The Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey® Circus train rolls into Cleveland Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena, and on board will be Priscilla Iverson--the wife of Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson and mom to Matthew and Lila.
The all-new production, DRAGONS, celebrates the year of the dragon on a 90-city US tour. The Cleveland tour is Wednesday, October 17 - Monday, October 22. Click here for tickets, starting at $15.00.
Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson was front and center when the circus was in Cleveland in 2010. I interviewed him then. Nearly two years later, Johnathan is back, presiding over another phenomenal cast of circus champions--his wife, Priscilla, among them.
I talked with Priscilla in September during the tour stop in Stockton, California. Dancing since 8 years old, she's from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She's the Line Captain of the DRAGON-themed circus, overseeing the entire show, along with the production manager. She also displays her dance moves in the show, all while being mom to 7-year-old Matthew and 3-year-old Lila.
"Life on the road is an adventure in every sense of the word," Priscilla said. "We're together 24/7. We work and play together."
Priscilla is responsible for the pre-show, where the audience can get up close and personal with the performers, getting autographs and taking pictures. It's during these moments, that her little ones are right there, taking in the action, seeing mom at work. "Every time they're at the pre-show and they see me, they run towards me screaming, 'Mommy!' All they want is a hug and a kiss and they get it."
The circus provides a nursery and a school. Manna Kettles, who I also interview, is the teacher aboard the circus train.
Since life on the world's largest privately-owned train is quite an experience, school hours are unique for 7-year-old son, Matthew. When the show is at 7 o'clock at night, Matthew is in school. That means Saturdays and Sundays. During show breaks, mom and dad visit Matthew in class and 3-year-old daughter Lila in the nursery.
Like any school, there's homework and Matthew has that too. "I go to Michael's [craft shop] to get all the craft materials and help him with his projects," Priscilla says. Being hands-on, she adds, helps her learn more about US History. She became a US citizen this past summer.
Aside from school projects, Priscilla says the kids are involved in extracurricular activities aboard the train. Lila takes ballet classes with the show dancers. Matthew takes acrobatics from a Mongolian acrobat, juggling from a Hungarian juggler, Martial Arts from a Chinese martial arts expert, art from the show's head painter, and piano from the lead keyboardist in the circus band.
Our objective as parents is to give our children as much exposure as possible to a variety of things, even if they don't particularly like it. In addition to the travel and our family outings, we want our children to know that their possibilities are endless.
It's that same spirit of achievement that landed Priscilla with the circus in the first place. After being a dancer and teaching the art form in her native Brazil, she landed an audition with the circus. However, the ad did not specify Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus. Instead, it read: Audition for dancers with strong skills in Classical Ballet, Modern and Jazz Dance to perform for a year with an entertainment company in the USA.
There were three days of auditions, working alongside the director of the show, who she thought was the choreographer. Turns out that choreographer was Phil McKinley, savior of "SPIDER-MAN Turn off the Dark" on Broadway. Priscilla assisted McKinley with the choreography. She was among the first Brazilian dancers to join Ringling Bros. at the end of 2000. "Dancing is like giving music a visual life," she says of that opportunity."
Later, Priscilla would meet her husband, Ringmaster Johnathan Iverson. Here's how she describes the man you'll see center stage in Cleveland.
He's not only the ringmaster--Johnathan is an incredible man, husband, mate, friend, etc. He is so intelligent. OK, now I will talk about being married to the Ringmaster. It is very cool. He is the voice of the show. Everything happens at his voice command. He is the youngest and first African-American of Ringling’s history. He was named one of Barbara Walter’s most fascinating people in 1999. He's an incredible singer--with Opera training--and a handsome 6 foot 5 bald black man! Besides all that, I believe seeing him in scenes, helping fill arenas with his charisma and great presence, was what captivated me. It's nice when people approach me saying, “are you the Ringmaster’s wife?” I love it, because I know the weight of his greatness in this role."