Chicago’s Midnight Circus to visit 8 parks during next two months


Courtesy Midnight Circus

Midnight Circus performed for an audience in their little big top. Youngest member Samantha Jenkins held a banner while an acrobat leapt over it.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Circuses are not limited to big tops or Las Vegas stages anymore—they are now taking over the Chicago Park District. Midnight Circus, a Chicago-born circus act troupe, is scheduled to travel around Chicago in September and October to raise money to rebuild park playlots throughout the city.

Founded in Chicago in the ’90s, Midnight Circus has pushed the boundaries of physical theater, said Julie Greenberg, artistic director and co-founder.

The show—then performed in theaters—was a primarily acrobatic circus act with a narrative. The circus planned to run for six weeks but continued running for a year because of the response it received, she said.

“There is nothing like it in Chicago, or in the country,” Greenberg said.

The circus moved to Europe in 2000 and performed in Italy and Germany for a couple of years in festivals, where the show became somewhat of an improv performance. The opening number was the only part of the show the troupe rehearsed, Greenberg said.

When Greenberg and her husband, Jeff Jenkins, decided to return to Chicago, they were uninspired and did not plan to continue circus work, she said. That quickly changed when Greenberg and Jenkins learned their local park was going to be downsized. They hosted a series of circus shows in the park to raise awareness of its closing and raised more than $25,000 in one weekend to keep the park alive.

“I’m not sure we would still be doing Midnight Circus had Circus in the Parks not been developed,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg added that she thinks the circus is different than others of its kind because members still perform in a tent, but with a DJ and no exotic animals—aside from the family’s rescued pit bull.

“We are uniquely urban and uniquely Chicago,” Greenberg said.

At the shows, which will run for two consecutive nights at eight locations around the city, Greenberg said audiences can expect to see a two-hour performance including some of the best acrobats from all over the world.

“There’s a reason we are the only American troupe to ever be invited to take part in the Montreal Circus Festival,” Greenberg said. “The acrobats we bring in have all worked [at] Cirque du Soleil [or French company Seven Fingers of the Hand], and they  are  graduates of  the most prestigious circus schools in the world.”

Performer Abby Suskin said she met Greenberg and Jenkins when she was 12 years old and participated in a circus youth organization directed by the husband and wife duo.

Suskin kept in contact with Greenberg and Jenkins for years after they left the organization and now—more than 10 years later—works in the circus as a tight-wire walker and choreographer.

“They are lovely people, and they make me want to keep working with them,” she  said.

Albert Williams, a senior lecturer in the Theatre Department, said he thinks bringing the circus to the Columbia community would benefit students.

“The idea of circus arts is included in some of our physical theater training at the Theatre Department already, [but] Columbia would always benefit from any class being added to the curriculum,” Williams said.

Midnight Circus’ shows draw more than 20,000 people and have raised $800,000 in funds that go directly to park rebuilding. With the continuation of the circus’ expanded tour that started in 2013, Greenberg said Midnight Circus hopes to hit its goal of a $1 million donation.

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