This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 5-year-old daughter, Viva, the Greatest Kid on Earth.
After 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth”–last seen in Chicago at the United Center last November–is pulling up its tent stakes for the last time.
The news is fresh and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this longstanding entertainment institution is boarding its train and puffing off into history. Animal rights activists claim it is due to audiences shunning the acts of animal cruelty that circuses have long been charged with committing. (In 2016, Ringling Brothers finally retired its iconic elephants,* the animals surrounded by the most controversy, to a sanctuary in central Florida.) Circus representatives cite that entertainment tastes are changing–kids would rather watch stunts in the form of Spider-Man and Black Cat duking it out in “Marvel Live” (which is owned by the same company as the circus) or play on phones that do more than a circus can, regardless of the level of acrobatic virtuosity on display. Me? I blame the clowns. After all the shenanigans clowns pulled last October, how can circuses survive?
We’re left with an issue facing our children. For a century and a half, the circus has been the place children run off to when they’re cross with their parents for making them wash behind their ears or eat their peas. This is why circuses are staffed primarily by petulant 6-year-olds. (Fact.) Where can a child run off to now?
Below are a list of circuses that still come to town, in case your little one is sick of your authoritarianism and wants to become a circus person.
Each summer for the past 10 years, this circus and theater company has been performing in Chicago city parks, and their tour is now city wide, entertaining more than 20,000 Chicagoans each summer. According to their website, they’ve raised more than $850,000 for park improvements. Seems like a great place for your child to start a new life now that you’ve demanded they clean their room.
This Quebecois circus has transformed the face of the circus over the past 30 years with it’s artistic take on the big top. With titles like Alegria, Mystere, Quidam, O, Shazzbot, Qui-Gon and Pikachu, their standing and traveling shows circle the globe and trade creepy clowns in the vein of It, Gacy and Emmett Kelly, for creepy Gallic stuff. “Luzia – A Walking Dream of Mexico” comes to Chicago in July.
The Good: UniverSoul Circus comes to Washington Park each year, bringing a circus featuring a large percentage of performers of color and R&B and hip-hop music to diverse audiences.
The Bad: UniverSoul is facing trial in DC on alleged violations of the consumer protection act regarding alleged animal cruelty brought about by a DC Watchdog. UniverSoul has long been a target of PETA. You’ll need to research the case and do some UniverSoul searching before deciding whether or not to run off.
Local Circus Arts training programs
Given the death defying nature of the high wire and the trapeze – perhaps some training is in order first!
Logan Square’s Aloft Loft offers classes in circus, trampoline and silks for kids 4-17, adults and adults learning circus arts in tandem with their children.
The mission of CircEsteem is to “unite youth from diverse racial, cultural and economic backgrounds and help them build self-esteem and mutual respect through the practice of circus arts.” They focus on ages 3-18 and in addition to Saturday classes and camps, offer homework and circus work tutoring programs, with scholarships and sliding scale fees available.
Located near Wicker Park, Meirmanov Sports Acro is an NFP that supports and develops amateur athletes for national and international Sports Acrobatics competitions. Their Circus Arts programs for kids and adults offer courses and camps in Juggling, Tumbling, Acrobatics, Clowning and Aerial Arts.
The Actors Gymnasium in Evanston teaches circus arts, physical theater and multi-disciplinary performance to children and adults, and produces works of circus-theater. Additionally, they offer classes for students with Autism and those with disabilities.
*If “Dumbo,” which was released two months before the U.S. entered WWII, taught us anything, it’s that circuses are bad for elephants. It also taught us that we should believe in ourselves, that alcohol causes terrifying musical hallucinations and that 80-year-old cartoons can contain racially-insensitive birds.
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