across the country next year, and last week he accepted the offer to also develop the clowns for a secondary show that is performed in smaller venues around the country.
To further challenge his sense of humor, and every clown needs a sense of humor, Wunderle is working with aspiring clowns who speak six different languages, and his crew in the smaller circus is from Italy and does not speak a word of English.
And though he is being pushed and challenged, Wunderle said he would most likely return if he is invited.
"As far as clowning is concerned, this is the pinnacle," he said. "One person gets to be the director of clowning for Ringling Brothers. This is what I love."
The call from Ringling Brothers came out of the blue, Wunderle said.
After graduating from the Clown College, he kept in contact with circus producers and invited them to Vermont to see Circus Smirkus.
He did not apply for the position, and was not even sure he would be able to fit it into his schedule. When the offer came, he could not turn it down.
"The ideal candidate for this job is not just someone who is funny," said David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling. "We look for someone with excellent communication skills, someone who can communicate not just with performers but with the entire creative team. We found that in Troy."
Once the circus starts touring, Wunderle's work will be mostly over.
All of his work is compacted into about a month and he expect to be home just in time to direct Circus Smirkus performers at First Night in Burlington on Dec. 31.
He will hand over the day-to-day responsibilities at Ringling Brothers to the boss clown, and will also be around to answer questions.
If there is a major problem while on tour, Wunderle might be asked to fly to wherever the circus is set up.
Along with the creative satisfaction of designing a full show, Wunderle said it has been special for him to work with young entertainers who are just entering the world of clowning.
Wunderle graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art, and got into clowning after enrolling in the Ringling Brothers Clown College.
His decision to pursue a life of clowning has taken him across the country, and world, and now he is helping other clowns as they begin their careers.
"In my opinion, clowning is one of the hardest disciplines in the circus and now I am working with the best of the best," he said before finishing his interview and getting back to work. "This is the ring where I started my career and it's great to come back and be able to give back to the next generation of clowns."

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