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Entertainment Highlights: Two Upper Valley Teens Perform With Circus Smirkus

  • Sam Gurwitt, of Norwich, spits water on Liam Gundlach, of Thetford, during a rehearsal at Circus Smirkus in Greensboro, Vt. The circus comes to Hanover for performances Saturday and Sunday. (Courtesy photograph)

    Sam Gurwitt, of Norwich, spits water on Liam Gundlach, of Thetford, during a rehearsal at Circus Smirkus in Greensboro, Vt. The circus comes to Hanover for performances Saturday and Sunday. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Liam Gundlach in rehearsal with Circus Smirkus. (Courtesy photograph)

    Liam Gundlach in rehearsal with Circus Smirkus. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Sam Gurwitt, of Norwich, spits water on Liam Gundlach, of Thetford, during a rehearsal at Circus Smirkus in Greensboro, Vt. The circus comes to Hanover for performances Saturday and Sunday. (Courtesy photograph)
  • Liam Gundlach in rehearsal with Circus Smirkus. (Courtesy photograph)

Greensboro, Vt. — Four days before his fourth and last Opening Night with Circus Smirkus’ annual summer tour of Vermont and New Hampshire, Sam Gurwitt was hoisting himself toward the ceiling of the big-top tent.

And again. And again. And again.

“Come on, Gurwitt!” one young member of the 30-kid cast called to the 18-year-old Norwich resident during the first repetition.

“Go, Sam!” cried another during the third.

Finally, after the fifth or sixth run-through of the sinking-ship scene of Smirkus’ “Anchors Away for Atlantis” show, the captain of the clowns for 2014 resigned himself to his character’s fate. Eyes darting around the tent, he saluted, pursed his lips, inhaled deeply and closed his eyes before disappearing into a circle of banners, representing the deep blue sea, that fellow circus troupers held aloft .

He learned a few things about plunges of faith during his first summer (2011) of training and performing with the troupe, which will stop at Fullington Farm in Hanover on Saturday and Sunday.

“Even when I would go see them as a kid, I had no clue what goes into every single little detail,” the Yale-bound Gurwitt, less than two weeks out of Hanover High School, said later between forkfuls of pasta salad and green salad and chicken tenders in the circus’ cafeteria barn. “It takes hours to do one moment that lasts for 30 seconds. And it takes years and years for a lot of these performers to get where they are. This has really changed my appreciation for what they do.”

Along with the performances, “this” includes a tight daily schedule of warm-ups and workouts, classes in clowning and acrobatics and presentation, helping the technical crew to set up and take down set pieces between routines — even if you’re not in the next one.

For third-year clown Liam Gundlach of Thetford, as well as for Gurwitt, several summers with the Van Lodostov Family Circus C amp that comes to the Upper Valley every year implanted some of the sweat equity you need to learn along with the yearning to perform.

“That was the best experience,” Gundlach said between scene run-throughs as one of the sailors under Gurwitt’s command. “It was really fun.”

Fun enough for Gundlach and Gurwitt to move on to the longer, more challenging Smirkus camp the summers after several of their middle-school years, and to audition for Smirkus’ performing troupe a couple of times each. Gurwitt made the grade in 2011, along with his sister, and Gundlach earned his slot in 2012, the first year that the Big Top Tour played Fullington Field.

“They made me a clown,” Gundlach recalled. “I did the trampoline.”

Over subsequent summers, Gundlach and Gurwitt honed their skills.

“They both have great clown sensibilities and wonderful physicality and facial expressions,” said Smirkus artistic director Troy Wunderle. “They both know instinctively when to push forward, to wait for that moment . Sam is a senior clown, a perfect straight man, while Liam brings a more goofy quality. Sam is a perfect captain, Liam a wonderful, bumbling mate.”

Take the scene in which they share a raft with surviving members of the crew of the sunken ship. While the sailors are supposed to be conserving their limited supply of fresh water, they can’t resist a shoot-out of mouth squirts — most in great spews … except for the moment when Gurwitt places two fingers over his lips, tilts his head back, and arches a single stream across the raft into Gundlach’s face.

“Fifty percent of this job is casting what I’ve lost from last year, and what comes my way that’s new,” creative director Jesse Dryden said between run-throughs. “When people like Sam and Liam have been with us long enough, we can spend less time learning vocabulary and technique.”

Neither Gurwitt nor Gundlach can explain the magic that makes the weeks of preparation come together at showtime. They just know that it’s kept them coming back every summer.

“It’s very different looking out at the audience instead of being in the audience,” Gurwitt said. “I’d dreamed about it since I was very young.”

And while Gurwitt needs to make himself view the audience as a whole at Fullington Field, the better to avoid the distraction of seeing family and friends, Gundlach plays to them without apology.

“It’s different for every clown,” Gundlach said. “The first time at Fullington Field, I remember waving and recognizing people I knew. They were everywhere. I could feel more of the energy coming to me. It was fun to be able to see them. I think they were, I don’t know about shocked, but people who hadn’t seen Smirkus before, they were impressed with the whole package.”

The Big Top Tour of Circus Smirkus will perform two shows a day at Fullington Farm Field in Hanover on Saturday at 2 in the afternoon and 7 at night, and on Sunday at 11 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Tickets cost $14-$21. The next stop on the tour will be at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex Junction, Vt., with performances at noon and 6:30 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, July 10. For tickets and for more information about performances the rest of the summer, visit smirkus.org.

Best Bets

Even if you were a rich man, with the means to attend revivals of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway and around the world, you’d want to check out the version of the classic musical that the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph will stage this coming weekend, with a cast of more than 100 area kids. Where better than central Vermont, after all, to laugh and cry and sing along with the dairyman Tevye while he struggles to adapt to epochal changes to the traditions of his culture while raising five daughters? Shows are set for tonight, Friday night and Saturday night at 7, and Sunday afternoon at 2. Tickets cost $12 to $18. For more information, visit the Chandler box office or call 802-728-6464 between 3 and 6 on weekday afternoons.

∎Clarinetist Thomas Hill and pianist Eliko Akahori will perform works by Brahms, Bernstein, Arnold and Debussy during the weekly concert Sunday afternoon at 2 in the Little Studio at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish. All the concerts in the Saint-Gaudens summer series start at 2, in the Little Studio next to Aspet, the main house. Admission is included in the price to enter the historic site. For more information, visit nps.gov/saga/planyourvisit/summer-concerts.htm..

Week No. 4 in the Hartford Recreation Department’s summer series of Wednesday-night concerts brings Upper Valley singer-songwriter Bow Thayer to Lyman Point Park in White River Junction for a set of Americana music at 6:30. Because of construction on the Hartford Municipal Building next door, parking is limited for this summer’s series. The rec office is advising late arrivers to park at the White River Junction Visitor Center downtown or at the White River Elementary School.

Looking Ahead

Riding the updraft of appearances at SummerStage in New York and the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, fiddler Andrew Bird leads his old-timey acoustic flock Hands of Glory into Spaulding Auditorium on Thursday, July 10. Opening for the roots group at 8 p.m. will be Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition. Tickets cost $20 to $40.

Owner of three Grammy Awards and the mantle of Queen of the New Folk Movement, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin brings her cathartic lyrics, precise guitar work and mesmerizing voice to The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H., next Thursday, July 10. In her most recent album, All Fall Down, produced in Nashville by the ubiquitous Buddy Miller, she collaborated with a lineup that included Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Bill Frisell and Jakob Dylan. Opening act Anthony D’Amato takes the stage at 7:30. Tickets start at $39. For more information, visit flyingmonkeynh.com.

Theater/Performance Art

The New London Barn Playhouse continues its three-week run of the musical Damn Yankees with 7:30 shows tonight, Friday night and Saturday night, a 5 p.m. performance on Sunday, a 7:30 staging on Tuesday night, and a 2 o’clock matinee and a 7:30 presentation on Wednesday night. The play is based on Douglass Wallop’s novel of the 1950s about baseball fan Joe Hardy selling his soul to the devil to turn him into a superstar hitter and fielder and boost his hapless Washington Senators past a certain New York diamond dynasty. For tickets and other information, including showtimes through July 13, visit nlbarn.org/box-office/current-season/#dy.

The Dartmouth College Department of Theater ramps up its second summer of stage innovation this weekend in the form of Voxfest, a festival of four productions written by and/or under the direction of Dartmouth alumni and alumnae with college sophomores performing. The festival begins Saturday afternoon at 2 in the Warner Bentley Theater with Pox, directed by 2007 graduate Lily King and written by alumna Kate Mulley, a 2005 graduate. At 7 on Saturday night, also in Warner Bentley, 2005 graduate Thom Pasculli directs In Deserto. Sunday afternoon in the Moore Theatre, 2004 graduate Marina McClure directs Road Kill Giant. The curtain goes down on the festival Sunday night, with a 7 p.m. production of A Star Has Burnt My Eye, with 2007 graduate Sarah Hughes directing. Admission is free.

Music

As a tune-up to the holiday weekend, the roots band Atlantic Crossing will perform Celtic and French-Canadian-flavored music at noon today on the green in Woodstock, in the kickoff to the Pentangle Arts series of admission-free brown-bag concerts. If it rains, the concert will move into the nearby Town Hall Theater.

Spencer Lewis will lead The Folk Rock Project onto the Quechee Green tonight at 6:30, in week three of the Hartford Parks & Recreation Department’s series of summer concerts.

PossumHaw will play a set of bluegrass and folk at Colburn Park in Lebanon tonight at 7, in the second week of the Front Porch Concert Series of the Lebanon Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Thursdays in the Park series of summer concerts for families continues this afternoon at noon with a performance from Rick Goldin at Lebanon’s Colburn Park.

Veteran fiddler and singer-songwriter Kate MacLeod comes from Salt Lake City to the Meriden Congregational Church on Friday, to teach a fiddle workshop at 3 in the afternoon and to perform a concert at 8. The Intermountain Acoustic Music Association recently named her best violin and fiddle player of 2014 and best female songwriter of the year. Tickets at the door are $20. Tickets for the workshop cost $25; call 603-675-5454 to reserve a space.

The Hopkinton Town Band comes to the Mary Haddad Bandstand in New London at 6:30 Friday night, to play a wide range of music celebrating Independence Day in the fourth in the summer series of concerts on the town green.

Singer-songwriter Tim Gurshin will play folk and country music at Colburn Park in Lebanon on Monday night at 7.

Under the direction of new director Becky Luce, the Upper Valley Community Band kicks off Canaan’s summer concert series Tuesday night with a 7 o’clock performace on the green.

The four-piece rock band The Moores takes command of the Ben Mere Bandstand in Sunapee Harbor on Wednesday night at 7.

Film

Looking for something different, dare we say thought-provoking, in movie animation? The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth will screen the Oscar-nominated feature Ernest and Celestine on Sunday afternoon at 4 in Spaulding Auditorium. The French picture follows an improbable friendship between a mouse and a bear trying to reconcile the antagonism between their respective cultures. Tickets cost $5 to $8. For more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu.

The Dartmouth Film Society continues its summer series “Film Noir: Embrace the Dark,” with a screening on Sunday afternoon at 4 of Double Indemnity, the 1944 Billy Wilder classic in which a femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) seduces an insurance salesman (a very un-My Three Sons Fred MacMurray) into a scheme to murder her husband and collect the insurance. Tickets cost $5 to $8. For more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu.

Bar and Club Circuit

Ted Mortimer leads Dr. Burma into Salt hill Pub in Lebanon at 9 on Saturday night at 9.

If you missed his performance at Hanover’s Canoe Club last Friday night, guitarist Tom Pirozzoli returns to the venue tonight at 7, with a set ranging from Pat Metheny and Miles Davis to Bach and Beethoven. Next in line come jazz guitarist Billy Rosen on Friday night at 7, pianist Gillian Joy on Saturday night at 7. Marko the Magician will perform his sleight-of-hand at the club on Monday night between 5:30 and 8:30.

American’s Most Wanted makes its first appearance at Salt hill Pub in Newport at 9 on Saturday night, with a set blending Americana and outlaw rock.

Jester Jiggs will play at Windsor Station at 9 on Saturday night.

Singer-songwriter Brian Warren comes to Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Saturday night starting at 9.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

At Salt hill in Lebanon, Brian Warren and Seth Barbiero will host an open mic tonight starting at 8.

Brian Warren also hosts an open mic at Bentleys Restaurant in Woodstock. It’s on Mondays, starting at 8:30 p.m.

Bradford’s Colatina Exit hosts an open mic on Tuesdays starting at 8 p.m.

The Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon runs an open mic on Wednesdays, beginning at 8 p.m.

Gregory Brown hosts an open mic at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern, beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction

As part of its summer 2014 tour of New England, the Circus Smirkus troupe will perform at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday at Fullington Field in Hanover. An earlier version of Entertainment Highlights cited incorrect dates for the performances.