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Despite controversy, circus goes on in Palos Hills

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:23AM



The first Carson & Barnes Circus performance went on as planned Monday in Palos Hills amid outrage from an animal’s rights group and controversy surrounding the circus’ involvement with statewide network for sexual assault victims.

The Oklahoma-based circus previously billed the sixth annual event as “Survivors Under the Stars,” a benefit for sexual abuse victims without the city’s knowledge. It initially planned to let the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault open an information booth outside the circus tent and string up a memorial of T-shirts created by rape victims.

However, the plan was canceled after city officials said the circus was neither the time nor place for the benefit.

Despite the changes, the show went on with its colorful pageant of elephants, daredevil acrobats, silly clown antics, a moonwalking dog, and other performances. A little less than half of the seats at the circus were empty.

“This is the first time the kids got to ride an elephant,” said Palos Hills resident Maria Livigni, who brought her three girls to the show. “They are a little afraid of the clowns though.”

After intermission, performer Jacque Hollander led a parade of children around the circus ring during the song she wrote, “I am the Circus.” It was sung by teenage trapeze artist Franchesa Cavallini, who rode an elephant into the ring and alternated singing the song in English and Spanish.

A candlelight vigil for rape victims, murder victims and missing children that was set to accompany the song was canceled due to fire concerns. All the children in the parade got to sit near the ring while the performers entertained them up close during the vigil

Hollander, who claimed in a lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by soul singer James Brown at gunpoint in 1988, came up with the idea to involve the ICASA. She said the circus wasn’t the same without the vigil or the circus’ partnership with the state organization.

“A lot is missing,” Hollander said. “It didn’t go as well because you didn’t have the children here, the victims of sexual assault. It was a chance to light a candle for them.”

Nevertheless, she pressed on.

“The city didn’t want it and I’m not going to dishonor the city,” Hollander said.

There was also no representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals during the first circus performance Monday. The animal rights group sent letters to city officials last week condemning the circus for the abuse of its many animals.

Oak Lawn resident Rick Nowacki said he expected to see a display from PETA outside the circus tent.

“I’m sure it’s not unwarranted,” Nowacki said of the group’s concern for the animals “But the animals look to be in good shape. As long as they take care of the animals, I’m sure it’s all right.”

His 10-year-old daughter, Caroline Nowacki, had a different take on the circus, which she enjoyed.

“It’s away from the electronics, which I’m always on,” Nowacki said.

The circus will have shows in the city Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.



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