The ringmaster or ringleader is often the most important and most-visible performer in the modern circus. He usually introduces the various acts and guides the audience through entertainment experience. Most modern-day ringleaders become an integral part of the performance, singing and dancing along with the other entertainers.
The traditional opening line of many circuses is the phrase "Ladies, and gentlemen, children of all ages...", drawn out in dramatic fashion. It not only signals the beginning of the main event, but it also assures the adults that it is okay to experience the child within and enjoy the show.
In the days before modern lighting equipment, it was the ringleader's job to literally "direct" the attention of the audience to the appropriate sections of the performance area, even as the previous act was being torn down or the next act was being set up in another area. Most performances were mute by nature, accompanied by resounding brass music. Therefore, the ringleader's big, booming voice was important as it cut through the clutter and excitement to announce the act.
It is also the ringmaster's job to create a sense of hyperbole whenever possible while introducing the acts. Declarations of the "biggest", "most dangerous", "amazing", "spectacular" and similar expressions are common, regardless of the actual caliber of the performance.
The ringleader is responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of the show — or at least the appearance of it. He may be called upon to fill time if an act isn't ready for their entrance in time.
A ringleader is traditionally attired in a bright, gaudy topcoat and tails — often red with gold trim — with a tall top hat. The outfit is designed to look like a gentleman's 18th century riding habit, and often includes a whip, a relic of when the ringmaster was the head of an equestrian act. It is generally accepted that this was first adopted by George Claude Lockhart on the orders of Bertram Mills in 1924, when Lockhart worked as ringleader for their Circus at Olympia, London (source: "The Doyen of Ringleaders", Don Stacy, "World's Fair", 1979)