For more than a decade, Sam Brown–with his big hair, cigar box ukulele, and infectious smile–has been a beloved fixture of Midnight Circus. In fact, other than the Jenkins family, he’s the only performer to be a part of every Midnight Circus in the Parks tour.
Sam got his start in circus at age 12, after his mother saw an ad for a circus camp in the Boston Globe. Clowning is not exactly the family business–his mother is an accountant and his father a lawyer–but Sam felt right at home at circus camp. In 2000, Sam toured with Circus Smirkus, where he met Jeff and Julie Jenkins, the show’s directors. “I was lucky enough to work with them for a few years on that show and learned so much from them,” says Sam. After graduating college, he was asked to perform in Midnight’s Halloween shows, and, as he puts it, was “hooked fah liife.” (The traces of his Boston accent only come out when he’s excited, he says). Sam moved to Chicago and has been working with Midnight Circus ever since.
Sam’s presence in the ring is undeniable. Whether he is in the background of a fellow cast member’s act, or in the bleachers having an audience member land a hat on his head, his quick wit and improvisational instincts have made him a fan favorite at Midnight Circus.
“When I think about sharing the ring with Sam, ‘performing’ doesn’t feel like the right word... because it feels so natural and easy. We’re not pretending to play and have a good time, we’re actually playing and having the best of times,” says fellow Midnight Circus clown Eric Allen.
He credits his ability to make new material every year to directors Jeff and Julie. “They always help light the fire for new ideas. They come up with a theme that inspires me and the other performers to come up with material that is new and authentic to the feeling of the show. A good prompt is what always gets my clown brain going.”
Along with “The Clown,” “Tent Boss” is another title Sam holds at Midnight Circus. Under his direction, the performers set up and tear down the tent at a new park each week. Ultimately, he is responsible for making sure everything is done properly and safely. Sam believes having the performers do this each week is a big part of what bonds the cast together. “I have been super lucky to have had amazing crews to work with at Midnight Circus. Part of the reason for that is the performers, along with some extra hands, are the crew. This gives us a sense of ownership of the whole show from beginning to end. It is so satisfying to come to the park and see an empty field, fill it with a whole circus, and a few days later it is an empty field again. Kind of makes you feel like a superhero for sure.” He also enjoys driving the 24-foot box truck that holds the tent.
When he is not working on the Midnight Circus Tour, Sam works full time at Circesteem, in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, as the program coordinator. He runs the Homework and Circus work program, an after school program where kids learn circus skills and get help with their homework. He teaches clowning, along with other disciplines like acro, balance, and juggling. “I love being able to share what I love about circus with those kiddos, and it is very fulfilling to be able to get to do what I love all day everyday,” says Sam.
Sam continues to tour with Midnight because of the family that has been built with the Jenkins and fellow performers. “We are a family and it’s hard to ever leave a family, and that really is something that makes Midnight Circus so unique. I love working with Jeff and Julie because every year they make me a better clown and I get to be a part of a show that helps build a better Chicago. How could I ever leave that?”
The Midnight family just got a little bigger: Sam and his wife Andria just welcomed baby Wilbur to the crew, and Sam is excited to show him the circus world. “Through the years, watching Max and Jeff’s adagio clown act, I’ve always had in the back of my head that I wanted to do that one day. Now that I have a kiddo of my own, I think it’s time to start rehearsing!”