Solo circus: Downers Grove acrobat performs for Alzheimer's patients in Burr Ridge
Evan Baird literally jumped at the chance to perform Thursday at a memory care center in Burr Ridge.
All the jumping was in Baird's outdoor solo circus act.
The 22-year-old Downers Grove resident wore jumping springs and a mask while bopping through the air to Billy Porter's song "Love Yourself" for a crowd of about 25 people at Harvester Place, which specializes in patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
"I've been looking for smaller gigs and shows like the one I'm doing here," said Baird, a Downers Grove South High School alumnus who competed on its gymnastics team. "I've been practicing, putting together something that is COVID-friendly, as well as being a fun and safe performance for the audience."
Baird had originally planned to audition for a number of international circus troupes this summer after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements.
Baird admits he chose to get his college degree in Normal so he could also be a part of ISU's Gamma Phi Circus -- the oldest collegiate circus in the country, dating back to 1929.
But the coronavirus pandemic forced theaters and touring circuses to shut down in March. There was little demand for Baird's circus skills in jumping stilts, trampwall, teeterboard and Russian swing (all documented on his Instagram page @baird.evan).
"Right now, even the best of the best don't have jobs," Baird said.
In the meantime, Baird has been training and working as a coach at the Illinois Gymnastics Institute in Westmont. It's one way for Baird to keep his skills up.
And that's where Harvester Place community relations director Theresa Kenaga comes in. Kenaga is a Baird family friend, and she thought Evan could be a great diversion for Harvester Place's residents, who have been mostly shut indoors since the spring.
"Engaging residents during the era of COVID-19 has been a challenge," said Kenaga about safely creating residents-only and socially distanced events. "Anything we do for residents on a larger scale -- other than bingo or trivia that occur inside the community -- is going to have to be done outside in the parking lot."
Baird also has a personal connection to the venue, since his mother, Beverly, has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.
"My mom -- she started my whole passion for acrobatics and gymnastics and circus," Baird said. "She's why I do what I do."
Baird also wants businesses holding events to also consider using local performers, including magicians and balloon artists, if they can be safely incorporated with social distancing.
"They're getting left out," Baird said. "Support your local artists is just the same as 'Support your local business.'"