Annual circus event is a can’t-miss for Chicago families

Like you, we’re always on the hunt for new things to do with the kids. We think we’ve got something your tribe is going to love, and you don’t even need deep pockets: the best little circus in town, the Triton Troupers.

If you go

Triton Troupers

Triton College, Robert M. Collins Center Gymnasium, River Grove

7 p.m. March 17-19 with a 1 p.m. matinee March 19 (interpreted for the hearing impaired)

Tickets at the door, cash only

Now in its 45th year, this is one show you do not want to miss.

The first time we packed up the kids and headed to Triton College in River Grove, our expectations weren’t high. How much circus can a person expect at a local college gym without a single lion tamer in sight? But the moment we stepped through the doors, we knew this was no cheesy second-rate show.

The gym had disappeared and the flying trapeze, colored lights and center ring, not to mention the heady fragrance of popcorn, all but shouted Big Top. We were enthralled from the second the clowns juggled into the spotlight until the end.

It used to be a circus wasn’t a circus without striped felines and bejeweled pachyderms. These days an increasing number of circuses are animal free, including the Troupers. After two hours of breathtaking acts by performers, you won’t feel you’ve missed a thing (think Cirque du Soleil at a fraction of the cost). Expect to be wowed—by stunts on the flying trapeze, tight wire and stacked chairs; by performances featuring unicycles, gym wheels and teeterboard; and by skilled acrobatics of all kinds. Plus, plenty of laughs are in store from the goofy clown sketches.

Terry White, a civil engineer by day, directs the Troupers. He’s participated in the show nearly every year since its beginning. He’s known for a willingness to let his performers innovate and experiment. The result is magic.

The all-volunteer Troupers include high school and college students as well as alumni from other circus schools and professional circuses.

Harry McCullagh, 83, a clown for 48 years, is in his 14th year with the Troupers. Look for the tall guy. Spoiler alert: Harry made the clown car, a replica of a Norman Rockwell picture, for this year’s show.

Carmichael Washington, a veteran Trouper of 15 years, performs on the teeterboard and double trapeze. A high school gymnast, Carmichael fell in love with the swinging trapeze. The secret, he confides, is “don’t look down, don’t think about it and hold on tight. Just enjoy the rush of the air.”

Ever wondered what it would be like to brush on grease paint, slip into a pair of floppy red shoes and clown your way through a circus act? Or learn to juggle? Or walk a tight wire? Of course you have—and if you’re serious, even you can join the Troupers.

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