UniverSoul Circus brings 12 acts with 75 performers from 11 countries, plus elephants, tigers, and dogs, to Fairmount Park near the Mann Center through Nov. 15. The audience is encouraged to participate.
Circus pitches its tent in park
UniverSoul showcases black performers in two high-energy hours.
By Jeff Davidson
Inquirer Staff Writer
She has a big name and a big job: Auntie Maggie Shirley Lee Mae Frances Upshaw Jenkins is taking the reins of this year's UniverSoul Circus as it brings "The World in One Ring" to Philadelphia.
Auntie is leading the circus in its return to Fairmount Park through Nov. 15 with contortionists, motorcycle daredevils, Caribbean limbo dancers, African elephants and more under one tent.
The circus was founded by Cedric Walker in 1994 to showcase black performers other than just singers and dancers. It started in the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium parking lot, and although Walker lost money on the event, he persisted in his vision.
"People from children and teenagers to parents and grandparents and great-grandparents have a great time," said Ben Johnson, the circus' director of operations. "It is one of very few places where the entire family can go and . . . has a good time."
During this year's show, Auntie, portrayed by comedian Patrice Lovely, and her nephew Lucky, played by Daniel Malatsi, invite the audience to attend the circus with them.
"The World in One Ring" then offers a roughly two-hour, high-energy and hip-hop-inspired show that is touring 30 cities. There are 12 acts with 75 performers from 11 countries plus elephants, tigers and dogs. The audience is encouraged to participate, which could lead to dancing on stage or joining in the main events.
As the circus marks its 16th year, Johnson says that the producers work to keep their ideas fresh.
"We have some new acts that haven't been seen before in Philadelphia as well as a lot of the favorite elements from years past like a lot of interaction with the audience," Johnson said. "We didn't lose any of the high energy or audience interaction over the years."
UniverSoul also focuses on supporting local causes and organizations. A portion of the proceeds from Sunday's shows will be donated to the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, called Sisters for the Cure, which raises money for the fight against breast cancer.
UniverSoul also donated tickets to local churches and groups, including the Philadelphia School District.
UniverSoul Circus, now through Nov. 15 at Fairmount Park near the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 5201 Parkside Ave. Admission: $12, $10 for groups of 20 or more for weekday morning shows; $16.50-$28 for adults and $15-$26 for children for weekend and evening shows. Tickets can be purchased through www.ticketmaster.com and group tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-316-7439. For more information, go to www.universoulcircus.com.