Drivers passing Hamlin Park on Damen Avenue could be in for a surprise this fall: a “big top” circus tent rising up from the lawn. Members of the Hamlin Park Advisory Council report that they expect to know soon whether they’ve made the cut for the city’s Circus in the Parks program.
“I really hope we get it. It’ll be fantastic,” said HPAC chair Jody Boutell, who pitched the circus as part of the council’s drive to raise $650,000 for a new playscape for the park. During this month’s HPAC meeting at the park’s fieldhouse, 3035 N. Hoyne Ave., members enthusiastically reacted to information from circus representative Eileen Palmer, a former member of the advisory council at Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave.
Circus in the Parks is a production of Chicago’s Midnight Circus, headed up by performers Jeff Jenkins and Julie Greenberg. Midnight Circus first teamed up with the Welles Park Advisory Council in 2007 to perform in the park as a fundraiser, and since then has grown in popularity. Last year, organizers staged the circus in six city parks, with underwriting assistance from Peoples Energy.
This year, organizers expect to stage the circus in as many as eight parks between September and October. Palmer explained that the circus’ cost for each park would be in the neighborhood of $7,500, and that all the participating parks would pool and share equally in the proceeds from ticket sales of $15 each. According to Palmer, the circus has historically sold out wherever it’s staged, which means potential proceeds of at least $15,000 for each park. “It’s a fundraiser in a box,” she said.
Council members were told the performers in each show would include contortionists, acrobats, aerialists and what Palmer described as progressive clowns. “We haven’t had any kids running and screaming,” she said to knowing chuckles from members of the council. Community involvement is a key criterion for the circus when it comes to selecting venues, said Palmer, noting that Hamlin turned out “the most advisory council people to date.
“I was excited to hear you guys were interested,” Palmer told the council members. “I love this park. I feel confident it’s a no-brainer.”
Since then, Boutell told Roscoe View Journal that organizers have expressed concern about Hamlin’s relative proximity to Welles Park, which has traditionally hosted Circus in the Parks. “I guess they’re worried about it,” she said. However, Boutell said members of the Hamlin Park Neighbors group have responded with enthusiasm. “People were asking if they could write letters to Circus in the Parks,” she said. In addition, Hamlin’s bid may receive a boost from Related Midwest, which is leading the redevelopment of the nearby Lathrop Homes project. Related’s Kerry Dickson has reportedly offered to sponsor a group of Lathrop children to attend the circus.
The decision should be announced in the next few days and Boutell is staying optimistic. “It’ll be great to have a ‘big top’ tent in the neighborhood. It’s just fun,” she said.