*You may have heard that Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey has removed their trademark elephants, the ones that generations of circus fans have enjoyed, from the show. Having been thrilled by the elephants for the first time decades ago, I was curious about how they’d fill that void.
When I caught up with ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, he assured me that we’re in for a treat. He also educated me about a longstanding circus tradition: evolution.
“There was a time when the greatest attraction at the circus was the incandescent lightbulb,” the 40-year-old Iverson told me by phone. “And people came from miles and miles to see it — we filled whole tents full of folks. When the elephants left, it presented an opportunity to do what we’ve always done. We’re always reinventing ourselves — that’s the beauty of the circus.”
“With this new show, we still have the world’s greatest menagerie — lions and tigers, rescue dogs, horses, donkeys, pigs, kangaroos, llamas…and ice! We have ice and ice skaters,” Iverson continued, with an enthusiasm that’s absolutely contagious.”
I was born and raised in Michigan, and I can honestly say I’d never been more excited about ice than I was when Iverson talked about it!
“It’s an intergalactic space odyssey, and there are great projections that reflect off of the ice that literally transport your imagination to the planet we’re going to — it’s stunning,” Iverson continued. “I’m riding around in this space ship the whole time. It’s hilarious to me, because I’ve always been skeptical about black people going into space! I’ve been with the show for 20 years, and I’ve done everything from being a part of a living carousel to presenting fictional dragons, to now going to outer space! That can only be done at the circus.”
In case you missed that ethnic reference (or the picture at the beginning of this feature!), that’s right! The ringmaster of Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey circus is African American. He’s the first black ringmaster in the circus’ 200 year history.
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