Circus in the Parks a family affair for Midnight Circus members
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
BY MISHA DAVENPORT
September 19, 2012
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.
'Midnight Circus' performs Saturday afternoon October 8, 2011 at Mount Greenwood Park in Chicago, Illinois. The show, part of the Chicago Park District 'Circus in the Parks' tour, will also be presented Sunday October 9 at the park, 3721 W. 111th Street.
Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media
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.”