The 18-year-old leads the Summer Circus Spectacular with her own form of circus art.
It’s not quite 10 a.m., but already the Historic Asolo Theater is bustling with activity.
The Circus Arts Conservatory opens its 10th annual Summer Circus Spectacular in just more than a week, and the ornate performance space is alive with excitement as performers begin rehearsals.
Onstage, “America’s Got Talent” competitors Sasha Korolev positions herself in a headstand on top of her father’s head. The duo’s up-tempo stage music plays on repeat as they hash out the details of their routine. Nearby, Dolly Jacobs stretches out on a yoga mat as stage crew shuffles props on and offstage.
Behind the curtain, in the backstage area, one voice cuts through the commotion.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” it booms. “Prepare to be amazed!”
The voice — a commanding, articulate presence — belongs to Bailey Sloan, the show’s 18-year-old ringmistress. She’s running her lines with Director Pedro Reis, making sure every word of the script is ready for opening night.
It’s an important job. As ringmistress, Sloan is the face and voice of the show. Despite her obvious gift for the job, the 10th generation circus performer and Sailor Circus graduate says it wasn’t a role she ever imagined for herself.
A NATURAL FIT
Sloan’s family circus history is on her father’s side. When she was in fifth grade, he suggested she try Sailor Circus, like he had when he was her age.
She says it was love at first tightrope. In her year eight years in the program, she explored just about everything it had to offer. She walked the wire, flew trapeze, performed Spanish web — anything she could get her hands on.
But it wasn’t until an unexpected injury that she found her niche. After suffering a herniated disc her senior year of high school, she reluctantly opted to sit out of the more physically demanding activities and focus solely on ringmaster duties while she recuperated.
She was a natural.
“It was so much fun,” she says. “I loved all the different costumes and introducing the acts. I had such a great time. Taking a step back, I got to focus on just being ringmaster and give it 100% of my attention. I realized that dedicating yourself to one thing and perfecting it can make you stand out just as much as doing 20 different things.”
Where most people break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of public speaking, Sloan says the role is the perfect fit for her personality. Growing up, she was a talkative kid, always jockeying for her place in the spotlight.
She laughs thinking back on it.
“I guess the only way to shut me up was to give me a microphone and a script and put me onstage.”
AN ART OF ITS OWN
Sloan is sitting at the kitchen table in the theater’s upstairs break room, looking over her script, which is filled with handwritten notes in the margins.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the job, she says, is the training involved. Like any performing art, when it’s done well, it looks easy.
“It’s not just going onstage and talking,” she says. “There’s a lot of training and hard work that goes into this. It might not be the same as it was rehearsing for trapeze, but I put in just as much effort.”
Being an effective ringmaster is about more than just memorizing lines. Equally important to capturing an audience’s attention are dialect, pacing and bringing the script to life with a personal touch. The audience needs to trust her — and connect with her.
“You need to know your environment,” says Sloan. “Under the big top, my challenge is to be this tiny person with a big personality. You need that to draw in a crowd that big. Here, we’re in an intimate, 300-person theater. I use a more conversational tone; I slow the pace down. But I still need to have the commanding presence of a ringmaster.”
To perfect the script, Sloan works in collaboration with Reis. Together, they develop the performer bios and circus history before what Sloan says is the most important part: adding her own flare.
“Just like singers, every ringmaster has their own thing that makes them special,” she says. “My approach is to be confident and well-spoken, but also approachable and friendly. People say they become a character when they perform. I’m still myself — I just put forward the characteristics I want to embody most.”
After finishing her first year at Florida State University, Sloan has continued her ringmistress duties at the school’s Flying High Circus. She’s happy to continue her family’s tradition of circus arts, and she says she’s excited to be back in her hometown, performing in the show that helped her find her voice.
Reis rounds the corner and walks briskly into lounge. Break time is over.
“I have a mark for you,” he says. “Ready?”
Sloan gives an enthusiastic “yes,” grabs her script and heads back to the stage. Even without a microphone, her voice fills the theater.
“Ladies and gentlemen — prepare to be amazed!”