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From The Big Top Into The Big World: A Ringling Ringmaster’s Final Bow

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson enters a ring in Fairfax, Va., during one of a final performances of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus.

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Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson enters a ring in Fairfax, Va., during one of a final performances of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus.

Marian Carrasquero/NPR

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus has been interesting audiences for a prolonged time. Its story goes behind 146 years — to about a time when veteran ball emerged and before Coca-Cola was invented.

But this estimable section in American story comes to a close on Sunday. After years of disappearing sheet sales and clearly unconstrained conflicts with animal rights groups, Ringling Bros. will theatre a final uncover in Uniondale, N.Y.

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson is one of hundreds of Ringling performers and organisation members with unusual talents who will be out of a pursuit come Monday. Recruited uninformed out of college, where he’d been study voice opening and training to be a veteran uncover singer, he became Ringling’s initial African-American ringmaster in 1998.

“Ironically enough, we will be a really final voice in a 146-year story of this show, so we will be a final chairman we hear to pronounce of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ — that is a furious small paradox, to be a initial and a final during a same time. we don’t know too many people who can contend that, in any industry,” he says.

In his scarcely 20-year career with a circus, Iverson married a associate performer — a Brazilian dancer incited prolongation manager — and lifted dual children while roving from city to city on a playground train. Now 8 and 12 years old, his children also perform with Ringling.

During a circus’ new line-up of shows in Virginia, Iverson let NPR into his world. Between performances, he navigates what comes next.

On a outing to FedEx to boat out veteran portfolios to impending agents, he reflects on a stupidity of job-hunting for playground folks — recalling a time consultants came to assistance them with their resumes.

“How do we do that with playground people? How do we assistance them write that out? How do we write a resume for superman?” Iverson asks. “It’s like, he flies, we know?”

Iverson and his family of 4 have lived year-round in a three-room cell on a mile-long Ringling playground train. As they transport from city to city, they collect magnets from a opposite places they visit.

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Iverson talks with his daughter, 8-year-old Lila Simone, in their home on a playground train. She and her brother, 12-year-old Matthew Felipe, have grown adult in a playground and both now perform in a ring.

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Iverson talks with his daughter, 8-year-old Lila Simone, in their home on a playground train. She and her brother, 12-year-old Matthew Felipe, have grown adult in a playground and both now perform in a ring.

Marian Carrasquero/NPR

About 120 performers and organisation members from Ringling’s “Blue Unit” have lived year-round on a mile-long playground train. A apart “Red Unit,” that concurrently trafficked a country, had a possess sight with a allied series of full-time residents.

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Iverson’s son Matthew Felipe gets prepared backstage; Iverson relates makeup. Matthew Felipe plays a younger chronicle of his father during a show.

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Iverson waits in a wings of a EagleBank Arena during George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., before one of a final matinee performances. Recruited by Ringling uninformed out of college, Iverson has been with a playground roughly half his life.

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Iverson waits in a wings of a EagleBank Arena during George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., before one of a final matinee performances. Recruited by Ringling uninformed out of college, Iverson has been with a playground roughly half his life.

Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Ringling performers and animals enter a locus in Fairfax, Va.

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Iverson greets a throng during EagleBank Arena on a spaceship. The final thesis for a Blue Unit’s opening is “Out of this World.”

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Big cat tutor Alexander Lacey commands lions and tigers during a performance. In Ringling’s final year, these animals, along with horses, were a show’s largest. Elephants were late from a playground in 2016.

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A performer soars by a air. The uncover facilities classical acts including clowns and tightrope walkers, as good as attempt motorcyclists and acrobatic ice skaters.

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A performer soars by a air. The uncover facilities classical acts including clowns and tightrope walkers, as good as attempt motorcyclists and acrobatic ice skaters.

Marian Carrasquero/NPR

“Every final artist needs me out there as their voice,” says Iverson. “It’s needed that I’m out there to benefaction them as a stately beings that they are. … They’re a biggest thing for those 8 mins or 12 mins that they’re doing their thing, and a universe needs to know … no one else does it. And a usually chairman who can describe that fad and fervour is a ringmaster.”

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After 146 years, a Ringling Bros. playground will theatre their final opening on Sunday in Uniondale, N.Y. By a final weekend, Iverson is still not certain what comes subsequent for him and his family.

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After 146 years, a Ringling Bros. playground will theatre their final opening on Sunday in Uniondale, N.Y. By a final weekend, Iverson is still not certain what comes subsequent for him and his family.

Marian Carrasquero/NPR