Preview: Fall Beckons and Chicago Gets Its Circus On (with Two Tours—CirqueUs and Midnight Circus)

“High-flying, knot-tying, gravity-defying aerialists, loopy jugglers, musicians that pull at your heartstrings, and comedy that will leave you in stitches!”  It happens every summer now for the past few years up and down the east coast, tracing the touring route of their mentors at Circus Smirkus—but now they have busted out a new trend—touring to Chicago. The Cirque Us troupe will be arriving in town just in time to run their show RagTag: A Circus in Stitches twice (September 10 and 11) (and then possibly even to catch the opening night of the Midnight Circus show (and see their fellow circus artists perform at Foster Park). RagTag takes the idea of homespun to the end of the spool in this show, featuring lots of yarn and patchwork analogies while also tapping into the classic vibe of the tramp clown—mixing the traditional world of circus with the contemporary and resulting in an artful performance blending circus disciplines like tightrope, acrobatics, aerials and juggling. Cirque Us has been around since 2016 when eight professional circus artists who happened to be friends decided to form a company, make a show and create a tour—no small feat in the United States, where the circus touring network is still rather nebulous. But Cirque Us was willing to pave the way and bring Chicago into their touring plans. Gearing up for the weekend of shows, Cirque Us is happy to describe how they got their start as “a small group of friends who quite literally stitched a show together using recycled materials and old car tires to create their first show, One Man’s Trash.” I asked Doug Stewart, co-founder of Cirque Us why Chicago was an important addition to their tour and he said, "It’s so exciting for so many reasons! The first is I haven’t been to Chicago since the last time I was on Tour with Midnight Circus in 2018. The second is Chicago is the starting place of Cirque Us! I studied business of live and performing arts at Columbia College Chicago while starting Cirque Us. My time in Chicago had such an impact on my life and Cirque Us and I’m so excited to bring Cirque Us to Chicago for the first time and to show everyone what I’ve been up to all these years!" The cast of RagTag: A Circus in Stitches features six circus acrobats hailing from across the United States. The performers have a collective resume that includes graduates from the National Centre for Circus Arts (London), and the New England Center for Circus Arts (Vermont) and work among multiple circuses of note: Circus Smirkus, The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, AIDA Cruises, The Midnight Circus, and Circus Aotearoa. RagTag: A Circus In Stitches will be at Aloft Circus Arts on September 10 and 11. Tickets are now on sale for $20; more information is also available.

Bringing Circus to the People

Now, turn your attention, ladies and gentleman and people of all genders, to the Midnight Circus, a Chicago staple that returns with their open-air show for COVID safety for the second year in a row! Although it should be noted that the Midnight Circus has toured around Chicago since 2007 usually under a beautiful tent. Midnight Circus is beloved by Chicago but also well known around the USA and Canada for bringing world-class circus, and giving people access to circus by touring to parks all over town. Whether under a tent or out in the open, the family-friendly show is always resplendent with good clowning—the kind that drums up an audience’s energy, but also with excellent deejaying and ring mastering from Jeff Jenkins and Julie Greenberg. There is usually a heartwarming narrative, and all of it is mixed in with what everyone shows up for—heart-pounding circus! This year’s all-star circus cast includes members of Back Pocket (US & Belgium), and Barcode (France & Canada) as well as groundbreaking clowns Amanda Crockett and Jean Carlos Claudio, to name a few. If their Instagram is any indicator, the show itself will likely involve dance, music, Russian bar, clowning, aerials, dog tricks, and some hat juggling. Tickets are required for entry but free with a suggested donation; please donate. All proceeds since its early days have gone to the Chicago Park District (over $960,000 to date, but they’ve also raised funds for the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico). If you want to get tickets to this show as it swings by your ward, tune in to their social media and website weekly to book—tickets are released a week before the show and tend to sell out immediately. This year the tour stops in Foster Park, McKinley Park, Lake Shore Park, Humboldt Park and Welles Park. Midnight Circus will be playing from September 11 until October 9.
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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.