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Balancing Act

State of the Arts


Published August 25, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

There was no safety net under Jade Kinder-Martin when he walked on a wire suspended over Burlington's Main Street seven years ago. He negotiated a tightrope from Club Metronome to Kinko's -- and back -- before it occurred to anyone on the ground that there should be a law to stop him. He pulled an even more impressive stunt the following month, when he walked over the Thames River in London. How do you top that? The former Shelburne resident and his sure-footed French fiancee recently had a high-wire wedding. The Cirque de Soleil vets exchanged vows on a tightrope near a chateau in Chantilly. Sole mates, indeed.

Kinder-Martin got his start in Vermont's own Circus Smirkus. His ever-grateful mom, Katra, was at the group's recent show in Montpelier. You know a youth program is special when the parents show up to cheer many years after their own kids have graduated. There's a lot to applaud in the 18-year-old youth circus founded by Rob Mermin. It's inventive, charming and remarkably well-executed by back-bending, hand-springing teens. Circus Smirkus makes adolescence look like a good time -- a great time, in fact. For that alone, Mermin deserves a medal. Instead, he got two -- in one week.

The first -- an "It Takes a Village" award -- was presented during the Lund Family Center's Festival of Fatherhood. The second came from the Vermont Arts Council. After the Montpelier show, director Alex Aldrich stepped right up with a citation of merit for Mermin's "distinguished service to the arts in Vermont." No check, though. Over its long, successful history, Circus Smirkus has received $70,000 from the arts council. That's peanuts, folks.

Good thing Mermin excels in risk-taking. His latest feat was launching an alumni troupe that performed this summer at San Antonio's Sea World. Now there's one more reason to join Mermin's circus: a chance to go pro.

Loss nation

Outdoor concerts weren't the only wash-outs this soggy summer. Attendance at Montpelier's Lost Nation Theater dropped by about half, precipitating a panicked plea from co-producing artistic director Kim Bent. Mailings begged patrons of the 16-year-old company not only to come see a show, but send in donations to help stem a "serious cash-flow crisis." When the call was picked up by the Times Argus and broadcast on WDEV, WORK and VPR, fans answered to the tune of $20,000 in contributions, and filled the house for the two final weekends of You Can't Take It With You. "It's been so rejuvenating and heart-warming," says Bent's partner, Kathleen Keenan. But it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings -- or the witches work their magic. If September's production of Macbeth conjures up sufficient sales, Keenan suggests, the company will only need to raise another $15K in private contributions.

What was behind all those empty seats? "Everything," Keenan surmises. "The accumulation of bad news, whether it be economic or at the gas pumps or because of the war or no one could get their gardens in because of the rain." Not to mention the Fahrenheit factor. While tickets to LNT's The World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb went begging, Michael Moore's Bush-bashing blockbluster was enjoying an unprecedented six-week run at Rick Winston's Savoy Theater just across the street. "We went to the line and offered coupons to people who were being turned away from the shows at the Savoy," Keenan reports.

Lost Nation's not the only company feeling the pinch. Alarmed by dwindling audiences at all Vermont stages, this summer Theatre on a Shoestring did its part to boost attendance by raffling off a Montreal weekend. According to the TOAS website, the winning ticket stub belonged to New Hampshire resident Roger Brickner, one of the few loyal folks who turned out for the first week of LNT's The World Goes 'Round. What goes around comes around.

Publishin' in Vermont

The Green Mountain State gets a new semi-monthly glossy this week, courtesy of the Colchester concern behind Outdoors magazine. Pointing out that Vermont Business Magazine is produced by out-of-staters and Vermont Life is pitched at tourists, publisher James Eller invites readers to think of Livin' the Vermont Way as "a town meeting in your mailbox." Kicking off the controversy: a point-counterpoint on wilderness policy, a profile of GOP Senate candidate Jack McMullen by Progressive activist Cindy Hill, and Michael Quaid of Vermonters for Tax Reform weighing in on education funding. Vermonters "don't fit a mold," Eller says. "We're smarter than people think." He should know. The Long Island native has been Livin' here since 1993.