You can always tell when Midnight Circus is about to perform in your community. The magical purple and blue tent rises up in the middle of the grassy field at your neighborhood park as if it was a flower reaching for the spring sun.
Well that little one-of-kind circus tent has quite a story behind it.
A well-respected and very successful circus producer once told us, “Whatever you do, don’t get a tent!” If we had followed his advice, our magical “Little Big Top” would never have been created.
The inspiration for our intimate big top came to us over 20 years ago when we were busking around Europe and seeing little tented circuses. We marveled at these beautiful, timeless structures that brought communities together to celebrate, share, and see a show. Unlike the big tops we were used to seeing in the states, they were little enough to be erected in city centers.
We were hooked.
We made it our mission to somehow, someway bring this to Chicago. We began researching tents and quickly realized that nearly every circus tent is made in Europe and they are generally much bigger than what we envisioned.
Our idea was an intimate, colorful “Little Big Top” that could magically appear in nearly any park in Chicago in a matter of hours. It also had to meet some seemingly impossible goals:
- No heavy machinery to erect and dismantle the tent…Only People Power!
- The entire circus, tent and all, had to travel by one truck.
- The tent had to be small enough to fit in nearly any park in Chicago,
- But also big enough to hold hundreds of smiling faces.
- Oh, and it should look like Dr. Suess built it…😊
After scouring the planet for a circus tent maker willing to even consider our idea, we found just the right folks a few hours from Chicago. The oldest tent maker in America happens to be right here in Springfield, Illinois, Armbruster Manufacturing Co, a family business that was established in 1875.
We reached out to current President Hellar Armbruster and told him about our wild-eyed dream of a circus tent that travels around Chicago bringing communities together and raising funds for local parks.
“Well, we haven’t made a circus tent in nearly a hundred years but I would love to help!”
We sent him the artist renderings of what we were hoping for, and of course our long list of requirements for our one-of-kind circus tent. To his credit Hellar came back with a brilliant design.
Of course like most things in the arts and community engagement world, we were up against time and money. After years of performing “Open Air”, Midnight Circus in the Parks we had established a loyal following, selling out show after show, year after year. We were confident we could overcome the financial challenges. Time however was ticking for the 2011 circus season.
Ignorance was bliss in our case and we forged ahead hoping that not only could the tent get made in time, but also we could actually drive down to Springfield, erect the tent in the field next to the shop… so we could learn how, and then quickly dismantle it, load it into our truck and zip back to Chicago in time to begin the tour.
At last we received word that the tent was complete! It was one week before our opening performances in Welles Park. So on our one and only day off during the hectic three-week rehearsal process, we loaded up the acrobats, the kids and the dogs and headed south on I55 to Springfield to pick up our new home!
With Armbrustrer’s help and guidance we managed to get (most of) the tent up in that field. Of course no aerial rigging, no sidewalls and a few other key parts that were still being finished and would be shipped the next day…but what the heck, it still looked magical!
Against all odds, the magical “Little Big Top” made it’s Chicago debut in Welles Park on September 17th, 2011.
This one-of-kind purple and blue tent allows us to fulfill our mission of ‘Bringing Circus to the People” as it travels around Chicago year after year.