“The Circus,” a four-hour PBS documentary about the big top’s history, finds one of its most forceful witnesses in Orlando.
Johnathan Lee Iverson, a former ringmaster with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, salutes the circus’ daring, clowns and enduring appeal. Iverson praises the “American Experience” program, at 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, for humanizing circus performers.
“You have this place that permits people to reach for their utmost, no matter where they’re starting from,” said Iverson, 42. “There’s a place for you. I think that’s a grand thing.”
The real world places limiting narratives on women, minorities and the disabled, said Iverson, the first black ringmaster in Ringling history. “The circus welcomes you to come as you are and dares to you to go beyond what you are,” he said.
He was with the circus from 1998 to 2004, then returned from 2009 to 2017, when Ringling Bros. closed. Iverson, who lives in Orlando, is writing a memoir about being a ringmaster, and he is doing several concerts with Opera Orlando, including one Nov. 16.
“The Circus” explores an art form that dazzled the public before radio, movies, TV or theme parks. The program profiles P.T. Barnum, James Bailey and the Ringling Bros.
“Circus never gets enough credit. I often call P.T. Barnum the Little Richard of modern pop culture,” Iverson said. “Circus is the art that everyone aspires to. They just don’t admit it. People are presenting art at the risk of their life. It’s different from standing on a stage and singing or being on a movie set where you have 99 takes to get it right.”…
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