Why does a performance cost so much?

I was recently offered a fire twirling gig, roving for 2 hours. Fine, I can do that.

The client offered to pay $50 per hour “to cover the cost of fuel”.

Whilst this sum would have indeed covered the cost of my fuel, I politely declined and explained to the client that no performer would perform for so low a sum. As, I gather, had several other performers that they had approached for the gig.

But why would no one take this gig? I mean $50p/h seems like a great hourly rate, right? And you’re doing what you love, aren’t you? So why do circus performances cost so much?

Let’s break it down and look at exactly what you are paying for when you pay a performer for a gig:

Contortion Cirkidz 2006Rehershals:

Most gigs are booked weeks in advance.  During this time, I am creating, choreographing and rehearsing an act specifically for that event. Some performers have a set routine that they always use for gigs, but as I like to be creative and keep things fresh, I create new and unique routines for each event that I perform at. It takes me a minimum of 3 weeks to prepare an act for a performance. My rehearsals often take place at unsociable hours, particularly late at night, to fit around my teaching schedule and rehearsal venue availability. I rehearse for up to three hours a day on each act. If an event requires multiple acts, or if I have multiple gigs approaching, I spend this amount of time of each act, every day, between receiving the booking and the event.


If I’m not rehearsing a specific routine for a specific event, I still need to train. Every day, I work on my strength, flexibility, and specific skills for hours each and every day. My strength and flexibility world soon abandon my person if I did not. I also use this as my up-skilling time, to work on new tricks and combinations.

I have been doing this for the past 10 years.

Now for both training and rehearsal I am lucky enough to have a choice of two fantastically equipped venues available to me free of charge, as well as plentiful space and a free-standing rig at home to train on. Most performers don’t have this luxury, and would have to hire a studio to train in. As such, venue hire would be factored into the cost of hiring an act

Equipment:Lyra 2005

Circus equipment can be considered a specialty item. It’s not like you can nip down to K-mart to pick up a cheap cyr wheel or lyra. In fact, items such as these will probably have to be custom made to accommodate each individual performer. As you can imagine, this is not a cheap exercise. I look at the purchase of equipment items such as these as investments toward future gigs, and as such part of the fee you pay goes towards paying off the equipment. Generic items, such as rigging hardware, silks, fire gear ect may cost less initially, but needs to be replaced regularly, as silks wear out and wicks need to be replaced frequently.


Just as some equipment would need to be custom made, so too do the costumes. Some performers get them made by professional (costly financially), some like to make them themselves (costly time wise. And financially). Me, I like a mixture of both. Again, spending money on costumes is an investment that will be factored into the cost of the act you want. If you have a specific theme for your event, that cost may be higher to accommodate this. Bottom line is this: if you want a professional performer who LOOKS the part, be prepared to pay for it.

11424_907388095948758_8845599445451260308_nPerformers as a business:

This covers day to day tasks involved in running any business, such as answering the phone, replying to emails ect. It also includes more specified activities like liaising with and inspecting venues for safety in regards to aerial and fire. These are the kind of activities that normal businesses employ full time secretaries or PAs to deal with. Since I’ve never heard of a performer that could afford a PA (I certainly couldn’t), we have to do it ourselves. It’s not hard work, but its time consuming, especially considering that for every booking I get, I get at least 10 enquiries that never eventuate to a gig, but the all have to be replied and treated as if they would lead to a booking, in case they actually do.

Whilst it may seem like performances are exorbitantly priced, at the end of the day, we’re not making a huge profit. I’ve not met any circus performers, or actors, dancers or musicians for that matter, that are absolutely rolling in it. There’s a reason that the “starving artist/musician” stereotype exists.

As always, I welcome comments.


Balls! (and what to do about them when you train)

Following on from my popular and now oft-quoted by my students post on how to deal with troublesome boobs whilst training aerials, this week I’m going to write about dealing with masculine anatomy whilst in the air.

I’m also going to use the opportunity to use as many euphemisms for male genitalia in a single post as possible.

Adjust and Modify

If a move or drop calls for the silk, or the trapeze or lyra bar to be between your legs you’ll want to adjust it to the side or slightly to the front so that it sits on the upper thigh to avoid crushing your twig and berries. Moves from hiplock on silks or rope in particular will need to be slowed and tweaked to avoid munching your junk, and care taken when doing further wraps from this position.

Work that Split

Having a greater range of motion around the hip region will help you in finding a comfortable place to place wraps and bars that doesn’t squish your wedding tackle. Remember you can use your hands to manipulate the silk out of the way too. If you find that your one-eyed trouser snake tends to cop a bit of a beating when executing drops, make sure that you keep your hips pushed forward and core and legs tight for the duration of the move.

Wear a Dance Support

This is a specialised under garment designed for use by ballet dancers to lift your joystick and your cherries up, out of the way and snug against your body to stop them cavorting around unnecessarily. Most lads find that this along with good technique and a bit of care is enough to prevent your love-nuts being crushed.

Clearly, I haven’t written this post from personal experience, but I asked for the input of several students, ex-students and fellow performers. These people should be thanked. So, thanks to Kurt Van Ryswyk, Alex Jean, Sam Whelan and Kenneth Gosnold. You guys are the best and I couldn’t have written this without you.

And for a few more penis euphemisms, here’s some Monty Python. Enjoy!

Phew! What a Week!

Hello avid readers! I’ve had a flat-out week of teaching circus, and as such  haven’t had time to write one of my frequently opinionated and always entertaining circus blog articles.

Instead, I thought I’d offer you a piece of inspiration instead. This picture of a performer on silks at 10,000 feet in the air sure has me impressed, I hope you are too.



Learning Aerials is a Process

It happens every time Cirque du Soleil or Pink come to town. Suddenly, my classes are booked to overflowing with people who have been inspired by said performances and want to learn those skills (and/or get bodies like said performers) for themselves.

A Guide to the Journey of One's Mind 2Sadly though, many of these people only last a few weeks before disappearing, the inspiration and determination having been shattered by the realities of circus training.

The most common phrase I hear in this situation is “But it’s so hard….”

Well, yes. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Like any physical workout, training circus is an incremental process and you may not see improvements straight away, which means that some tricks might be beyond you when you first start. But please don’t be frustrated or put off by this (I know, you want to learn ALL the tricks, NOW!). Stick with it, and I promise that you’ll be flying’ high with the passage of time.

Remember, when you watch performances such as Cirque du Soleil or any other such professional circus show, you are watching elite athletes at the top of their game and in peak physical condition. These performers train up to 10 hours a day on top of their performances, and in a lot of cases have been doing so since childhood.

Holding yourself to this standard when you train a beginner’s class for an hour a week is thereforeNet Ginnett 2011 2 unrealistic and only going to lead to disappointment. You wouldn’t jump in a pool once a week and expect to be swimming Olympic times within a month, would you? So don’t be so hard on yourself!

Stick with me and we’ll take things at your pace. We’ll build up your strength and flexibility slowly and safely to avoid placing undue stress on your body and getting injured. Slowly but surely, both of these factors will improve and you be attempting and conquering tricks that you never thought you’d be capable of. You’ll re-visit tricks that eluded you for weeks and find that you can demonstrate them flawlessly.

Learning any aerial apparatus is a process that takes blood, sweat, tears and above all TIME……but trust me you’ll nail those tricks eventually and we’ll have a lot of fun on the journey.

See you at class 🙂