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Circus in the Parks a family affair for Midnight Circus members

Five-year-old SamanthJenkins is part family traditicircus performance. She will be on-hfor this year’s “Circus Parks” program with rest her family.

Five-year-old Samantha Jenkins is part of a family tradition of circus performance. She will be on-hand for this year’s “Circus in the Parks” program with the rest of her family. | PHOTO BY TANYA CHWOJKO

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‘Circus in the Parks’

♦ 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 21

♦ Tickets, $15 (advance purchase strongly recommended)

♦ Visit www.circusintheparks.org

UPCOMING:

Sept. 22-23: Holstein Park, 2200 N. Oakley

Sept. 29-30: Independence Park, 3945 N. Springfield

Oct. 6-7: Commercial Park, 1845 W. Rice

Oct. 13-14: Mt. Greenwood Park, 3724 W. 111th St.

Oct. 20-21: Chase Park, 4701 N. Ashland

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In 2007, the Jenkins family heard the playground in their neighborhood park was about to be downsized due to a lack of funding, they sprang into action.

“We were at Welles Park with our son, Max, who was a newborn at the time,” Jeff Jenkins recalls. “The park was desperately in need of a renovation and the funds just weren’t there. There was talk about the playground being removed.”

For many families, raising funds for the local park usually entails a bake sale, but not the Jenkins family.

Jeff and Julie Jenkins perform regularly with Chicago’s famed Midnight Circus, and the pair came up with a far more entertaining idea.

“We approached the park supervisor and alderman and convinced them to allow us to do a weekend of circus shows in the park,” Jeff Jenkins says. “Admittedly, it was an out-of-the-box idea. I have to take my hat off to former 47th Ward Alderman Gene Schulter. He got behind this and really championed it. I have to give some credit to former Mayor Daley as well. It isn’t always easy to get things done in Chicago and both of these guys could see what we could accomplish.”

It was a gamble that paid off. In its inaugural year, the Circus in the Parks program raised $20,000 for Welles Park.

“It was a colossal amount of money to be raised in a single weekend for the Park Advisory Council,” Jenkins says. “More importantly, it brought thousands of people into their neighborhood park. After those first performances, we heard from people who told us they didn’t know the park was there or that it offered the many events that it does.”

The event also helped strengthen the community, Jenkins says.

“People came out for the circus and actually got to meet their neighbors.”

The Jenkins family isn’t just clowning around, either. The program has grown in size and scope every year.

“Probably our biggest addition thus far came last year,” Jenkins notes. “We added a 70-foot tent that was a real game changer for us. We are no longer at the mercy of the weather and the tent offers an intimate entertainment experience.”

To date, Circus in the Parks has raised over $250,000 and this year promises to be their biggest yet. They’ve already performed in Hamlin and Welles Park this season and will be in Holstein Park (2200 N. Oakley) this weekend and will perform in seven parks citywide. Jenkins is hoping to raise $500,000 this year.

In keeping with circus tradition, Circus in the Parks is very much a family act. Jeff and Julie’s children, seven-year old Max, and five-year-old Samantha, and the family’s pooch, Junebug (a rescue dog from the Englewood neighborhood), all perform.

“Samantha may steal the show this year, but kids all seem to love Junebug and always want to meet her afterwards,” Jeff Jenkins says. “Junebug loves the attention and has many fans.”

This is hardly amateur hour, though. Samantha will perform on the trapeze and Max and Jeff have spent a few years perfecting their act. The family is joined by professional circus artists from all over the country and Canada. In all, there are 25 performers and 15 different acts that cover a variety of circus arts including tumbling, juggling, aerial hoops and clowns.

“We pack a lot into two acts and an hour and 45 minutes,” Jenkins says. “Every performer is outstanding. It’s a great way to experience your park, your community and world-class circus artists.”

Jenkins says this is much more than just performing circus acts.

“As much as we love circus and performing, we also are parents and have a stake in community. Not only can we entertain people, we are helping rebuild playgrounds and neighborhoods.”

Misha Davenport is a local freelance writer. He blogs at www.triggercritic.com.



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