Matt Zimmerman

Class of 2005

Matt Zimmerman (Class of 2005) never wanted to be class clown. It was the real clowns that interested him. Matt’s dream was to join the circus – and Community enabled him to make his dreams come true:

I had severe dyslexia. I was eight years old and I couldn’t read a word. I remember thinking I probably would never be able to read. The thought of myself as an adult looking at photos and not understanding the captions was incredibly depressing. I imagined myself having to work in a fast food restaurant or something like that because I wouldn’t be able to read or write. My horizons seemed very limited.

Matt Zimmerman

That’s when my parents found the Community School. My real passions for my entire life has been the circus and carnivals, magic and show business. I don’t know why but I have always loved that world. I would talk about it, dream about being in the circus. So the first thing my teacher did was work with me on a long list of words all having to do with the circus and magic. Tent. Rabbit. All the things I was interested in. We had one-on-one sessions and within three months I was reading only two levels below my grade. That may not sound impressive, but going from not being able to read a word to that was amazing for me. I couldn’t believe it was happening. A new world was opening up for me. I was kind of in shock.

Once I learned how to read everything changed. I have always been outgoing, very much a people person, but that was kind of magnified as my confidence in myself grew. It was natural for me in high school to get our mascots outfit, an eagle, and become the mascot.

In the Lower School a lot of my learning was geared toward my interests because I had such a difficult time staying on task. It was so difficult and frustrating for me to focus. In order to accomplish something I had somewhat enjoy it, so my teachers found ways of catching my interest and using that to teach me.

I was fortunate to be at Community because there were endless outlets for my creative energy and people who could guide me. Kenny Colombo, who was sort of the school’s answer to any problems, had been a clown with Ringling Brothers. He became an important mentor. The school doesn’t have a circus club, but he brought in juggling equipment for me. He brought in a unicycle, he taught me how to apply clown make-up, he let me work backstage with him on all of the school events, but mostly he just encouraged me to pursue my dream.

While I was still in high school I started working during the summers at a place called Circus Smirkus in Vermont as part of the tent crew or as a concessionaire. I also had been working in circus-themed places, so I was getting to know people from the circus community. It was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be, and after graduating from Community High School I spent several months working for Ringling’s gold unit, mostly as a concessionaire.

From being unable to read when I entered Community I graduated ready to go to college for technical theatre. I went to Johnson State college in Vermont, where I earned my degree in technical theater. After graduating, I went back to Ringling as what is known as part of the floor crew, which is the generic title for a stage hand. We built the props, moved them and set up the stages. After spending some time there I knew it was not where I wanted to be, so I transferred to the lighting department. I began studying pyrotechnics and eventually got my pyro license – which means I am officially licensed to blow up things – safely. It’s actually a difficult license to get, for obvious reasons.

After two years in the lighting department I became the assistant manager, and then another two years later I was promoted to head of the department. It was an amazing life, living on the circus train, traveling from city-to-city, being with some of the most wonderful people you can imagine and being part of the great Ringling Brothers tradition.

My skills eventually led to me accepting the job as head of lighting and special effects at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Luxor Hotel, working with magician Criss Angel. It was while I was there that I met my fiancé, and we have been together three years.

Eventually I left Cirque to come back to New York and work for the Big Apple Circus. When they went bankrupt I was hired as the Senior Event Production Specialist at the University of Vermont. I manage a crew of three full-time employees and 40 students, and we do all the event preparation, all the lighting, the audio, we lay the cable, for events with as few as four people or as large as five thousand people.

Everything I accomplished I owe to Community. Everything. They gave me my life. Without my teachers, without the staff working with me and caring about me, I wouldn’t be close to where I am in life. I certainly wouldn’t be working in my trained profession. It’s sometimes even hard for me to believe that I managed to progress from a child who couldn’t read to the head of a large technical department at a great university.

While I have a lot of wonderful memories from Community, there is one that sticks out. I was standing in the upper stairs hallway, practicing my lines for a school play with a teacher. My character was kind of silly and I was goofing around when a classmate walked by and paused, then walked away. But a few seconds later he came back, pointed to me and said to the teacher, “He makes me smile.” And then he walked away.

When I think of Community, and all I was given there, that thought makes me smile.