By Darlene Donloe
COMPTON — For 29 years, the UniverSoul Circus has been entertaining audiences with feats of human skill, amazing stunts, joy and Black pride.
The fun-filled show is currently playing under the Big Top at the Crystal Casino & Hotel in Compton through May 14.
“We get to share our culture with everyone and each member of the audience leaves with a message: that everyone belongs,” said Cedric Walker, founder and CEO of the UniverSoul Circus on the circus’ website.
It’s an action-packed, nonstop celebration designed as a two-hour family-friendly entertainment experience with a cast of international performers.
Since its inception, there have been 15,000 performances seen by more than 25 million people.
The ground-breaking Atlanta-based show was launched with a vision of creating a circus with a large percentage of people of color performing.
The interactive show features co-host Zanda “Zeke” Charles, who is the face of the circus; Detroit natives Fresh the Clowns; acrobats, the Wheel of Death, aerialists, horses, stilt walkers, spinning skaters, high-flying motorcycles and the hilarious Safiso, who keeps the crowd entertained with his comical, audience-participatory antics.
For anyone who grew up going to the circus, the familiar smells and sounds can invoke pleasant, heart-warming memories. It’s all meant to inspire audiences.
And then there’s Cheyenne Rose Dailey and Donald “N.O. (New Orleans)” Long, two co-ringmasters who embody the magic of the circus.
Long, 41, a single father of one son, has conducted the lively show since 2012. The former improv comedian is tasked with bringing a comedic, interactive, high-energy vibe to the show. He keeps the circus tent rockin’ with music, dance contests and even a hilarious game of Simon Says.
I recently caught up with Long to talk about his role with the UniverSoul Circus.
DD: How did you get the job?
DL: All I can say is God is good. I was doing comedy shows locally in Atlanta. A lot of improv. The show toured around the country. The circus got a scent of the show and came to see me. That’s how I got the initial invitation to join the circus.
DD: Why did you want to work with UniverSoul Circus?
DL: Because of the opportunity to travel. The invitation was from the owner directly. Cedric Walker offered me the job. Being Black-owned is incredible. The joy it brings, the following it has. To be a part of it felt unreal. To be the head of it … God is good.
DD: Did you go to the circus as a kid?
DL: No, I didn’t. Growing up in New Orleans we don’t get a lot of big productions. There is not a lot of Broadway-type stuff that comes through New Orleans. In Atlanta, it was all that people talked about. I had heard of it.
I tell people there are plenty of actors and comedians, but very few ringmasters in the circus. I know this because here in Los Angeles we have just been extended until Mother’s Day, May 14. People are coming out. We hear the laughs and the cheers. To come to Los Angeles where they are around all things entertainment, where they have a lot of choices and they choose to come to see us … that speaks volumes.
DD: How does someone become a ringmaster?
DL: Great question. One, when the owner called me and asked if I was familiar with what a ringmaster does, I said, “No.” He said to YouTube it and look up UniverSoul Circus and get a feel for what they were looking for. After that, I realized why they reached out to me. I’m a comedian. I’m also into physical comedy. That’s where I thrive.
I like to act, sing, dance and move and fully entertain. Not every actor can announce. Not every announcer can dance. There are a lot of facial expressions. It’s about energy. I am responsible for making you feel welcomed and happy for the time you’re there. Sometimes we do the show three times in a row, back to back to back. It requires a lot of energy.
DD: Why should people come to the circus?
DL: It’s a chance for you to get away from your problems. Come and change your mood. Support a movement of our ownership and management that brings joy. The theme this year is, “We All Belong.” It’s one big testament. It’s the owner’s vision for our show. There’s the circus and then there is the UniverSoul Circus.
DD: Tell me about the life of a ringmaster. Describe your average day.
DL: We are on tour from late January to early December. We work 10-11 months out of the year. Everybody in our show loves what they do. It’s hard to be away from your home and your family. You’re in hotels all year. We do a lot of rehearsing. It’s a family, one big family.
DD: Do you ever get to go home during the schedule?
DL: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays — those are our weekends. Sometimes we have a chance to go home. Most of the time our off days are rest days. It’s a fun group. It’s so unique to be part of a circus. Our production team, they have a passion for lighting and sound. From the performers to our crew and production people, when the show is over, we all go home proud.
DD: What is it that most people don’t know about the circus?
DL: When people describe chaos or something being hectic, they use the word circus. It’s not accurate. We have the most organized and properly run production out there. It’s a heartbeat once it starts. It’s one motion until it’s over. People say circus as a negative — that’s not fair.
DD: Why are there two co-ringmasters?
DL: Our owner wanted to have a beautiful female that little girls could look up to. It’s cliché for men to hold the position of power. If I can be an inspiration to little boys, that’s fantastic. We want Cheyenne to be an inspiration to little girls. We want them to know it’s possible for them to be a ringmaster. We like to be trendsetters.
The UniverSoul Circus is at the Crystal Casino & Hotel, 123 E. Artesia Blvd., Compton, through May 14. For tickets, visit https://www.universoulcircus.com/.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.