It’s that time of year… the circus is back in town! We’re going tomorrow night, and I can hardly focus on anything. I did have to calm myself long enough to focus on speaking with esteemed Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson. I got to interview him before our big night, and he shared some fantastic insight on what’s in store for us, and how he lives the life of a ringmaster and keeps up with the ever-changing show.
We started out our conversation talking about what it takes to be the ringmaster and what Iverson is responsible for during the show.
I have to take care of myself and be aware of what’s going on at all times. You develop a hyper-awareness to what’s happening even when you’re not looking. The circus is truly a living organism. It has a mind of it’s own, and it’s constantly changing, and during the show there is so much unpredictability. Being the ‘big boss’ is merely an illusion. As ringmaster I have to accept that the show is the star, and that I’m the voice of what’s going on.
Number one: keep my composure, stay alert, and keep a sound mind. One of the Ringling musicians once told me, you never knew how exhausting keeping focused can be.
What do you do to get ready for each show?
First off, show up! Sometimes that’s easier said than done; but being there, both mentally and physically, is the most important part, and that’s true for all of us. For me specifically, I do a little bit of vocal warm-ups, but I also relax a bit, to get centered. I think about the challenges that may arise, so I feel prepared. I’ll also do some push-ups and stretching. Then, when you put on the costume, you’re putting on that personality!
Do you have a hard time not being ringmaster outside of the circus?
A trapeze artist is never not a trapeze artist. Nobody is playing a part, we’re living a role. I don’t go outside and command everything happening, but that hyper-awareness is something that I’ve developed over the years and I tell my son and daughter… I SEE EVERYTHING. You think I’m not looking, but I KNOW.
What makes this particular Ringling Bros show LEGENDS?
Every Ringling show is legendary, and we have all the aspects you’ve come to love. We have prancing pigs, racing horses, and brave rescue dogs, but for this show we also delve into the mythological, the imagination. We present a wooly mammoth, a pegasus, and you know what? Your son would like this, their poop evaporates into glitter and magic! Stay tuned for that. But at any Ringling Bros show, know that your time is safe and well-spent with us. There are no subliminal messages, this is a family friendly show. Come, relax, enjoy, be amazed.
I asked my seven year old for some help with questions. Do you live at the circus, what’s your favorite circus snack?
Actually I do live at the circus! We all live on the world’s largest privately owned train. We all have our own little compartments we can live in as we travel from city to city. The dining car is called the Pie Car, and there’s a separate food truck we can take to the venue, called Pie Car Jr. That’s a way for all of the performers and crew to be able to grab something to eat while they’re working. I feel like you have to have a big American breakfast when you can. On Sundays, when I have three shows, I always get an EggMac, our own eggy sandwich with meat. I deserve it on those days!
Did you want to be a ringmaster since you were little?
Actually I hadn’t thought about being a ringmaster until I was asked about this job. I have been singing all my life however. I was in the Harlem Boys Choir growing up, and that taught me so much. It taught me how to sing, how to present myself, how to respect one another, and how to be an ambassador. I was fresh out of college and actually approached about being ringmaster. I thought to myself, what a wonderful opportunity! Not many people get to say they were a ringmaster, it’s a pretty exclusive club.
If you get any free time, what is your favorite part about visiting Washington DC?
We love getting a chance to visit the museums and see the sights. The last time we were here I got to visit the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and I was so taken back by how reverent it was in that space. Just being there, you can feel it’s hallowed ground, and you can feel the peace. My kids are some of the luckiest in the world, they come with me here, they get to go to Hershey park, Legoland, they even got to go to Disneyland and Disney World in the same year. I tell them I only dreamed of being so lucky when I was their age.
We can tell Johnathan is well suited to bring us this weekend’s Ringling Bros Circus at the Verizon Center. Check this link for schedule and discounts. And stay tuned in a few days for pics from the show!