Monday, February 10, 2003

Ideal job ends up being a circus


Young ringmaster does balancing act

By Melissa Knific
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday, Kevin Venardos wakes up to brew coffee in the place he calls home.

Complete with an entertainment center, track lighting and a futon, this may sound like an ordinary inhabitance, but it's far from it.

Venardos lives on a circus train.

"It's a city without a ZIP code," he says. "I have all my accommodations right here."

IF YOU GO
• What: 132nd edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday
• Where: U.S. Bank Arena
• Tickets: $13.50-$55 at Ticketmaster, 562-4949, www.ticketmaster.com, and U.S. Bank Arena box office
The 26-year-old is the youngest person ever to have landed the position as ringmaster with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

The 132nd edition of the show will be in Cincinnati Wednesday through Sunday.

Venardos' performing debut was at age 8, when he played a green crayon in a second-grade play. It was in the middle of attending Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, N.J., when he discovered his passion for theater, playing roles in The Music Man and Harvey, as well as singing in the student choir.

In 1998, Venardos graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater. Growing up in the shadow of New York City, early aspirations led him to believe that Broadway was the place to be.

On with the show!

His first projects included touring with a musical adaptation of Curious George playing "the man in the yellow hat," and making appearances on CBS' Guiding Light.

Then in 2000, he auditioned for a position as a circus ringmaster, unaware that the job was with Ringling Bros. That year, Venardos joined the 130th edition of "The Greatest Show On Earth."

When the previous ringmaster suddenly became ill, Venardos' rehearsal time was cut from four weeks to a week-and-a-half before he would have to stand before an audience and give his first circus performance.

"It was almost trial by fire," he recalls, quickly adding the famous circus line, "but the show must go on."

Two years later, Venardos is making his second tour as the 33rd ringmaster and seems to be enjoying every minute.

"It fits like a glove," he says. "It's the most fun I've ever had in my life. When you find something that you can do well and you can excel at, it's a wonderful, satisfying feeling."

Venardos looks at his position as the emotional driving force of the show.

"I'm not playing a role per se," he says. "The essence of acting is believing in imaginary circumstances. The circus need not be imagined. (The events) are real."

Although Venardos loves his job, he also recognizes its challenges, specifically the long hours.

A typical week consists of nine shows, taking place Wednesday through Sunday.

Last year, 31 shows were performed in 15 days while touring in New York.

Venardos stresses that pacing himself throughout the day is an important factor in maintaining a sense of balance.

"Show business is not always one endless party," he says. "Those nights when you think you've earned the right to go out and grab a beer with the clowns, you need to reel yourself out of it."

Even when Venardos has listened to his body, there are still times when he is thrown off-balance by an embarrassing moment.

"There's nothing like when your boot runs over a steaming elephant turd," he says. "There's a lot of poop at the circus."

Aside from the uncontrollable, Venardos says that he has overcome the fear of performing in front of a large crowd.

"When I first started ... the size was unnerving," he says. "Now I know that it would probably be more emotional to perform before five people that I know very well than 17,000."

E-mail mknific@enquirer.com




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