Along with others in his senior class at Walpole High, 18-year-old Doug Stewart will wear a cap and gown Sunday and participate in the school’s graduation ceremonies.
Then, as his classmates disperse to celebrate with their families, Stewart will hop into a Toyota Highlander with his parents and drive off to join the circus.
“He’ll get to hug people for 30 minutes, and then we’ll be on the road,” his mother, Brenda Stewart, said last week.
Doug Stewart auditioned and earned a summer spot with Circus Smirkus, and he is making the 229-mile trip to the traveling youth circus’s headquarters in Greensboro, Vt., accompanied by his parents. They will drop him off in the rural town, where he will spend the next few weeks training and rehearsing for the troupe’s big-top summer tour, which kicks off June 29. The tour includes stops in cities and towns throughout Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, with more than 60 shows along the way (see schedule at www.smirkus.org).
Stewart, one of the captains of Walpole High’s swim and dive team, was one of 30 performers chosen for this summer’s tour. Earning the coveted spot was a dream come true for Stewart, who said he tried out for the circus in years past but was turned down each time.
Circus Smirkus uses performers ages 10 to 18, and Stewart realized he was reaching the age limit last fall.
“It was my last chance,” he said.
He sent in a tryout video, got called back for a live audition in January, and finally made the cut. Receiving the invitation was “the best day of my life,” he said last week.
According to his parents, Stewart’s passion for the circus started when he was about 9. He was very active and always climbing things, and enjoyed gymnastics and tumbling. He mastered the art of juggling around the house, tossing pieces of fruit in the air while taking bites in between.
He joined a stunt team to learn acrobatics, went to trapeze school, and trained at AirCraft Aerial Arts in Somerville and the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vt. His parents even set up a circus rig in his backyard so he could practice at home.
Over the years he mastered all sorts of moves using ropes, the trapeze, and an aerial hoop known as a lyra. His favorite trick, the single-toe hang, involves hanging upside down from one foot. It is a difficult — and painful — move, he said.
After the tour, Stewart said, he plans to attend a nine-month intensive training program at the New England Center for Circus Arts. He said he may go to “normal people college,” or circus school in Canada or Europe after that. There is also the possibility of going directly into performing.
His father, Brian, who is the chief financial officer at Middlesex Savings Bank, and his mother said they have had “numerous and multiple” serious discussions with him about college versus a circus career. Like most of his peers, Stewart went through the college application process. Ultimately, he deferred his acceptance to a college in Chicago to pursue his dream of joining the circus.
“We don’t want to be the kind of parents who will squash someone’s dreams,” Brenda Stewart said. “He really wants to do this. . . . It’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time.”Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.