Life’s been a circus over the last two years, so we might as well lean into it. Welcome to the Chicago Circus & Performing Arts Festival, the Windy City’s newest multidisciplinary fest, running April 21-24 at the Den Theatre at 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Performances from ten different Chicago-based companies include traditional circus acts, avant-garde sideshow and burlesque offerings, family-friendly juggling and clowning shows, sketch comedy, queer-themed work, plus several evening-length pieces that also include dance.
Single tickets are $10-35, including some pay-what-you-can options. Reach the Den Theatre box office at 773-697-3830. The lobby features cashless cocktails from The Haven Lounge before and after performances, as well as vendor tables for local circus companies and schools. Metered street parking is available, and the apps ParkChicago, Spot Hero, Park Whiz, and Parq Ex are recommended to secure a spot. The venue is also accessible to the Blue Line (north of Division, south of Damen stops) and via various CTA bus routes.
Thursday, April 21
5:30-7pm Surface Tension by Company to x for (contemporary juggling + acrobatics, queer-themed)
7:30-8:30pm Bo(ix)y(e) Division by Such Creatures (dance, queer-themed)
5:30-7pm Stop Trying to Make Sketch Happen (improvisation)
7:30-9pm The Princess Strikes Back (solo show)
Friday, April 22
5:30-7pm BIPOC Circus Alliance Midwest (circus cabaret, ages 13+)
7:30-9pm Surface Tension by Company to x for (contemporary juggling + acrobatics, queer-themed)
9:30-10:30pm Bo(ix)y(e) Division by Such Creatures (dance, queer-themed)
5:30-7pm The Princess Strikes Back (solo show)
7:30-9pm Freaklesque by Yes Ma’am Circus (magical circus drama, ages 18+)
Saturday, April 23
5:30-7pm SHOOP by Whisper Theatre (physical theater)
7:30-9pm Alice in CircusLand by Yes Ma’am Circus (theater/circus mashup)
9:30-11pm BIPOC Circus Alliance Midwest (circus cabaret, ages 13+)
3:30-5pm Double Feature of Amazing Prizzini Brothers and Poised (classic circus)
5:30-7pm Masquerade by Laughingstock Theatre (commedia sketch show, queer-themed)
7:30-9pm Stop Trying to Make Sketch Happen (improvisation)
9:30-11pm Freaklesque by Yes Ma’am Circus (magical circus drama, ages 18+)
Sunday, April 24
2-3:30pm SHOOP by Whisper Theatre (physical theater)
4-5:30pm Alice in CircusLand by Yes Ma’am Circus (theater/circus mashup)
2-3:30pm Double Feature of Amazing Prizzini Brothers and Poised (classic circus)
4-5:30pm Masquerade by Laughingstock Theatre (commedia sketch show, queer-themed)
Alice in CircusLand: Follow Alice down the rabbit hole to meet Wonderland’s snarky residents. Meet the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, a Most Annoyed Pigeon, the Cheshire Cat, and the Mad Hatter, before finally ending up in the Queen’s Court for a most unfair game of croquet. Chicago’s Yes Ma’am Circus produces full-length circus shows that reinterpret classic stories for modern audiences.
The Amazing Prizzini Brothers and Poise: This 2-in-1 show starts with the Amazing Prizzini Brothers’ classic circus cabaret featuring family-friendly circus acts and clowning. The goal is simple: to make the audience complicit in the mischief. Up next is Arik Mendelevitz of Raphael Entertainment and his one-man juggling show, which uses hilarity on a destructive journey of bricolage.
BIPOC Circus Alliance Midwest Showcase: This themed circus cabaret tracks the lives of People of Color as they re-engage with the outside world two years after the pandemic began, and shares individual stories that depict human emotions and unique challenges faced by POC in contemporary America. Disciplines will include rope, straps, aerial hammock, diabolo, and silks. For ages 13+.
Bo(ix)y(e) Division: Dancers Ashaand Simone and Luke Greeff present “Trans Audacity” contemporary movement work, recounting and re-experiencing physical and neurological evolutions related to their trans-masculine identities. Bo(ix)y(e) Division exposes the intricate practice of controlled, curated metamorphosis, which places audiences in an intimate relationship with concepts often boiled down to digestible nuggets at the expense of the trans and gender nonconforming community, or extracted without consent or context.
Freaklesque: Produced by Yes Ma’am’s Maggie Karlin and Slightly Spitfire, Freaklesque features burlesque, sideshow, and variety acts from around Chicago. For ages 18+.
Masquerade, or Love is Queer to Stay: Laughing Stock Theatre spreads joy by creating commedia dell’arte from a modern perspective that reflects the humor in humanity. In this production, the cast explores queer themes with a timeless art form.
The Princess Strikes Back: In 1997, 13-year-old Victoria Montalbano was introduced to her perfect man, Han Solo, and she’s been looking for him ever since. In this one-woman show called “delightful” and “highly energetic” by Around the Town Chicago, Victoria grows from awkward theater kid to professional out-of-work actress while swiping her way through a galaxy far, far away!
SHOOP: Employing physical comedy, partner acrobatics and multiple characters, Whisper Theatre Collective invites audiences to SHOOP, a luxury shipping and packing facility. Clients spend top dollar to receive the best treatment for themselves and their packages, complete with healing energy rituals. According to CEO and lifestyle guru Gabriel, SHOOP is not only a business of luxury, but also the business of one’s spirit. When a computer malfunction causes the company to spiral into chaos, the employees must uphold the spirit of SHOOP, even with the threat of company and client secrets threaten being revealed.
Stop Trying to Make Sketch Happen: Using a series of sketches, black-outs, original songs, parody songs, dramatic scenes, group game scenes, and improv shells, the story of Mother Earth is told, and how she is mistreated by her ungrateful children. This fast-paced, Pandora’s Box comedy show is half-scripted, and half based on audience suggestions.
Surface Tension: A daring look at two queer men’s friendship. At points ecstatic, dark, searching, and loving, this contemporary circus show encapsulates the complexities and honesty of two people who love to create together.
Company to x for is a contemporary circus ensemble that creates intimate work through juggling, acrobatics, and dance.