Columbia College Chicago Theatre Dept. Alum’s Career Takes Her from Comedy Studies to Circus Clowning to Ringling Brewery Company Manager’s Post

Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department alum Scarlett Sullivan ’11, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, has been named general manager of the AL. Ringling Brewing Company in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Sullivan started in the job on March 18, 2024. The company, which was founded in 2020, is housed in the historic AL. Ringling Mansion in downtown Baraboo, former home of circus showman AL. Ringling and now a popular tourist attraction. The brewery’s goal is to honor the heritage of the Ringling Brothers, former variety performers – first-generation American sons of German immigrants – who founded what became the legendary Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1884.

Scarlett Sullivan

Sullivan herself performed as a clown with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after graduating from the Columbia College Theatre Department, where she immersed herself in the school’s nationally acclaimed Comedy Studies program.

“I’m originally from New Jersey and grew up as a competitive dancer,” Sullivan says as she describes the journey that took her to the Ringling job. “In my teen years I . . . took a sharp turn into focusing all of my time and energy into studying comedy. . . . I found out about this incredible school, Columbia College Chicago, that had a Comedy Studies program. . . . I majored in Theatre and I met my people in the Comedy Studies program and graduated in the spring of 2011. In November of 2012, I attended an audition . . . for Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. It seemed like a long shot for me being fresh out of college, but I went with a ‘let’s give it a try’ attitude. . . . To my utter surprise they offered me a contract and asked me if I was okay leaving everything behind and living on train tracks. Of course I had to follow my improv instincts and said, “Yes &” and left Chicago to live on a train. I toured with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus for nearly five years, . . . performing for millions of people across the U.S. and Mexico. It was there I met my husband Menelio, who was a Paraguayan motorcyclist in the Globe of Death, and started my family whilst living on a circus train. This easily surpassed any dream I had as a kid. After departing from the circus with my family in 2017, I . . . moved back to Chicago. . . . I then began teaching, coaching, directing, and performing improv and clowning at the Annoyance Theatre, Otherworld Theatre, and The Second City. I’m most proud of my work with the Comedy Studies students as that program was a HUGE part of my story.

“I recently moved to Baraboo, Wisconsin, . . . with the hopes of getting more circus work. Baraboo is a historic circus town where the original Ringling Brothers resided in the early 1900s. . . . Being that I have a background in performing, management, and specifically circus, the position of General Manager seemed to fit like a glove! Patrons love to ask me about old circus stories, what living on a mile-long train was like, and what our favorite craft brew is! I perform [as a clown] on Sundays once a month at the brewery and am loving every minute of my life. . . .

“Columbia College Chicago not only gave me the tool box that I needed to become the performer that I am, but also connected me with all the right people that I would allow to shape my career and life! Say ‘Yes &’ always, even if the opportunity is a wild as a circus. . . . I’m super proud to be a #ColumAlum.”