What is a Circus Performer?

Perhaps one of the more unusual career aspirations in the world today, a circus performer must be passionate about entertaining people and have a unique ability to captivate an audience in their performance. A circus performer might refer to a rather varied collection of jobs: from a performer with major shows from contemporary circuses such as the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, or to a self-employed street performer displaying their skills at festivals and street shows throughout the world. Ultimately, a circus performer must have unusual entertainment skills, such as acrobatics or juggling, and will perform using one, or a combination, of these skills. However, every circus performer is an artist and will thrive on the adrenaline rush of dazzling and amazing a captivated audience.

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What does a Circus Performer do?

A circus performer must have at least one unusual skill that can be used in an entertainment setting. Circus performers might include:

  • Acrobats
  • Clowns
  • Trapeze artists
  • Fire-eaters
  • Tight-rope walkers
  • Gymnasts
  • Dancers
  • Hand-balancers
  • Mime artists

Generally, the skills of a circus performer will amaze the audience as they are skills most ordinary people would never take the time to learn. Circus performers might work up to a level where they are skilled enough and experienced enough to get a job at a large company as a part of a touring show, or even a permanent show, such as those at hotels in Las Vegas or Disney World resorts throughout the world.

Most circus performers will have to find work more frequently and may look to perform individually, or as part of a group at arts festivals such as at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - the largest event of its type. At festivals, performers may work as part of a show in a small theatre, or as part of a street show, especially when starting off. As circus performers gain experience and make contacts within the industry, they will have more opportunities to audition for larger shows or touring troupes. Most circus performers will work in the following areas:

  • Touring, with traditional circuses
  • Contemporary circuses
  • Arts festivals
  • Theatres
  • Nightclubs
  • Cruise ships or holiday parks
  • Major events or corporate events
  • Street performances or busking

What does it take to be a Circus Performer?

The main prerequisite for being a circus performer is to have an unusual skill that can be used in performing, as discussed above. Other than that, there are no specific academic requirements for being a circus performer, but many personal skills and attributes are required. A circus performer must be:

  • Dedicated
  • Hardworking
  • Physically very fit and able
  • Committed to working hard to achieve success
  • Prepared to attend many auditions to gain experience and able to deal with rejection
  • Competitive
  • Energetic
  • Creative
  • Confident
  • Self-motivated

The most successful circus in the world at the moment is Canada's Cirque du Soleil which has an annual revenue of over $800 million (US). There is intense competition for circus performer positions within the company - it claims to receive over 100 audition videos every week but employs only an additional 50 people per year. For a circus performer, this is the ultimate dream job, but it will take a lot of work, dedication, talent and skill to achieve it.

In addition to the dedication and hard work required, a circus performer must be a true performer. The ability to hold an audience captive for the duration of the act, to execute skills in an entertaining way, and to connect with the audience are all essential to achieve success as a circus performer.

While there are no formal educational qualifications required for circus performers, there are performing arts courses that may help develop the necessary skills. Many cities have facilities where circus skills courses are held, such as leisure centres or gymnastics halls; some specialist facilities are available too. The Circus Space in London hosts circus skills courses and workshops for prospective circus performers and those looking to improve and develop existing skills.

What is the workplace of a Circus Performer like?

For successful circus performers, the workplace is a fun place, somewhere to practice the skills they love, and work on newer, more exciting tricks. For any circus performer, the workplace should be a safe place to practice and train, with good equipment and usually with other performers, coaches, or trainers who can help and support each other in their skill development and provide physical assistance if required (for example in learning acrobatic skills).

Circus performers might have to travel a lot, especially if they find work with a touring circus or company, or they may have to move to different locations for different shows or performances. Potential circus performers should be prepared to travel to find work.

How much does a Circus Performer earn?

Top performers in international touring shows may earn from $30,000 up to $100,000 according to a Cirque du Soleil interview on CNN. For the majority of circus performers, the reality is that steady work is difficult to find, and most performers will be paid per performance or per tour. Other online sources suggest a starting salary of around £10,000 (about $15,000) for performers. Street performers who work at festivals may earn only what contributions are given by passing spectators, as these tend to fall under the busking option.

Learn more about being a Circus Performer