David Shipman considered himself unbelievably lucky to be invited to a private audition for the role of the ringmaster at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus - and he was pretty sure he just blew it.
"From the beginning, I thought I had made a total fool of myself," says Shipman, recalling his September 2012 audition in Georgia. "I had seen the movies, you know? 'Dumbo,' 'Water for Elephants,' and I had a preconceived notion of what a ringmaster was supposed to be. They said, 'We don't want a performer. We want you to just be yourself. We like your energy.'"
When the bosses asked him to freestyle a few of his own dance steps, the lifelong actor and performer nervously improvised a few goofy moves.
"I think I did, like, an MC Hammer move," Shipman says, laughing. "I was so embarrassed. So, I wrote it off. I thought, 'There's no way.' But I think because I had so much fun with it, they must have seen something they liked. They asked if I was still available. They offered me a contract to run away with the circus."
Today, Shipman, 25, is the third-youngest ringmaster in Barnum & Bailey's history. Beginning on Thursday, April 18, he will introduce Atlantic City audiences to the performers of what is better known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey returns to Boardwalk Hall for their new show, "Fully Charged."
The circus returns to Atlantic City for four days only, with shows Thursday, April 19, to Sunday, April 21, at Boardwalk Hall.
"I sing, I act, I dance a little bit," Shipman says. "It's a lot of fun. It's a European-style, one-ring circus. (The audience) can see the sweat, see that it's real. It's live. There is no faking anything. It is just real-life talent. And of course, there are the traditional things - the high wire, the jugglers, the elephants."
The international cast of performers includes the Lopez Family, best known for their knife throwing, outrageous high-wire stunts and synchronized riding inside a globe of steel. Mongolian strongman Mr. Power, Lady Lightning, award-winning aerial gymnast Sergey Novikov of the Ukraine, and the Vavilov Troupe - a six-man acrobatic troupe from Russia - will also be performing.
"It's high energy from the time the curtain goes up until the time the curtain closes," Shipman says. "We have an amazing knife-throwing act … it makes my palms sweat every single time I see it."
Shipman was young when he went to his first Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Pensacola, Fla. - just 2½ years old - yet the ringmaster can still recall the performance he attended like it was yesterday.
"Even at that age, I remember every single detail," Shipman says. "The clowns, the elephants, the jugglers, the ringmaster … I just remember thinking it was the greatest job in the world. That really started my passion for performing."
So far, he says, the job has been everything he could imagine.
"It's been a dream come true," Shipman says. "It's so cyclical for me to be the ringmaster. My third (tour) stop was Pensacola, Fla. - in the same arena I first saw the circus as a child. It was such a beautiful experience. It's the true testament to why it's the greatest show on earth. It really takes people out of the situation they are in … and you are automatically transported to being a 5-year-old kid. You suspend disbelief for those few hours."