Brian Crawford Scott had never been to the circus when he auditioned to join the one known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
By the time he saw his first three-ringed extravaganza, the San Jose, Calif., native had been hired as the ringmaster of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
“I never went as a kid. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. But I was excited for it. I saw some videos and clips on YouTube of old ringmasters and I thought, ‘That's something I can do,'” he said in a phone interview from New Orleans.
“I got the opportunity to go and see the other productions of the circus that were ... running at the time, so that kind of gave me a little head's up. But for the most part, it was just trial by fire.”
As “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey: Fully Charged,” the latest edition of the venerable institution, electrifies Chesapeake Energy Arena this weekend, Scott, 25, is tasked with keeping the audience plugged into the spectacle.
“As the ringmaster, I feel like it's all about being the link between the audience and what they're seeing,” he said. “Aside from that ... Ringling Bros. ringmasters are now also singers. So I get the opportunity to sing and perform alongside these really awesome acts.”
While many Ringling Bros. performers are raised in the circus life, Scott's parents worked in the software industry in the San Francisco Bay area. In high school, a friend asked if he wanted to audition for a school play. He got a part and discovered he enjoyed performing.
After graduating with a degree in musical theater from the University of Northern Colorado, Scott moved to New York City to pursue a show business career. Less than a year later, he was working as a waiter and performing in local productions when Ringling Bros. held ringmaster auditions.
“My mother was funny because she knew I was going to the audition, and she was very enthusiastic and she was trying to be a good mother and not blab and talk too much about it. ... And then when I told her, she was ecstatic,” Scott said.
“My father didn't know about the audition, and after the audition, it was only two days later that I signed the contract. ... So I called him up after I'd already gotten the job and said, ‘Hey, Dad, so how's it going? Oh, good. Well, I've got some good news: I'm gonna leave New York and go join the circus.' ... He was like, ‘You're gonna do what now?' But they're both very proud of me.”
Scott landed the job in September 2010, started working on the new edition of the circus a couple months later and gave his first performance as ringmaster in January 2011 as “Fully Charged” opened.
“I thought I was totally, 100 percent prepared ... until they opened up the curtain and I stepped out to do the national anthem, and I looked at the literally thousands — thousands — of people sitting in these seats. And I giggled. I'd never performed to that many people before, and it just totally struck me,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and realizing the immensity of the production and how many people we were going to reach was really, really exciting.”
He is just the 36th ringmaster in Ringling Bros.' 141-year history. Even after more than 500 performances, he still laughs at the clowns' gags, thrills at the death-defying acts and remains in awe of the majestic Asian elephants.
“At first it totally blew my mind because ... I'd worked at most with a 30-member cast of a musical, and now I'm working alongside 100 different performers and a 300-member crew total. So the scale of it really just kind of swept me away. But it also was fun to be immersed in all these different languages and cultures. I mean, I'm used to working with a bunch of other actors, but instead now I'm working with a high-wire troupe from Morocco and oh here's some strong men from Eastern Europe and oh here's some jugglers from Argentina,” he said.
IF YOU GO
‘Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey: Fully Charged'