Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

For ringmaster, one-year gig becomes role of a lifetime

TAMPA

Johnathan Lee Iverson says three kinds of people join the circus.

There are the circus babies, the ones born into it who carry on the traditions of the generations before them.

There are the runaways, the clowns, the people who see the circus as children and come back when they've grown up.

"I've met some trapeze artists who had corporate jobs or were in the military," said Iverson, the ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's circus, which opens here Wednesday. "They had that bug. They wanted to run. Not just run away, but fly away."

Iverson was the third kind of person, the kind that heard about an audition, saw an opportunity and went for it.

"I was on my way to a career in opera," he said. "I wanted to raise money to study in Europe."

Iverson auditioned and got the ringmaster gig in 1998. He became the first black ringmaster in Ringling's nearly 140-year history. At 22, he was also the youngest.

The directors were looking for a ringmaster who could sing. Iverson had plenty of experience. As a kid he traveled all over the world with the Boys Choir of Harlem. He went to a performing arts high school, then the University of Hartford. He thought he would have this new job for a year, tops. He didn't really know what a ringmaster did, but it sounded like a good pickup line.

Fifteen years later, Iverson, 37, still has his job with the circus, and a life too. He met his wife Priscilla Iverson, a dancer from Rio de Janeiro who is now associate production manager. They have been married for about 12 years and have two children who travel with them, Matthew Felipe, 8, and Lila Simone, 4.

The family has been together in Tampa Bay for the past few months while the 300-member cast and crew prepare for the new show "Legends" at the Tampa Bay Times Forum from Wednesday though Sunday.

The circus has a school and a nursery for cast and crew members' children. Matthew is taking piano lessons, Priscilla Iverson said. They're exposed to different languages and cultures.

"Every week we're in a different city. We can explore the best of each city," she said. "We're together all the time."

Johnathan Iverson grew up in the Central Park West neighborhood of New York City. He attended LaGuardia High School, the school that served as the inspiration for the 1980 musical film Fame. With the Boys Choir of Harlem, he sang for four presidents and with Tony Bennett, though he said as a kid he didn't realize that Tony Bennett was a big deal.

But he knew it was a big deal when they sang for Nelson Mandela at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1990 after Mandela's release from prison earlier that year.

"His presence was really moving," Iverson said. "Even my youthful arrogance couldn't cause me to see that moment as anything less than remarkable."

He knew about Mandela's struggles. Iverson's grandparents and mother were activists. He had an appreciation for the history he was witnessing. His own history as Ringling's first black ringmaster was a little harder to grasp.

"At the time it was really a catch-22," he said. "I knew what it meant intellectually."

But he was also disappointed. How far have we really come if the first black ringmaster is such a milestone, he thought.

He went back and forth about it. Then his grandparents came to a show. His grandfather reminded him there was a time when he couldn't sit where he wanted. Now they were there, watching their grandson lead the show.

"There is progress. There is something more," Iverson said. "In my little way, I've done that."

Prepping for the new show, the days are long and the rehearsals are hard. Priscilla assists the production manager to make sure every detail — costumes, lights, music, props, entrances and exits — is perfect. As ringmaster, Iverson acts as narrator and storyteller, so he and the band are the only performers in the entire show.

Becoming a ringmaster was like entering a club, he said. Other ringmasters gave him advice. It's a big responsibility, but it's also the best seat in the house.

"Once you have the stardust in your veins," they told him, "you'll never be the same."

Comments
Rays journal: Reliever Austin Pruitt pitches nearly six scoreless innings for second career save

Rays journal: Reliever Austin Pruitt pitches nearly six scoreless innings for second career save

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays RHP Austin Pruitt has started and worked out of the bullpen, in both short and long relief.But he did not expect to pick up his second career save Sunday by having to log 5⅔ innings, allowing only three hits whi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Floodwaters surge in Maryland town

Floodwaters surge in Maryland town

Crews were engaged in multiple water rescues and buildings collapsed in historic Ellicott City on Sunday evening as floodwaters raged through its streets following torrential thunderstorms, Howard County, Maryland, officials said.Maryland Gov. Larry ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Orioles game

Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Orioles game

So the team that just got back from a 10-day, 11-game road trip in three time zones is headed back out west for Memorial Day? The Rays travel to Oakland, Calif., Seattle and Washington, D.C. It's the first time they visited the West Coast on back-to-...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

ST. PETERSBURG — If you think the Rays are holding their pitching staff together with baling wire, duct tape and an overbooked shuttle to Triple-A Durham, a bigger story might be how their bats keep producing runs no matter who is swinging them...
Updated: 2 hours ago
RFK’s son: There was 2nd shooter

RFK’s son: There was 2nd shooter

Los Angeles Times (TNS)As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy approaches, conspiracy theories still abound.The latest to back the theory of a second gunman is the senator’s son Robert F. Kennedy Jr.Sirhan B. Sirhan, a ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Visa woes have summer businesses hiring Puerto Ricans

Visa woes have summer businesses hiring Puerto Ricans

PHIPPSBURG, Maine — Frustrated by red tape and visa limits on foreign workers, tourism businesses from Maine to Missouri are turning to Puerto Ricans who are fleeing a shattered economy and devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Bob Smith, owner of S...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

NEW PORT RICHEYDriver surrenders after crash that kills bicyclistThe driver Florida Highway Patrol troopers say struck and killed a bicyclist then drove from the scene turned herself in Sunday afternoon.Shanna Marie Rampino surrendered a 2000 Toyota ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A solemn display

A solemn display

Associated PressVisitors to Boston Commons in Boston last week pass 37,000 American flags planted to honor every Massachusetts resident killed in war dating to the Revolutionary War. The "flag garden" idea on Memorial Day started in Boston about a de...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized Sunday in Maine after he experienced low blood pressure and fatigue, a spokesman said. Just after 2 p.m., Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the 93-year-old Bush, said he was awak...
Updated: 7 hours ago
None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

TRINITY — No one was hurt Sunday morning after a fire broke out at a rehabilitation center.According to Pasco County Fire Rescue, Trinity Regional Rehab Center at 2144 Welbilt Blvd. is running on generator power after the blaze broke out about 10:30 ...
Updated: 7 hours ago