As the 36th ringmaster in the 141-year history of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Brian Crawford Scott has traveled all across America leading Fully Charged, the latest edition of the Greatest Show on Earth. With an amazing array of animals, acrobats, clowns and daredevils—including Brian Miser, the incandescent Human Fuse—Fully Charged is the ultimate circus experience.
Fresh off a run in Scott’s hometown of San Jose, Fully Charged continues its Bay Area tour engagement with a five-date stand at Daly City’s Cow Palace starting tomorrow (Sept. 1) followed by Oakland’s Oracle Arena Sept. 8-11. I caught up with Scott to discuss the how he came to be ringmaster, the unique challenges and highlights of heading the show, and the key to the circus’s enduring appeal.
What makes Fully Charged the Greatest Show on Earth?
Fully Charged is “the Greatest Show on Earth” because it has the unique ability to inspire and entertain families and children of all ages with live, one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime entertainment. Fully Charged is all about unplugging from the digital world and becoming energized by real live acrobats, performers, and animals from all over the globe. Only at the Greatest Show on Earth can you experience real people doing real death defying stunts–like our Human Fuse on his crossbow and our Strongmen from Uzbekistan–all the while creating your own personal and memorable circus experience. At Fully Charged we give just that.
You have a degree in musical theatre. What inspired you to audition as ringmaster?
The audition came right as I was finally settling myself into New York City and right when I had decided I’d like to start auditioning aggressively. A friend I had worked with e-mailed me out of the blue telling me that she had passed along my information to the writer for the circus (with whom she was working on another project) after he had mentioned they were searching for a new ringmaster. At first I was hesitant, having never even seen the circus before, but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity. Once I did some research and I discovered what it meant to be a Ringmaster in today’s Ringling Bros. circus, I knew that it would be right for me.
You get to do a fair bit of singing in the show. What are some of your other highlights of being a part of Fully Charged?
Performing is what I love to do, absolutely, but getting to perform alongside so many talented professionals from all over the world is just as rewarding. Coming from musical theater you meet plenty of people who are all actors, but with the circus I’ve gotten to meet high-wire walkers from Morocco, stilt-walkers from Trinidad, aerialists from Kazakhstan, and a human cannonball from Peru, Indiana. The amalgamation of cultures and talents has been an incredible environment in which to perform. Along with all the great people, the chance to travel across the country by train has been fascinating. I’ve traveled to states I never would have visited and experienced America from the unique perspective of the railways. It’s something I’ll never forget.
For the longtime circus fans out there, how do you think your style compares with your predecessors?
I think that compared to recent editions of the Greatest Show on Earth, I represent a return to a more traditional Ringling ringmaster. However, what’s unique to me and Fully Charged is our focus on energizing the audience. With my youth and collection of really energetic songs, I think I am a Ringmaster who is about fun and excitement and, more importantly, doing everything I can to give that fun and excitement to the audience.
As a San Jose native, what’s it like to be back in the Bay Area as ringmaster?
Incredible. Returning home leading the circus has been like a dream; I never imagined I would be able to bring what I do back home to the Bay Area. The support from my family and friends has been fantastic and I feel very fortunate to be able to share what I love with the place that raised me.
Children love the circus. What does Fully Charged have that can appeal to older kids and adults?
No one gets tired of seeing truly thrilling feats presented right before their eyes, and Fully Charged is filled with exactly those kinds of memorable and exciting acts. A man shooting across an arena from a crossbow while on fire is just as exciting to a four-year-old as it is to an 84-year-old, and that’s what we deliver with our Human Fuse (and that’s only one example of the never-before-seen action we offer at Fully Charged). Of course, to go along with the action we also have the Ringling Bros. horses, tigers, and elephants. They show the incredible relationship between people and animals that you can only see at the Greatest Show on Earth, and is fascinating no matter what your age.
Did you watch the recent PBS miniseries Circus? What did you learn from it?
I was able to catch pieces of episodes here and there, but not until after I had already begun working with Ringling Bros. I thought it was very entertaining, and very similar to my experience in some ways. It really helped emphasize the individuality and tradition of the circus world as a whole for me. It also gave me my first basis for comparison between circuses, which helped me to better understand the significance of Ringling Bros. to the circus world and circus history.
For you, what’s the most challenging part of the show each night?
By and large, staying healthy is the hardest part. My performance is very challenging for me vocally, and since my voice is my biggest asset as a ringmaster I have to be present and mindful during every performance to make sure I keep my instrument healthy and don’t hurt myself in any way. Staying healthy extends into everyday life as well with making sure I get enough sleep, avoid certain foods, and get exercise. It’s a lot of work to make sure I’m able to perform, but the challenge is part of the fun.
Although the Greatest Show on Earth has been around for over 140 years, some groups like PETA are still critical of its commitment to animal care. As ringmaster, how do you deal with this?
Ultimately, I have to just shrug them off. There are times when the critiques get under my skin, but since I’ve been with Ringling Bros. I’ve only seen the animals treated with the utmost respect and care, so I take comfort in knowing the truth and just allow any accusations or criticisms to roll off my back.
What are some memorable “off script” improvisations you’ve had to make when something unexpected happens?
I think the most memorable “off script” moment was when the soundboards crashed and we were without amplified sound throughout the entire arena for about 30 minutes. Coming up with lines to fill the dead space in some acts and just trying to be heard at all kept us all on our toes. The whole situation had us laughing for some time afterwards.
Something interesting about the show itself that goes completely over the audience’s head is…
I don’t think anyone really understands the amount of work these performers do every day just to maintain the performances seen in the show. When we’re not performing, it’s rare that our acrobats and performers aren’t working. Every day I see jugglers juggling, acrobats exercising, and aerialists practicing to perfect their current acts as well as create new acts for future circuses. With practicing and performing, 12-hour days are normal for just about everybody to ensure a great show now and in the future. That level of dedication is really humbling and inspiring.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t with the circus?
What every stage actor would be doing, of course: waiting tables in Manhattan while hunting for my next chance to perform.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Fully Charged performs in the Bay Area at the Cow Palace in Daly City Sept. 1-5 and Oracle Arena in Oakland Sept. 8-11. For tickets and upcoming dates for other cities, visit www.ringling.com. Visit Brian’s ringmaster Facebook page here.
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