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Circus Performer

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Are you interested in traveling, animals, or just a career that is a bit unorthodox?

Then check out a career as a circus performer. It is exciting, and sure to keep you on your toes.

What is a Circus Performer?

A circus performer is someone who lives for the rush of entertaining others, often in a very unusual or even macabre way.

Becoming a circus performer is a highly unusual aspiration, and will require an array of specialized entertainment skills or abilities.

A circus performer is most often referred to as an artist.

No matter what capacity they perform in they almost always prefer to be called an artist.

What Does a Circus Performer Do?

There are countless things that a circus performer may do to entertain the patrons of the circus that employs them.

Some juggle, some do acrobatic displays, and some will perform amazing or dangerous feats like human blockhead acts or sword-swallowing acts.

Work Opportunities in the Circus Performer Industry

Circus Performer Job Description

There are many roles to fill while working as a circus performer.

There are acrobats, clowns, ventriloquists, magicians, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters, mimes, acrobats, and many more unusual acts.

Top Circus Performer Jobs and Careers

  • Clown
  • Magician
  • Fire-Eater

Where Can a Circus Performer Work?

Most circus performers will find work with a specific circus or carnival that will employ them consistently.

Others will need to look for work more frequently and will operate as self-employed contractors.

Some will specifically work at large festivals, while others enjoy working with smaller organizations.

What It’s Like to be a Circus Performer

Is Being a Circus Performer Hard?

Being a circus performer can be hard at times, as much of their time is spent on the road with members of their circus.

Being a circus performer can mean significant time away from home and family unless they travel the performance circuit with the circus.

Is a Circus Performer Job Stressful?

Being a circus performer can be stressful, particularly during the festival season when there will be constant touring and many back-to-back performances.

It can also be stressful during the off-season when work is lean, though many circus performers have a job that they maintain in the off-season.

Common Circus Performer Work Day

The work day for a circus performer can vary considerably depending on how they perform and whether it’s a performance day or not.

During a performance day, the circus performer will often eat their meals with other artists.

They will then make any preparations they need for the day’s showtimes.

Each circus performer will have a specified number of shows that they will perform per day or location.

After each show, the circus performer will often have time to rest and prepare for the next show.

On off-days, the circus performer will generally practice their act or develop new skills.

Circus Performer Tasks & Duties

The duties of the circus performer will vary depending on what they do and how they perform.

Some circus performers may even have multiple duties that are unrelated to their main performance, like helping to sell tickets or helping to set up and tear down the circus before and after each show.

Circus Performer Work Hours & Schedule

Being a circus performer means unusual hours and schedules.

The hours and schedule each circus performer will work will be highly dependent on whether it’s a show day, an off-day, or a travel day.

Circus Performer Dress Code

The dress code for each circus performer will be unique to their act.

Clowns will have a unique look, just as mimes, stage performers, and other performers will.

Does This Career Field Embrace Work/Life Balance?

Since most circus performers travel with the circus they work with, performing is their life.

They have very little time that isn’t spent at the circus or performing.

Circus Performer Salary & Income

Someone working as a circus performer doesn’t do it for the money, just like most artists.

They make enough to survive, but they aren’t highly paid.

How Much Does A Circus Performer Make?

The median salary for a circus performer is $35,360, with the lowest reported wage of $16,640 and the highest being $74,880.

They may also make tips, depending on what they do and the payment arrangement they have with their circus.

Overview of the Circus Performer Industry

There is little career progression as a circus performer.

Generally, someone who works as a circus performer does a specific act, and they don’t change what they do unless they master a new skill or act.

  • Is Circus Performer a Good Career? A circus performer often loves what they do, even in light of the lower pay. They love to entertain people, and that is the entirety of their job.
  • Circus Performer Job Outlook: There is little data on the job outlook for a circus performer, due in part to the unusual nature of the job and how uncommon it is. They are counted as self-employed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which makes any aggregated data relatively unreliable.
  • Demand for Circus Performers: People love circuses, and with the rebound of many traveling carnivals and circuses following the recent pandemic the demand is expected to grow. Data on exactly how much growth, however, is scarce.

Circus Performer Facts

Here are some interesting facts about circus performers:

  • The art of juggling has been around since ancient civilizations in Egypt, Rome, the Aztecs, and more
  • Highwire artists can specialize in up to 8 different types of highwire styles, such as tight-wire, slackwire, and funambule
  • The first modern style of circus first appeared in 1768 but has history back to ancient Rome
  • The first circus in the US was in Philadelphia in 1793
  • “Big top” circus tent first debuted in 1825
  • Many circus performers are highly superstitious, and view whistling and eating peanuts backstage to be bad luck
  • There are more than 12,000 circuses in the US that feature animal acts
  • Circuses in England are banned from using animal acts

Jobs Related to Circus Performers

  • Juggler: A juggler is a circus performer who juggles items such as balls, bowling pins, or other everyday objects. Some unusual jugglers will even juggle dangerous items such as chainsaws.
  • Clown: Clowns are very popular circus performer act and have their roots in France. Their objective is to provide comic acts and many of their acts are based on slapstick and physical comedy.
  • Acrobat: Acrobats are some of the most highly-skilled circus performers and take years or even decades to perfect their craft. They specialize in acrobatics feats and even contortionism, often balancing each other.

Requirements, Skills, and Education Required for Circus Performers

Who Should Consider a Circus Performer Career Path?

Individuals that love performing for other people in large groups, and can learn the needed skills, are good candidates to become circus performers.

Who Should NOT Consider a Circus Performer Career Path?

Individuals with performance anxiety should not consider becoming circus performers.

Those who do desire a standard workday with a predictable schedule are also ill-suited to being a circus performer.

Is it Hard to Become a Circus Performer?

Being a circus performer requires a certain type of person, and those not suited to the circus life will find it hard to be a circus performer.

The performance itself can also be difficult, with many circus acts taking a physical toll on the performer.

What Do I Need to Become a Circus Performer?

To be a circus performer you will need to be dedicated to living a relatively unconventional life.

You will also need to be able to develop a special skill or act to perform for the audience.

General performance ability and people skills are a must.

Requirements for Becoming a Circus Performer

  • What Skills Does a Circus Performer Need? The skills that circus performer needs will depend heavily on the act they perform and the other tasks assigned to them by the circus management.
  • What Education Does a Circus Performer Need? The only education that a circus performer will need is being well-versed in their act of choice.
  • Can You Become a Circus Performer Without a Degree? While a degree in performing arts will give you an advantage in some situations, it is not necessary for becoming a circus performer.
  • What Experience Does a Circus Performer Need? A circus performer will need ample experience performing their chosen performance, as well as being in front of a crowd.

Circus Performer Education & Schooling

Nearly all circus performer education will be informal, though there are some places where an individual can learn some circus skills.

Depending on the chosen profession, the circus performer may learn things like juggling, fire-handling, object manipulation, and clowning.

Depending on the circus school attended, the course can be anywhere from a few days, to several months.

Circus Performer Education Options and Degree Programs

Some degree-level circus schools include Florida State University Flying High Circus, and the Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State University, which is also the oldest circus school in the US.

Schools for Circus Performers

Schools for someone wanting to become a circus performer include:

  • Circomedia in Bristol, UK
  • Circus Center in San Francisco, CA
  • The Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Albury, Australia
  • Gamma Phi Circus in Chicago, IL
  • New York Circus Arts Academy in New York City, NY
  • Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Philadelphia, PA

How to Become a Circus Performer

Attending a circus school is one of the best ways to gain the skills needed to become a circus performer.

Beyond that, the best thing to do is continue to practice while searching for openings at a circus.

Current Career Job Openings

If you have a special skill or circus ability and would like to become a circus performer, here are some current openings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the leader of a circus called?

In most circuses, the leader is referred to as the ringmaster or ringmistress.

They are the lead showrunner and act as the master of ceremonies for the circus.

What is a circus swing called?

The most common “swing” seen at a circus is called a trapeze.

It is a horizontal bar suspended by ropes that are used by a type of acrobat called a trapeze artist.

Wrapping Up

Some people feel more at home while visiting a circus than they do anywhere else.

If this sounds like you, and you feel you may enjoy performing an unusual talent or skill for a large crowd, becoming a circus performer might be the perfect career for you.

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