Seeking Engineering Challenge, 3 MITers Join the Circus

by Amy Marcott on August 10, 2012 · 3 comments

in Alumni Life, Engineering, Student Life

Tents the MIT crew is responsible for. Photo: Circus Smirkus.

Tents the MIT crew is responsible for. Photo: Circus Smirkus.

What’s a circus without a big top? Exactly: it’s not a circus. Thankfully, one traveling show has MIT engineers overseeing the tent and behind-the-scenes infrastructure.

In fact, it’s safe to say that the Circus Smirkus show would not go on without the engineering prowess of Andrew Marecki ’10, SM ’12; Hazel Briner ’11; and Otto Briner ’15. The trio was featured on NPR this week, and they talked about their work. Listen to the segment or read the article.

Marecki, whose MIT degrees are in mechanical engineering, is the back lot manager for the nonprofit international youth circus that tours New England towns in the summer. Performers, called Smirkos, range in age from 10–18.

His duties include keeping the 75-kilowatt John Deere engine inside the generator running. Without it, Circus Smirkus and its 70 performers and staff would be lost. The generator powers everything from the spotlights to the food trucks and trailers. Marecki also manages the plumbing and provides quick fixes when something breaks, like the aging popcorn machine he invigorated by “purposefully shorting out part of the circuit.”

The Briner siblings are on the tent crew with Marecki. Circus life is nothing new to Hazel, who graduated with degrees in MechE and biology. She performed as an aerialist in her teen years. Otto, who’s planning on majoring in MechE, is new to the organization.

The trio is responsible for setting up and breaking down the tents including the big top—all 15,000 pounds of vinyl—and bleacher seating for 800 as well as providing quick fixes and improving existing processes. Marecki, for example, told NPR he’s working on an alarm for the gray water system that will prevent overflows. He and Hazel (who are a couple) increased the efficiency of raising the big top by inventing a reel to more easily wind the 200-foot-long hose for the air compressor, which is used to pound dozens of tall metal stakes into the ground. The hose reel was crafted from scrap wood, old car bearings, an old cradle once used in performances, half of a bike, and a custom sprocket and chain ring.

Want to see the show? Check out the Circus Smirkus tour schedule.

Marecki on the Circus Smirkus big top. Photo: Harry Powers.

Andrew Marecki ’10, SM ’12 on the Circus Smirkus big top. Photo: Harry Powers.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

bill blac August 22, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Wanted to say excellent job to all. Being in the attraction industry ourselves, there is so much more that goes into events such as this Circus. More than most people realize. I still can not get over the weight of the big top, a heavy 15,000 lbs., wow. It would be something to actually see the rising of the tent itself.


stephanie danielson November 8, 2012 at 9:26 am

How do I get in touch with the Marecki’s to learn more about the grey water system?


Amy Marcott November 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Stephanie, you can look him up in the directory on the MIT website.


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