BWW Interview: Ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott Tells All About FULLY CHARGED
BroadwayWorld recently had a chance to chat with Brian Crawford Scott, the Ringmaster of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's new show, FULLY CHARGED. Brian Crawford Scott is the 36th Ringmaster in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's illustrious 141-year history. Here Mr. Scott tells us what it's like to work for the Greatest Show on Earth.
JD: Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to speak with BroadwayWorld.com. I was so excited when I found out I would be interviewing you because being the Ringmaster seems like such an interesting gig. Now I know that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been around for over 140 years at this point. It really is a staple of American entertainment. What do you think keeps attracting audiences to your show?
BCS: I think that the number one thing that brings people back is that it's real. What we do out on the circus floor every day is 100% genuine. I mean, the danger is real. When those guys are hopping from shoulder to shoulder on the high wire, there's a real threat of them falling down. There's no special effects. There's no phoniness, if you will, and that's what's so amazing about it. To think that that man is spinning a huge log around his head and it's not computerized special effects and it's real, that's really exciting and that's what keeps bringing people back to the circus.
JD: I read that you have a degree in Musical Theater. How did that prepare you for this job?
BCS: Well I'll tell you, I don't think that any other degree would have prepared me to do this job. [Laughs] Being a Ringmaster is about stage presence and about your voice. Ringling Bros. Ringmasters are also singers, so the training that I got to perform in Musical Theater between acting and movement and presence and being able to sing and being able to use my voice, particularly on what is a very demanding schedule here in the circus, was absolutely 100% essential. I'm very grateful that I had the training that I had and think that it segued perfectly to me working here in the arena.
JD: What inspired you to audition for Ringling Bros?
BCS: Actually it was a friend of mine who was working on a completely different project with the gentleman who was the writer for our show, FULLY CHARGED. He had mentioned off-hand to my friend that, "Oh, we're looking for a Ringmaster," and she said, "I know someone who would be perfect," so she handed off all of my information to the writer and he handed my information to the producers and everyone. That's how I got my foot in the door for this audition. But when she told me about it, I was a little hesitant. I had never seen the circus before. Before auditioning, I had never even been to the circus. But I did some research and I was like, "You know, this circus thing might be something I could actually do." So I signed up for the auditions, and like I said, I already had a foot in the door, and I impressed them! I got the job!
JD: That's a great story. So do you think not seeing the circus before helped you or hurt you in the creating your stage persona as The Ringleader?
BCS: A little bit of both. I think that my never having seen the circus before really gave me a fresh perspective on what I was doing and allowed me to be myself and to bring my own ideas into the mix. But at the same time, there was a very steep learning curve for me when I first got here. There's a whole new vocabulary when it comes to the circus as opposed to what I had been working with before in theater. There are all these languages and all these cultures and all of these people from all over the world. So there was a bit of catching up to do in that respect.
JD: And what was the rehearsal process like? I can only imagine how intense that would be given how large this show is and how many animals and stunts are involved.
BCS: Well, the rehearsal process is an entire month of pretty much six days a week, 9-5, coming in and building the show from scratch. What's nice is that there's a really solid mix of people who have been with the circus for years and years and years and know what they're doing as well as people who are just coming in for the first time and bring some new creative energy into it. As far as the animals are concerned, we've got people who have been here for a really long time and really know what they're doing with the animals and know how to handle them. It's smooth bringing the animals into a new show. And then you've got people like me who have never been here before that get to learn about the environment and play a little bit. But it's a full time job, the rehearsal process, and we spend that entire month working almost every day to create this brand new show. You show up one day and work all day and think, "Man! We've got it! This is really great!" and then the next day it's completely different. Everything's been changed and you have to start from scratch again, but it was a lot of fun to be so openly creative and to know that what we were doing was the first time it had ever been done before.
JD: That sounds like a lot of fun. It sounds like a challenge, but a lot of fun.
JD: So Ringling Bros. has a wide collection of animals that are in the show. What is it like working with them?
BCS: The first time I got to watch those Asian Elephants walk by me, I was stunned. They're absolutely magnificent. That feeling of working beside them and getting to see them perform all the time, it never goes away. Being able to be alongside an elephant or watch a man kiss a tiger isn't something that everyone gets to do every day. It never gets old. It's always amazing to see.
JD: Are you scared of any animals that you work with in the show?
BCS: [Laughs] Well I actually do not work with any animal specifically or directly. We save all that for the professionals, for which I'm grateful. Just like there's danger for the people working on the high wire or the strongmen or anybody, there's danger working with the animals as well. That's part of what makes it so amazing and so entertaining to watch. But yes, I keep a safe distance. [Laughs]
JD: [Laughs] Understandable. I'd be a little intimidated to share the stage with the animals. Now what is it like working with the other performers in the show?
BCS: I find it amazing. When I first got here, I was blown away by the level of discipline and athleticism from the different performers that I work with. I mean, we've got guys that used to be on their country's Olympic team that are tumbling down the track. The dedication to what they do and how much they have to work and practice is humbling, in a way. You watch how hard they work and you think, "Man! I need to work just as hard to do what I do really well." So I was impressed by the get-go by how hard everybody worked. And it was really fun to try to stumble through some words in a couple different languages and learn about everybody's cultures.
JD: I read that Ringling Bros still travels by train, very much in the same way they did over 100 years ago. Do the cast and crew still travel by train as well?
BCS: All of it. We all travel by train. I live on the train, all of the performers live on the train. The horses and elephants and all of the animals travel by train with us and all of our costumes, set pieces, and lighting equipment travels with us as well.
JD: What city has been your favorite stop on the tour so far?
BCS: Oh my goodness! Well, I grew up in California in San Jose, and we played there which was a lot of fun. It was actually the same week as my birthday so there was a lot of celebrating going on. That was a lot of fun to show my home what I've been working on and what I've been doing. I also loved performing in New York City. I was living there before I got the job, so it was really fun to go there and see all my friends. I think those nostalgic places that I've lived in and have emotions for have been the best stops so far.
JD: You mentioned the costumes earlier, and I've seen some pictures of the beautiful costumes by Tony Award Winner Susan Hilferty. The ones you get to wear look amazing, but they also look really big and heavy. Can you talk about what it's like to wear those costumes every day?
BCS: The costumes are brilliant. I've never had costumes built specifically for me, and that was mind-blowing. But you're right. They are incredibly heavy. They're incredibly thick, and they're not meant for hot weather. Like when we were in Houston, Texas and it was 105 degrees, it was tough to put on that Ringmaster jacket, but it looks fantastic and it's so much fun to wear. It really embodies what a Ringmaster is when you put on that jacket and top hat. I enjoy it despite their weight.
JD: What is the best part about doing such a kid and family friendly show?
BCS: I think the best part is when I can look into the audience during the performance and see the kids with their huge eyes and their jaws on the floor and then look next to them and see their parents and grandparents with the exact same looks on their face. When we say, "Children of All Ages," it's really true because when you come to the circus, you become a child again, and to watch the fifty year old man and the five year old girl just be in so much awe and wonder by what they're seeing is really rewarding.
JD: That sounds great. Now I know that Ringling Bros. has three circuses currently touring the country. What makes FULLY CHARGED different from the other two?
BCS: Like I said before, in our rehearsal process we create the show from scratch. So all of the acts and all the things that people see in FULLY CHARGED have never been in a Ringling Bros. circus before. So this show, these acts, and the amazing things we do are brand new for this show. Likewise for our sister show, DRAGON, and the smaller one-ring show, BARNUM BASH, they are similarly completely unique because they've been reconstructed. All the things that people see in DRAGON have never been in a Ringling show before. Everything in FULLY CHARGED is brand new as well. That's actually another reason why people like to come back to Ringling because it's always new. Every year, even though we have two or three shows, every year it's a different show that people get to see. The fact that it's real, live, in your face and that it's never the same thing twice, it's just incredible.
JD: Sounds fantastic. I'm really looking forward to seeing the show. Is there anything else you'd like to share with the BroadwayWorld readers?
BCS: I'm just as excited to see them as they are to see the show.
JD: Well thank you so much, Brian, for your time. It was a pleasure speaking with you, and I look forward to seeing you at FULLY CHARGED.
BCS: Fantastic! Thanks a lot, man.
PHOTOS: Brian Crawford Scott as The Ringmaster in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's FULLY CHARGED.