As lazy summer days give way to school supply runs, it’s high time to check off every item on your summer bucket list. Take a whirl on Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel (those views though!), hit up the museums you’ve neglected, spend a summer night at Brookfield Zoo and run away to join the circus. Wait. . . What?! Midnight Circus in the Parks kicks off its tour in parks across the city at the end of August. Read on to hear how this community circus is asking you to join them in giving back to the parks we all love. . . and all you have to do is show up!
Big Top Pop-Up in Your Local Park
“Midnight Circus takes place in an intimate one-of-a-kind little big top that sets up right in the very heart of each Chicago neighborhood we play. . . the local park!” shares co-founder Jeff Jenkins. “The cast is a wildly eclectic and award-winning group of artists that put together a show that is so jam-packed, exciting and unique that it is the only American circus to ever play the world-renowned Montreal Circus Festival.” Indeed this circus offers a little bit of everything, from trapeze thrills to tightrope high jinx. The troupe includes ultra-talented acrobats, aerialists, eccentrics and one super smart (and sweet!) rescued dog.
A Family Circus
Jenkins and his wife, Julie founded the circus in 2007 after a work trip to Europe, where they fell in love with the small circuses that performed in the parks and piazzas of France and Italy. They wanted to create an intimate show that would bring families and communities together for an evening of carefree fun. Their two kids, Max and Samantha, have literally grown up onstage, alongside their parents, and it’s a joy to see this family working and laughing together each and every show.
Circus Fun at Your Feet
Midnight Circus constructs its “Little Big Top” tent the day before the show, beginning an exciting setup for the neighborhood kids to watch. Under the colorful big top, bleachers accommodate about 500 people, and there’s no such thing as a bad seat. The littlest circus-goers are welcome to sit in the grass at the foot of the bleachers, so bring a blanket and be ready to have the show at your feet.
Building Community. . . One Circus at a Time
Attracting over 15,000 people every year, from the far south side to the north, the circus has raised over $1 million dollars for Chicago parks. “From day one the idea was to bring families and communities together for a world-class circus experience right in their local park and raise money to rebuild the playground,” Jeff explains.
Not only are they raising funds, they truly are building communities and creating positive memories for kids who would not otherwise have access to this type of entertainment. Kids from neighborhoods that lack the amenities some of us take for granted: bowling alleys, movie theaters, playspaces, or even safe places for kids to just be kids. Click here to watch a video on Englewood’s collective excitement and gratitude when Midnight Circus appeared in their park.
As parents, artists, community activists and life-long Chicagoans, the Jenkins duo believes that access to great public parks and public schools are the foundation upon which a great city is built. That, in short, is why they do what they do.
Run Away with the Midnight Circus
For its 2019 run, Midnight Circus will tour nine Chicago parks from August through October. Each show lasts 2 hours, with refreshments and snacks available just outside the big top. Tickets are available at midnightcircus.net and range from $5-$20, free for ages 2 & under.
August 25 & 26: Garfield Park
August 30-September 1: McKinley Park
September 7 & 8: Foster Park
September 13-15: Holstein Park
September 20-22: Lake Shore Park
September 28 & 29: Ridge Park
October 5 & 6: Kosciuszko Park
October 12 & 13: Jefferson Park
October 18-20: Welles Park
Beyond the Circus Tent
It’s not just about the circus life for Jeff, who also spends a lot of time in the south and west sides of Chicago engaged in civic work. He, along with his rescued pit bulls, June Bug and Rosie Rae, in collaboration with the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago is visiting Chicago Park District camps all summer long in an effort to educate and entertain. Click here to watch an inspiring video highlighting Jeff’s work to end the cycle of dog fighting in the most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Jeff wholeheartedly believes the intrigues of the circus and people’s natural inclination to be drawn to dogs are both great conduits to reach young people. And the work he does with both fulfills his goal of reaching people in communities that are often overlooked.
— Maria Chambers & Amy Bizzarri
Photos: courtesy of Midnight Circus in the Parks