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SALT LAKE CITY — Johnathan Lee Iverson has been the ringmaster at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey for the last 16 years.
“That’s one of the, I think, highlights, or really most endearing things about being a part of this great American tradition, is that people come with their memories,” Iverson said. “Because that’s what we do. We’re memory peddlers. We’re happiness hustlers. We spread joy all around the country. People come back and they respond and they tell you all sorts of stories about what the show means to them.”
Both as part of the show and the pre-show experience in which children get to step on the arena floor, Iverson has gotten to be a part of American children’s memories. He said at a recent performance, a woman introduced herself and her daughter before the show, saying she had met him when she was a child attending the circus. Another family told him their grandmother had just died, but they felt they needed to continue their tradition of going to the circus together.
“People come with their woes, they come with their losses. People are very candid,” Iverson said.
Iverson said this year’s show, “Legends,” will be a tightened-up and streamlined version of the old-time big top performance.
“The reality is you have to trim things. And it’s not necessarily economical, but it’s respecting the audience you have and the audience that you’re getting,” he said. “We’re at a point now where we never lose the spirit of bringing the spectacle and the unusual, but in a lot of ways we’ve trimmed the fat. It’s not as big, in my opinion, as it used to be. There is a lot of technology that is properly used. It’s a sleeker show, a slimmer, a trimmer show.”
He noted the downside of a technology-minded audience, saying that sometimes, attendees can get caught up recording the moment instead of enjoying it.
“People are missing out on the magic of coming together and enjoying a live event,” Iverson said. “You have to record every single thing and before you know it you are missing the experience of being there.”
Iverson said he hopes the fast-moving show will capture people’s attention and that the creative team has been planning with that goal in mind since last November. While they are using technology in a smarter way, he also noted that they are using one tried-and-true method that he knows people love: storytelling.
“People love stories. The reason why country music does so well, the blues does so well, or any good music lasts and does so well is stories,” Iverson said. “People want their bedtime stories. … Legends was born out of that.”
The circus will be in Salt Lake City Sept. 24-28. Tickets can be purchased at smithstix.com.