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Graison Keenan, 6, shows off his juggling-with-scarves skills during a circus performance at Marlborough School on Friday night. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

Kids put on world's greatest after-school circus

MARLBOROUGH - Marlborough and Harrisville Before and After School Program children showed off their big top skills Friday night at Marlborough School after a two-week residency with Wunderle's Big Top Adventures.

Family members gathered on the school gym bleachers with popcorn and cotton candy in hand for a show filled with juggling, plate spinning, hula hoops, balancing acts, a human pyramid and general clowning around.

At the end of the night what the performers walked away with - along with improved juggling skills - was a better sense of themselves and a sense of accomplishment.

"I've learned that you can do tricks and stuff that you think you can't do, but you can," said 9-year-old Hailey Trudelle of Harrisville.

Though she had been in the program before, this year Hailey was able to balance standing on a globe, which was the highlight of the show for her.

Ke'ala Barnard, 11 and Ciana Willette, 12, of Harrisville learned how to both stand on a globe, balancing together.

"It involved a lot of trust," Barnard said.

Among many of her new skills this year, Bonnie Anderson, 10, of Harrisville walked on the globe, rolling it along the floor.

Pushing herself each year to try new things is part of the fun, but you also learn a lot back stage, she said. "You learn how to stay organized."

Troy Wunderle's Vermont-based Big Top Adventures has been visiting the after-school program for two weeks a year for the past five years. And with 60 students, from kindergarten to eighth grade, this was by far the largest group he has taught his circus tricks to.

Along with founding Wunderle's Big Top Adventures, which does corporate events, summer and vacation camps and lectures, Wunderle is the artistic director of Circus Smirkus and director of clowning for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

"What I felt as a kid, what I was most concerned about was I was afraid I'd never find something to do in life because I wanted to do it all and I didn't know how you could become content in life if the thing that drove you was you wanted to try it all," Wunderle said.

A Vermont native, he was a college student in Baltimore, Md., when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey blew into town and was auditioning for its clown college.

It wasn't long before he was in clown college, but he found a way to continue living in his home state while pursuing his circus career.

He learned in the circus he could perform, act, teach, use his physical skills, sculpt, design, paint, play musical instruments, travel, speak different languages and work with animals

"All these random interests were in this one thing and it just boggled my mind," he said.

That learning experience is what Wunderle wants to pass on tho the Marlborough students.

"The point of this program is to expose kids throughout New England to the skills and challenges that are unique to the circus world," he said. "I find that not too many of them have a great knowledge or understanding in circus and yet all of us have dealt with frustration and failure and fatigue and challenge. And through using circus as a teaching mechanism I can help kids understand themselves, how they tick better. How do you take a prop that you see everybody else working with and succeeding with and how do you personally work at your own level and succeed at your own level and be proud of that effort and overcome failure and celebrate your successes."

As Graison Keenan, 6, of Marlborough said after the show, "It was awesome."


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