Introducing the very first No Joe Schmo, featuring Kevin Venardos of the Big Apple Circus!
In 2003, People Magazine featured Kevin Venardos on their list of the 25 Hottest Bachelors. But unlike most of the other bachelors on list, Venardos wore a rhinestone-encrusted tailcoat, stirrup pants, and riding boots to work. At 23, he had become the youngest ringmaster in the history of the circus.
Being ringmaster is more than wearing a sparkly outfit and pointing at stuff and singing. It’s about forming a bond among generations in one venue. This weekend, when the Big Apple Circus opened for the season in Queens, every seat was packed with ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages.
Title: Ringmaster for the Big Apple Circus
Official title: Ringmaster, not ringleader. A ringleader would be Tony Soprano.
Graduated from: Ithaca College, BFA in musical theater
Languages spoken: Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, English
Previous jobs: Singing Ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s The Greatest Show on Earth (6 years); various performing engagements in Las Vegas and Macau, China; taught musical theater workshops in Brazil
Background in the circus: None. I went to Ringling Bros. once when I was 7, and I only remember elephants pooping and guys with big shoes. I never anticipated working as a ringmaster.
How he got the job: A year after graduating from Ithaca, I was in New York City auditioning for everything from Broadway shows to singing at High Holy Days services at synagogues in Brooklyn. I answered an ad for ringmaster of Barnum & Bailey’s and got the job [in October 2000].
What you love most about your job? Like in an office, you don’t always like everyone you work with. But at the circus, everyone knows your business – there’s no escape. The silver lining? For better or worse, we are our family. When shit hits the fan, we pull together for each other. I also love the traveling that comes with the job.
What do you like least? It’s tough to be on the road all the time – having a relationship with someone is a challenge. Also, what I do is so unique that moving to another dimension of the world of performing is going to be a leap.
What makes you unique as a ringmaster? I’m tall – 6’4”. But I don’t have the typical handlebar moustache or the potbelly, and I don’t carry a whip. I sing a lot in the show; I’ve got a voice that lends itself to this world.
What was your interview for Ringling Bros. like? I sang a few songs, read some copy to a group of auditors, and then spoke with the talent coordinator, who gave me his business card and said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard about the circus, but I can assure you it’s a legitimate business.” A few months later, I was with my dad, who had just retired and was about to leave New York. My flip-phone buzzed in its holster, and it was Ringling Bros., asking me if I was still interested in being the ringmaster for the Greatest Show on Earth.
Most embarrassing moment? I stepped in elephant shit in front of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden. Another time, I accidentally said “Hello, Trenton!” at a crowd in South Carolina and got booed.
What makes a successful show? A great part of the success of a circus is good PR leading up to it: the novelty of this thing that wasn’t there yesterday, and is gone a short time later.
One show you’ll always remember? My first show in Madison Square Garden, in spring 2002, was the first event held there post-9/11. You realize all these families are coming to find some relief and joy. It was tangible evidence that we were doing something good that people really needed.
What’s your work attire? At the Big Apple, my house is a 30-foot-long trailer that’s 50 feet away from the tent. So my commute to work is about a minute, and I just throw on sweats or workout clothes. In the tent, changing to costume only takes three minutes. Ringmasters have a historically equestrian association, so for shows, I wear riding boots, stirrup pants, a tall hat, and tailcoat. At Ringling, I wore a tailcoat made specifically for me with thousands of rhinestones, which must have been in the $10,000 range.
Any truth to Water for Elephants? The book is an extraordinary textual account of real things, but I don’t like the animal component and the treatment of elephants in the book and movie. It’s reinforcing what I see as simply untrue. People in the circus are devoted to giving animals a higher quality of life, and I’m proud of them.
Favorite circus food? When I think of the circus, I think of the summer months outside, drinking cold beer and barbecuing sausage, steaks, and chicken with everyone I work with.
Best lesson learned: The only person who will get you a job is you. You can’t just sit there and wait for an audition – you need to make the job yourself, create the company, product, or service and market it. Be an entity unto yourself.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Interested in joining the circus? Kevin Venardos offers three simple steps.
1. Identify and hone your skill. Learn to love practicing – ritual is what gets you through the tough times of high pressure.
2. Identify companies you’d like to work for. Research others who have similar acts, and see what they’re doing to market themselves on YouTube. Create a kickass promo package with a well-edited DVD, 10 minutes or less.
3. Seek out the creative director or casting director – or whoever is responsible for hiring artists at that company. Then pitch yourself. In the meantime, volunteer your skills at festivals, and use those opportunities to get great photos to promote your work.
Unless noted otherwise, all photos are courtesy of Kevin Venardos. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinVenardos.