Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Clowning Around

Trade in the monotony and pressures of life for some laughter, silliness, non-creepy clowns, acrobatic acts and yes, elephants, at the Akdar Shrine Circus.

Donna Leahey
February 1, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages, please direct your attention to the center ring for the main event. The 72nd Annual Akdar Shrine Circus is coming to town for four big days and nine spectacular performances complete with popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, beautiful women in sequined clothes, handsome men in tights, exotic animals, clowns, trapeze acts and clowns.

Please don’t run away with the circus, but do come out for a big-top style experience and thrill to the sights, sounds and breath-taking excitement of a three-ring circus right here in Green Country, at the Tulsa Fairground Pavilion inside Expo Square.

Talking with Shriners David May and Tommy Henshaw about the event is a bit of a circus itself. May is the circus office manager and Henshaw describes himself as the office’s “Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none,” though May clarifies that Henshaw is the marketing director.

“The Akdar Shrine Circus is the second longest-running annual event in Tulsa,” says Henshaw, “behind the State Fair.” May breaks in to add, “And we pride ourselves on being the most family-friendly one. Even down to the cost. Every cost we can control, we do.”

It’s a full three-ring circus, complete with lion tamers, big cats, high wire acts and death defying feats of skill. “And unlike some circuses, we still have elephants,” May brags. “We put together the best circus we can for the best price we can manage.”

Last year’s circus thrilled and awed with acts like A Breathtaking Display of Unbridled Felines and Unforgettable Display of Noble Exotic Species, The Wheel of Destiny, The Princes and Princesses of the Air and The Globe of Death. This year the Akdar Shrine Circus promises to bring even more spectacles and amazing acts.

The Akdar Shrine Circus is the second longest-running annual event in Tulsa behind the State Fair.

“We have over 200 volunteers helping us make this a success,” says May. The internal units of the Shrine come together to make the circus happen every year. The Scooter Club handles tickets, including offering them for sale at Woodland Hills Mall and the Promenade. The Clown unit performs, mingles with the crowd, and offers picture buttons. The Dune Buggy unit works inside the ring managing elephant and pony rides for the children. The Mini Cars unit runs the spotlights. The Greeters provide the ushers.

“The ladies help out as well. There’s face painting, balloons and novelty booths. All the help is purely volunteer. It’s all hands-on deck,” Henshaw says. “When we take that building over in February, we consider it our home. We make it as affordable as possible for families. And it is a family event. Lots of times we have grandpas who came when they were a kid bringing their grandkids to the circus.”

It’s easy to see the amount of care and effort the Shriners put into the event and what an important fabric of the community the event has become. Many who could probably not afford to attend are able to, thanks the generosity of many members.

“A lot of Shriners do not use the tickets they were issued and instead donate them back to the Shrine so we can distribute them to the community,” says May. “We have groups bringing whole busloads of children sometimes.”

The profits from Akdar Shrine Circus are used by the organization to help provide care to children in need of medical attention and care. “The Shrine is a fraternity,” says Henshaw. “And the fraternity has a philanthropy. There are about 1,400 children from northeast Oklahoma who we sponsor to Shriner Hospitals where they can get a miracle regardless of their ability to pay. We have a transportation service and a telemedicine office so the children don’t have to travel for rechecks.”

The Akdar Shrine was established in Tulsa in 1911 and began putting on their annual circus before World War II. It was suspended during the war, but began shortly after the war concluded. In addition to the circus, Shriners have fun throughout the year participating in parades in many towns in Green Country, as well as other community events and festivals. Currently, there are over 2,000 members of Tulsa’s Akdar Shrine and over 500,000 throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Republic of Panama and Europe. 

General admission tickets can be purchased from QuikTrip for $4 off the face value while supplies last. Tickets can also be purchased at participating Cox Cash Saver and Warehouse Market stores. Reserve or general admission tickets can also be bought through the Expo Square ticket office.

Akdar Shrine Circus
Expo Square | Tulsa
Feb. 23: 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 24: 4:30 p.m.; 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 25: 10 a.m.; 2 p.m.; 6 p.m.
Feb. 26: 10 a.m.; 2 p.m.; 6 p.m.