Jonathan Lee Iverson didn’t know he was blazing a trail when he took the fascinating job as the ringmaster of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus 13 years ago.
“With me as ringmaster you get to see barriers broken down and doors open and that is an amazing feat in itself,” explained Iverson who hails from New York. “Now the circus truly looks like the greatest show on Earth. It looks like what America looks like.”
|JONATHAN LEE IVERSON
In the role of ringmaster, Iverson is responsible for telling the story of the circus to the audience members. He also gets the chance to showcase his own unique talent in the show.
“The ringmaster is a host authority figure with a vibrant presence. There’s something about him that resonates with the audience and he helps tell the story of the wonderment that is happening on stage. He is essentially a glorified fan,The circus is the longest running hit show in the world.” Iverson said.
Iverson is no stranger to the stage. The married father of two performed with the Boys Choir of Harlem and has worked as an Opera singer before he joined the circus in 1999.
The Ringling Brothers purchased the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1907 and ran both circuses independently until 1919 when several of the Ringling Brothers who founded the circus decided it was too difficult running two circuses independently. The combined shows debuted in New York on March 29, 1919.
Although the circus suffered due to the Great Depression in the 1930s, it managed to stay in business during that difficult time and earned special dispensation from President Roosevelt to travel via train despite World War II-imposed travel restrictions.
During modern times, the circus has continued to get thousands of children and families clamoring to see the shows under the big top nationwide.
“I look forward to telling the story of people putting their bodies through the rigors to give people entertainment,” said Iverson. “All those myths and legends of African-Americans that people hear are literally shattered when they see me as the ringmaster. I’ve always felt like an ambassador to my nation, family and people.”
Iverson is the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus’ first African-American and youngest ringmaster. He joined the Boys Choir of Harlem at the age of 11 and was awarded the lead tenor position. As a member of the choir he had the chance to sing during intermission at the Luciano Pavarotti concert in Central Park, won second place in the Lena Horne Vocal Jazz scholarship and performed live in a Broadway show. He was named as one of Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People in 1999.
“I was in interesting company that year. There was Ricky Martin, Lance Armstrong and Monica Lewinsky,” Iverson recalled. “I thought it was very kind of her to include me.”
Still, nothing excites Iverson like the circus.
Barnum 200 Barnum’s FUNundrum will be roaring into the Console Energy Center from Nov. 2-6. Some ticket holders get the chance to meet the show’s performers and animals before the actual show.
“We’re celebrating 200 years of P.T. Barnum. There are 180 performers in the show and it runs for two hours. The show mixes technology tastefully, the music is amazing, people will leave singing,” Iverson said.