Becoming A Circus Performer
Lucy Francis (Arialist, acrobat, circus performer and teacher) gives expert video advice on: Can you combine other roles with being a circus performer?; How did you get inspiration to become a circus performer?; What advice would you give to an aspiring circus performer? and more...
Can anyone be a circus performer?
If they want to be, yes. Yes, I think they can. But it's the same with any job, if you want to be something, you can become it if you work hard enough. It's the same thing, yes. You have to be physically fit, that's the main thing. Unless you wanted to, you can become a circus performer just being a juggler. You don't need to necessarily be that fit for that, but you need hand eye coordination. So, yes, if that person wanted to be a circus performer they could become one.
Do you have to run away from home to become a circus performer?
No, not in this day and age. You can if you want to. Traditional circus still runs. If you want to run away and do the whole live in a caravan, and be part of the whole family of the circus, then you can do that. But there's another route. Where I work, you can be a child and do circus one day a week for fun. You can be an adult and come and do it for fun on evenings. You can do corporate - there's a corporate scheme where say you work in a bank and your whole company want to do a day of circus, they can come and do a day of circus. Basically, there's a pathway here for wherever you come from. You can take it as far as you want to go. If you're under forty, you can do a degree in circus if you really want to become a circus performer. So there's loads of different angles if you want to do it. Anybody can come off the street and go "Oh, I want to do circus", and I'm like "Cool, come in and we'll teach you."
Is being a circus performer a full time job?
Yes, if you want it to be. Again, you can be a part time one or you can be a full time one. If you want to do it for a living - yes, you can - there is lots of work out there. Mainly, there's a corporate route where you'll have one-off gigs, there will be one night where you do a party somewhere for a corporate company that'll hire an aerial act or a stiltwalker or something. If you want to get in the show, you can. You can get in the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet - all these big shows they all have circus perfromers from time to time. That would be an eight week contract, or something like that. You can work abroad in a show that shows everywhere. All holiday destinations - Cirque de Soleil, which travels the world. So yeah, it can be full time.
Can you train to become a circus performer?
Yes, to become a circus performer, you can start off if you're a child. You can start off in London Youth Circus. When you get to 12, you can actually study circus three times a week, here on a course. And you get to do a show at the end of it. That's London Youth Circus, which carries right through until you're 18. If you are 16, you can go off and do a BTech in circus, based in Bristol, there is a course that runs there. And then from 18 onwards you can come here ,at circus base, to do a degree which is full-time. It's Monday to Friday, nine to five every day, and then lots of shows within that. You can do two years or three years - you have a choice, and you get a degree at the end of it.
At what age can you become a circus performer?
That's a difficult question. Most people do the degree, and then professional, so they're around 21. You do have children who get paid to do circus - the same as anything, if you get a child actor, or a child model. You may have a child in your circus who gets paid as well.
Can you combine other roles with being a circus performer?
You can. There are different levels of circus performers, like the adult program that runs here. In the evening are adults, who generally work in a bank all day or, I don't know what they do. But they do a 9-to-5 job in the day. They come here in the evening to train. We have cabarets here, like try-out cabarets, where they can try out their acts. And if they're good enough, then they can work those acts. Saturday night or Friday night, in a club, they might need an act. So yeah, you can do it part time alongside a job. But again, you have to be dedicated and do the training. But yeah, it's possible.
Where did you do your first performance?
My first performance as a circus performer was in Spain, in Benidorm. I did the summer season. It was a circus diving show, that one, where I was dressed up like a clown and did lots of tricks, and went off a diving board with odd acrobatics here and there. So yeah, that was the first one.
How did you get inspiration to become a circus performer?
I've been a gymnast my entire life since I was four, and a dancer. And then I went into high diving as well. So I've always done acrobatic stuff. And then the audition came up for the Milennium Dome show in 2000, and I auditioned: four auditions, very grueling, got in, did the training, and became a circus performer. And I'm still there.
Is there a circus performers union?
Yeah, Equity is the only one I know of. All performers have to be part of Equity, for insurance and public liability. And they're very good, because I didn't get paid once, and they won the case for me and got my money. So they act across the board - same as all actors and dancers.
Do you need to have personal insurance?
You can get your own. I have my own private medical insurance because I injure myself quite a lot, so it's handy to have that. But Equity will cover you for public liability, if something happens to happen in the street or wherever your performance is. But it's best to have your own as well.
What advice would you give to an aspiring circus performer?
If they want it, if they really want it - go for it, because it can really happen.
Is there a golden rule of being a circus performer?
Golden rule of being a circus performer? You have to be mad.
Do you need an agent to be a circus performer?
Not necessarily, but it helps. It helps to start off and get going. Again, if you're in the business of circus and you've trained with everyone who's trained in the circus, and you get to know people, then you can get work that way. So it's not essential to have an agent.