Rob Mermin is a clown. Rob Mermin is a mime. Rob Mermin is an entrepreneur. Rob Mermin has served as a dean at a college. How many people have this combination of experiences?
Last week, Mermin visited K’s campus, sharing stories of being a creative performer on the road in European circuses, training with Marcel Marceau and starting his own business. He met with students for a Passion to Profession lunch, showed his film and gave a clowning and mime workshop.
His film lecture, “Circle of Sawdust”, portrayed the culture and history of circus through popular film, personal footage and storytelling.
Mermin talked about the rowdy Hoffman brothers who first introduced him to the world of the traveling mud show.
He spoke about the strong relationship between human and animal performers, specifically about himself and his dog, who performed a pantomime act together.
He recounted that he really did get “thrown into the ring,” even being forced to ride a trick mule in his early days. But among all of this adventure, spontaneity and creativity came two pieces of wisdom very relevant to the life any K student—no clown aspirations necessary.
Mermin’s first piece of advice was: In order to make something happen, you have got to put yourself out there. He stressed being physically present, showing up and asking for what you want. This is how he found himself working in Copenhagen at the Cirkusbygningen, a famous permanent circus performance building constructed in the late 1800s. After visiting the place and seeing a fantastic show, he thought to himself, “in 20 years I’ll come back and perform here.” Little did he know, 20 years would pass in a matter of minutes and he’d be performing the next day, simply because he was present.
Second, he told his audience that failure is okay, especially if you sacrifice success to stay true to your vision.
Mermin’s vision was to start a youth circus where kids could learn and perform circus arts, providing the art to the community and beyond. After the first attempt, he humbly told students who attended the lunch that he compromised his vision and lost his shirt in the process. In serious debt, and incredibly depressed, Mermin pressed forward, found a new investor and geared up for the program in 1986.
Mermin’s mother said, “Circus Schmurkus–get a real job!” The phrase struck Mermin as a great company name, and the group took off from there. His Vermont-based non-profit, “Circus Smirkus” now operates on a $2.5 million annual budget.