Ringling Bros. sets up the Big Top in Chicago

There are plenty of parenting-is-like-a-circus jokes: Juggling kids’ schedules, the high-wire act of parenting a teenager, the sedan that looks like a clown car and, of course, lots of poop duty.

If you go

Arena Nov. 4-14

  • Tickets start at
  • Parking:

United Center Nov. 17-28

  • Tickets start at
  • free parking

90 minutes before the show, come down to the floor to meet the
animals and performers.

But run that by Johnathon and Priscilla Iverson, and they laugh. They see your hectic schedule and raise you … an actual circus. Johnathon Lee Iverson is the ringmaster (big hat, booming voice, lots of sequins) of Ringling Bros. Barnum& Bailey’s FUNundrum tour, and his wife, Priscilla, is a dancer in the show. The couple and their two children, 5-year-old Matthew and 19-month-old Lila, live on the world’s largest privately owned train, traveling around the country with The Greatest Show on Earth.

That train rolled into Chicago Thursday for a three-week stop, performing at the Allstate Arena Nov. 4-14 and at the United Center Nov. 17-28.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I couldn’t imagine a better situation,” says Priscilla, who met Johnathon when she joined the show from Brazil in 2001. “We’re together all the time, on the same schedule. One of us will finish a number and run backstage to give the kids a kiss.”

Life on the road is hectic, but surprisingly normal for the kids, the Iversons say — or as normal as life can be when your close family friends are Mongolian strongmen. The circus has a school, a nursery and even a babysitting co-op. The kids learn about the Hoover dam in history class, then visit when the circus stops in Las Vegas.

And they get to see the circus as often as they want. Lila is crazy about Lyca, the dog in the show’s cowboy act, and Matthew is taking lessons from the show’s acrobats. They catch the show from the wings and between acts, sneak a few minutes with mom and dad.

“They call it the greatest show on earth and it is,” Johnathon says. “There isn’t anything out there that generates the same excitement. As ringmaster, I get to share it with kids on the road every day, and as a father, I get to share it with my own kids. I get to look over and see their faces light up and you can’t beat that.”

Plus, he says, they really know how to throw a birthday party.

“Other children might have a clown – our kids have the best clowns in the world,” Johnathon says. And the lion tamer doesn’t hurt.

Chicago holds a special place in the Iversons whirlwind nine-year marriage. On Nov. 15, 2001, the two were married — in between shows — at the United Center, and will celebrate their anniversary there this year.

You can catch the Iversons and the rest of the FUNundrum cast at one of 19 shows this month. For a full schedule and details, visit the Ringling Bros. website.

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