By Charity Apple / Times-News
January 31, 2013
Andre McClain, the newest ringmaster with The Greatest Show On Earth, likens the experience to what he knows best — training horses.
“I took it by the reins, like a horse. It was challenging at first, like any new experience, but I’m still making it mine,” he said. “I feel like it’s starting to gel now.”
This is the first time in more than 100 years that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have had an equestrian ringmaster, McClain said. Known as “America’s Favorite Cowboy,” McClain and his Appaloosa Comanche will take center stage when the newest show “Built To Amaze” (Red Tour), visits the Greensboro Coliseum for the first time Feb. 6-10.
This show, he explained, is a behind-the-scenes look at “literally building the Greatest Show On Earth — minute by minute.”
Dump trucks and hard hats worn by performers are part of the nonstop performance, which includes a gender competition between the boys (Team Blue) and girls (Team Pink).
“I’m a neutral observer,” McClain added. “I serve as the referee, if you will.”
The competition element of the show heightens the audience participation “and it teaches everyone, even the youngest circus-goer, that anything you do requires teamwork,” he added.
McClain is close friends with Jonathan Lee Iverson, the first African-American ringmaster in the circus’ history. McClain also served as Iverson’s understudy for 10 years.
“Me and Jonathan are like brothers. When I told him about being ringmaster, he said ‘Andre, I’m not worried about you. You know what to do,’ ” he said. “I consider it an honor to be allowed into this circle of professional performers. Everyone gets along. We are a city without a zip code.
Every ringmaster, McClain said, has his own niche.
“I try to get everybody in the crowd dancing,” he said.
This is his 11th year with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and although he never imagined being in a circus, much less becoming ringmaster, he said every night is a unique, thrilling experience.
“In all these years, this has not changed for me. Right before I go out on stage, I’m always nervous until the lights hit. It’s like the first show, every show. I just accept it and appreciate it,” he said.