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:
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
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.
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.