June 1, 2004
They Pay You To Do What?
Many children dream of becoming firemen or doctors or lawyers when they grow up. But as they grow older, new skills are developed and new opportunities arise, leaving many with careers they never expected to have when they were younger. And while most adults end up with traditional jobs, sometimes a career will take a very unusual twist and a person will land a job that they never envisioned, not even in their childhood dreams.
BLACK ENTERPRISE decided to profile four individuals who, through choice or happenstance, wound up with unusual jobs. They’re smart, productive, interesting, and — perhaps above all — having fun and getting paid to do so. Hailing from different areas in the U.S. and representing different age groups, they are as unique as their professions. Over the next few pages, we’ll introduce them to you.
Lord of the Three Rings: Johnathan Lee Iverson
It may be clichÃ© to dream of running off and joining the circus, but after graduating from college, Johnathan Lee Iverson did just that.
In 1998, Iverson graduated from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music in Connecticut with a degree in voice performance. He landed the coveted role as ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when his agent scheduled him to audition for a dinner theater shortly after his graduation. The dinner theater’s director also happened to be directing the 129th presentation of the circus, popularly known as The Greatest Show on Earth. The production was going to be the most lavish ever — costing about $12 million — and set to a score of Broadway-style music that required a singing ringmaster. Iverson had the perfect range for the score and won the role, making him Ringling Bros.’ youngest ringmaster, at 22, and the first African American.
Now 27, Iverson is in his sixth year with Ringing Bros. “It’s live entertainment; it’s the original fear factor,” says the native New Yorker who loves being able to control the entire circus with just the power of his voice. The three-ring circus is made up of around 180 performers and 80 animals. There are two separate groups of performers and each group tours about 45 to 48 cities a year. A new version of the show is done every two years.
Becoming Ringling Bros.’ youngest and first African American ringmaster garnered him much national attention, and he was even named one of the 10 Most Fascinating People of 1999 by Barbara Walters. When on tour, Iverson and his fellow performers live in a fully furnished, mile-long train. “We have a nursery, a school for the children, Bible classes, and every kid that has a birthday has a party, and everyone shows up.” He even married one of his fellow performers, the Ringling Bros. dance captain and assistant choreographer.
Looking ahead, Iverson wants to turn entrepreneur and produce film and television projects. ” I want to be able to put out exactly what I make and enjoy,” he says. “Every artist’s dream is to own their own career.”
Play for Play: Denene Millner