Rapping with the Ringmaster


Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson | Photo Credit: Feld Entertainment

Until last year, I hadn’t seen a proper circus since I was ten. (Cirque du Soleil is awesome, but it’s not a circus in the historical sense). Then, a couple of years ago, I stumbled across the blog of a man who was (at the time) the Boss Clown of one of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s train tours. (Ringling runs three tours: Red and Blue are train tours and travel on two-year tours, so if RED is in your city this year, BLUE will be there next year. The Gold tour is a truck caravan, and visits venues too small for a full three-ring circus.)

That experience taught me that clowning is really just another application of the same skills we use in improv: mime, humor, irony, and “yes, and.”

It also made me want to see the circus.

Conveniently, the Ringling Bros. tour comes to my city around my birthday every year. Inconveniently, it took me until 2011 to make it to a show, but it was worth it.

In preparation for my experience, I followed the twitter feeds for Ringling Bros., and for the ringmaster of the tour I was going to see: Johnathan Lee Iverson. His feed is a blend of fan shout-outs, daily updates, and interesting observations about life in the circus and life in America.

I contacted him via Facebook, he put me in touch with the publicity folks at Feld Entertainment (the Ringling parent company) and earlier today, in the newest issue of All Things Girl, he’s our man of the moment.

He’s my favorite interviewee that I did by email.

An excerpt from the piece is below. You can read the whole article here.

ATG: Aside from your existing training as a performer, did you have to learn any new skills in order to succeed as a circus performer, or in order to understand all the different types of performers you work with?

JLI: The single greatest thing you need in the world of the circus is an open mind. Every performance is like an organism, meaning it’s a living thing. No two shows are ever alike. When you are performing with so many performers from all over the world who possess specialty crafts with particular needs, you must have a mind that is braced for the unexpected.