“I remember almost everything about it,” he said. “I remember sitting in the audience with wide-eyed wonderment. The elephants were doing these amazing tricks. I remember the jugglers. I remember the clowns. I remember just being in total awe of everything that was happening. And I remember thinking that the ringmaster was the coolest person and the luckiest guy in the world to get to do it every single day.”
Today, Shipman is that lucky guy. He is the ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Presents Fully Charged, Gold Edition, running Thursday through Sunday at Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum.
Billy Orr, executive director of the Mississippi State Fair Commission, said he is looking forward to the return of the circus, which he says always draws a large crowd.
“We do business with them about twice a year,” he said. “They come here very regularly.
They have No. 1 showmen of all kinds, and they have all the best equipment. We are always glad to see them come because we know we will be working with pros.”
Shipman is one of them. After seeing that circus at 2 in his hometown, he fell in love with performing.
“I knew what I wanted to do with my life, even at that age,” said Shipman, who attended a performing arts elementary school and continued his performance studies at the University of Central Florida.
Eventually, he wound up working a 9-to-5 job, but he still had the itch to perform.
“In 2012, I made a promise to myself that I was going to put myself out there more and do everything that terrified me,” he said. “Performing really scared me because of the idea of rejection. But I read a quote one time that said, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zones.’”
Through Facebook, Shipman discovered that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was holding auditions.
“It was probably the hardest but best decision I ever made to pursue this professionally,” he said. “I actually missed the audition by a week and a half before I saw the advertisement posted for it. I thought, maybe they are still looking for someone, and on a whim, I sent off my information.”
He got the call.
“They gave me speeches, let me sing a little bit, and they taught me to dance in three counts of eight. Then they said, ‘We want you to freestyle like Usher.’
“I thought I made a total fool of myself, and that it was probably going to go viral on YouTube at one point. But they called me a week later and offered me a contract. It’s been such a blessing. It was just a dream come true. I get to run away with the circus, and how cool is that?”
At 25, Shipman views his life and career as cyclical. For the past six months, he’s been touring with the circus.
“Now, I get to be part of the first show that really started my passion for performing,” he said. “I’m actually the first person in six generations to leave the city of Pensacola. My mom is my biggest supporter.
“When I made the decision to do more things that terrified me, she inspired that. She pushed me to not settle for a life that didn’t seem right because it was normal. She said she raised me to dream, not be normal.”
And when the circus stopped in Pensacola, Shipman’s entire family came to see the show.
“I performed as the ringmaster in the arena where I first saw the circus as a child,” said Shipman, explaining that his job is to keep the audience excited throughout the show.
Forty-four weeks out of the year, the circus is in 44 different cities.
“It’s not the acts,” he said. “It’s not the lights. It’s seeing the reactions of the children in the audience. When you go to the circus, you are automatically transported back to being a 5-year-old child. There’s such purity about it.
“Because I remember so much about my first circus, when I look out and see the smiles, the enjoyment and total amazement, it reminds me why it really is the greatest show on Earth. It takes people away from their stresses and puts them in a totally different mindset. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that I could be a part of a memory that lasts their entire life.”