Stephanie Monseu has a pretty interesting résumé.
“I started as a fire-eater,” she says. “And then kind of grew into juggling, stilt-walking, whip cracking. I’ve done rolla bolla, I’ve done static trapeze.”
Now Monseu has joined the Big Apple Circus and is taking center stage — er, ring — in her first year as ringmaster of the show, which arrives at National Harbor on Thursday for a five-week stay. But wearing the top hat doesn’t mean she’s the top dog — that title probably belongs to one of the pups in animal trainer’s Jenny Vidbel’s perennially popular all-rescue animal act.
“The ringmaster isn’t the boss of the show,” Monseu says. “There is an entire set of people with great passion for circus who really make the show happen. There’s a director and a writer; there’s a ring crew who run at top speed, making sure everything is staged. There are technicians making sure that the environment is magic. And then you have the band — those guys create this invisible set of wings that lifts us all.”
It’s important, Monseu says, to maintain that sense of teamwork with all of the artists. “Before every show, I see everybody. We wish each other well,” she says. “Through the entire show we all check in with each other.” (Monseu says the clowns are particularly helpful when it comes to audience reconnaissance. Since they interact with the crowd, they can alert her and the artists about anything going on, such as a particularly scared child or a guy who won’t get off his phone.)
Monseu sees her ultimate responsibility as something that goes far beyond booming, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS” and introducing the next act. “The role of the ringmaster, for me, is about being a bridge between the superhuman feats that are happening in the ring and the ordinary human beings that [the performers] really are,” she says. “The audience sits around the perimeter of the ring watching as dreams take flight, basically, and my role is to kind of open the door to the audience and say, ‘We’re really all the same. These people are just like you and I; they just work really hard in these areas.’ ”
The most important quality a ringmaster needs, Monseu says, is enthusiasm — and she’s got that. “When I’m introducing their acts, I’m not just reading from a script,” she says. “I am really excited to share with the audience: ‘Look at what my friends can do. You’re going to love it.’ ”
National Harbor, 165 Waterfront St., Oxon Hill; through March 24, $15-$65 ($95 for VIP pass).