Well this is a doozy of a can of worms to open up, and it always seems to be a topic of heated discussion within the circus community. I personally have been greatly affected by this issue over the past 18 months or so, so I thought I’d delve in…
What is Undercutting?
Undercutting is when a performer either unintentionally, due to lack of knowledge about what the market value of their acts are, or deliberately performs for a fee less than the going rate for an act or acts.
Why is it a Bad Thing?
Because it means that no circus performer will ever get a decent pay cheque from that company again. Most corporate clients will to try and talk down the price of entertainment anyway; as it is not something that they necessarily place a high value on (we’ll get to that bit in a minute). As such, once they’ve received a product for a certain price, there is no way that they will pay more for what they perceive to be the same product, even though there might be a high discrepancy in the quality of the act, or even a different type of act entirely.
So why would anyone do this deliberately?
Often performers, especially young or emerging performers feel like what they are charging is too much for what they have to offer. I mean, $200 for a 5 minute performance seems like a great rate, right?
Well, no. Let’s break it down.
How much money have you spent on purchasing and maintaining your equipment? Have you spent time and money gaining certifications so that you can legally rig it yourself? How much have you spent getting costumes made for you? Or how much time have you invested in making them yourself? How much have you spent on classes, or hiring a venue to train and rehearse in? How many hours have you spent training your act, and rehearsing specifically for that gig?
Still feel good about charging $200 for that gig?
I didn’t think so.
See, it’s all about perceived value.
Perceived value refers to what a client thinks an act is worth. This directly relates to what you can charge for an act, and even how you are treated at the gig. Generally, the more expensive something is, the more we value it. Therefore, if you are charging appropriately, you will be seen and treated like the amazing performer that you are. If you are undercutting for a pittance, the client will not only treat you as expendable, but they will perceive a circus performance as something that they could probably do without for their next event NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOUR ACT IS. In this way, you’ll be creating a lose-lose situation for you and the rest of the circus community in your area. Not only do you not receive a sustainable pay cheque, but you’ll deteriorate the market value of circus acts in your region and piss off every other performer in your town to boot.
Remember, you are a professional! The product you are selling is your act/s, and your fee should reflect the hours upon hours of work that you have put into perfecting it. And whilst most performers have to supplement their income with teaching or some non-circus related day job, the ideal is that you are able to support yourself of your performance alone. Sadly, since large corporate gigs are often few and far between, you want to make sure that the fee you are charging is sufficient to keep you housed and fed until the next one.
Wrong again, I’m afraid!
If you an adult and are performing at professional gigs, such as for corporate events, then you can consider yourself a professional performer, and thusly should be charging corporate rates, for the above mentioned reasons. If you are uncomfortable labelling yourself as a professional for whatever reason, consider passing over the gig to someone who is.
If you are doing such gigs booked through a training school, you STILL need to be paid appropriately. They may want to take a cut, that’s fine, most agents etc. will do the same, but it shouldn’t be more than about %10. If they are charging corporate rates but not passing the bulk of that fee on to you then you are being taken advantage of. If they aren’t charging appropriate rates to clients on the basis that you are a student or similar then they are undercutting AND taking advantage of you!
Keep in mind, if you have a day job/normal career and are just training circus as your hobby and taking corporate gigs, you will be doing a professional performer out of that gig. Someone whose income may rely on such performances. Be especially wary if that someone is your circus teacher!!
There. Now that I’ve no doubt stirred up some controversy (at least I hope I have), leave me your take on the situation in the comments segment.