Alex Royer flies through the air in her Russian bar performance during the Midnight Circus show in McKinley Park on Saturday, September 18, 2021.

Midnight Circus Amazes Again in McKinley Park

Published September 27, 2021

Cheers from the crowd erupted at feats of acrobatics and derring-do at two performances of the Midnight Circus on Saturday, September 18, 2021, in Chicago's McKinley Park.

 
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"We bring in world-class artists every year, from across the world, to perform for us," said circus founder and ringmaster Jeff Jenkins. "We are born and bred in Chicago."

 
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September marks the start of a new season for the circus, which was established in 1997. It's held at 14 Chicago parks every year, and it attracted 25,000 people to its 2019-2020 season.

$1.5 Million for Parks

Doming Cruz and Maya Kesselmen Cruz shimmy atop the Chinese pole in the Midnight Circus performance on Saturday, September 18, 2021.Doming Cruz and Maya Kesselmen Cruz shimmy atop the Chinese pole in the Midnight Circus performance on Saturday, September 18, 2021.The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the circus to be held in open air, instead of its famous big-top tent. Despite pandemic challenges, Jenkins is optimistic about the impact of the circus.

"The circus has raised over $1.5 million for neighborhood parks in Chicago,” Jenkins said.

It sustains itself with grants and donations, he said, and once drew 60 percent of its revenue from a subsidized ticket that cost between $5 and $20, depending on the socioeconomic profile of the host park and neighborhood.

Veronica O’Malley, president of the McKinley Park Advisory Council (MPAC), explained that the park decided to keep the circus free this year because of difficult conditions in the community due to the pandemic. It also offered free performances in 2020.

 
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“Many people in [McKinley Park] belong to the working class," O'Malley said. "We felt it would be uplifting for the community if they could see the circus for free."

Why Midnight

When asked why he had named the circus "Midnight," Jenkins laughed. “It’s a funny story. We had come up with the idea of a circus, but we didn’t have a name. We spent hours deliberating."

 

 

"Then, someone asked me the time," he said. "I said ‘midnight,' and boom, that term just stuck with me.

Backstage at the circus, before the 4 p.m. show, acrobats practiced their gymnastics while other performers cheered them on and offered tips.

 
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Raised in the Circus

Maya Kesselmen Cruz and Doming Cruz, who perform the Chinese pole, have been with the Midnight Circus since 2019.

Amanda Crockett gets ready for her Midnight Circus performance in McKinley Park on Saturday, September 18, 2021.Amanda Crockett gets ready for her Midnight Circus performance in McKinley Park on Saturday, September 18, 2021.“We grew up doing circus performances together in California,” Kesselmen Cruz said. The Cruzes met at the circus as kids, and their camaraderie blossomed into love. They now have their own circus company in Belgium.

“I really enjoy performing at McKinley Park, as you can feel the love from the crowd,” said Martavious Owten, 17, an acrobat who started performing at the age of 4.

 
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“My uncle is part of the Chicago Boys Acrobat team, and he introduced me to the circus,” said Owten, who is now looking toward an acrobatics scholarship for college.

Acting Cross-Over

McKinley Park's Midnight Circus offered an interesting line-up of performances, from acrobatics to aerial hoops to the Russian bar to the trapeze. The first graceful-yet-powerful performance of Alex Royer on the aerial hoop mesmerized the audience.

Maxwell Jenkins, who performed the Rolla Bolla balancing act, said it was good to be back at the circus. “Nothing is harder than the circus, to be honest,” said Jenkins, who started performing at the age of 3.

The McKinley Park field house stands behind the crowd during the Midnight Circus on Saturday, September 18, 2021.The McKinley Park field house stands behind the crowd during the Midnight Circus on Saturday, September 18, 2021.Jenkins is also involved in the theater, and astute fans will recognize him from the Netflix reboot of "Lost in Space," playing lead character Will Robinson.

More Shows Coming

According to Martavious, every circus tells a story. “I love doing the circus because there is always an element of surprise."

"There is something for everybody here," he said. "We are one big happy family."

The Midnight Circus performed in Lake Shore Park over the weekend of September 25-26, 2021, and appears at two more parks this season: at Humboldt Park on October 2 and 3, and at Welles Park on October 9.

 
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