The king of the ring
Ringmaster loves life with the circus

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (July 30/99) - Ben Niwman liked the circus so much he didn't want to leave, so he didn't.

He's been at the circus now for six years and has no plans to change his occupation as "boss."

As it is in show business, Niwman had to start out slow and work his way to the centre ring.

"I started in the concession stand, selling popcorn, peanuts -- stuff like that," Niwman recalled. "Then, a few years ago, the ringmaster retired.

"Four guys tried out and one other guy was chosen first," he said. "After a couple months, he decided he didn't like it, so they asked me."

A couple years later in the job and Niwman still gets a big kick out of it.

"I enjoy it, I really do," he said, smiling wide.

There is a bit of a tradition at the circus, he said, where the younger workers will imitate the ringmaster, while he says his lines.

"The only thing I don't like is these circus kids imitating me," Niwman confessed. "They learn all my lines and make fun of me. I was doing the same thing to the other ringmaster when I was a kid and now they're doing it to me."

He says life on the road can be a little tiring at times with the bad weather and such, but, for the most part, he says the circus is a pretty easy life.

"A lot of people think we work from sun up to sun down. That's not true," he said. "We're here all the time, but we're not always working.

"We put in about three hours in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and about two hours during the show. But it's pretty much like a regular job."

Circus life isn't for everyone, he says. The people he works with all have one distinct quality that makes them "circus people."

"People like myself and these people here, we're all just kids. Kids who went to the circus and never left," he said. "We liked the circus so much, we wanted to try it for ourselves."

He's happy with his job and has no immediate plans for a career change, but if he did, he'd like to do an animal act.

"If I don't want to be ringmaster anymore, I probably won't go back into sales, so maybe I'll work with animals," he said.

"They're just like having little kids -- you feed them, you bathe them and you look after them."

The job of ringmaster carries a certain air about it, he says. When he calls for them, the acts perform: the jugglers juggle and the clowns clown. But when the lights go out and the bow tie comes off, he's just another employee, tearing down and setting up and moving down the road.

"I bring in the acts, everything happens with my words, so during the show I'm the boss of all the performers," Niwman said. "During the show, that's a special feeling.

"The position of the ringmaster is like any other employee of the circus, but in the eyes of the public, he's the boss.

"But in reality I'm not the boss," he admits. "Only in the eyes of the public."