Life Of A Circus Performer
Lucy Francis (Arialist, acrobat, circus performer and teacher) gives expert video advice on: Have you had many injuries or accidents?; How dangerous is your profession?; How does being a circus performer affect family life? and more...
Do you get paid per performance?
Yeah. If you get hired for one gig, you get paid for that gig and you'll invoice. You definitely work as a self-employed person as a circus performer, so you have your own accounts. If you're in a show, you'll get paid weekly. Say it's an 8 week show, you'll get paid at the end of each week. Or they may have a deal where you get paid at the end of the show, like a 6 week period, which is rare. You don't generally do a weeks work and don't get paid at the end of that week for it.
How much do you get paid for doing a performance?
It's hard to say, in the corporate world. Generally I guess for a solo act you could look at getting 500 pounds, if it's a good corporate, like a big company. Or sometimes you go out as low as 300, if you do a walkabout where you are just mingling, it's lower. But you generally negotiate, each job is different. You can have a set act but then they may call and say, you know it's really good if you do this gig because then there'll be people there who can help promote you, so you can get a deal that way. But if you're in a show, generally you may get paid 500 pounds for the week or you could get equity minimum which is something like 300 pounds a week for a show. But then if you're in something like Cirque de Soleil you can negotiate up to maybe a grand per performance, for some of the really good performers. It's really variable.
How often do you do performances?
If you are in a show you will generally do probably between six and ten shows a week, depending of how demanding the show is. You get one day off. It is the same as the West End, where everyone works and gets one day off. You can do two shows a day if there is a matinee. It depends if the show is really tough on the body, then maybe you just do six acts in a week.
Have you had many injuries or accidents?
Yes, lots and lots and lots. Two operations on my ankles, and knees, disclocated my knee, shoulder, and broke my neck. Got a dodgy back. I'm personally permanently injured and having to deal with it.
Have you ever had an accident during a performance?
Once. I dislocated my ankle in the middle of a trampoline. First bounce on, and my ankle went out. I just relocated it and carried on with the act. The show must go on. In terms of that, it's really tricky - I'm there, in the split second I have to decide: What do I do? My ankle is out of place, and my brain told me to put it back in and carry on, which any physio or osteopath or anyone would say: You're mad! But I got through the show on adrenaline; the audience didn't know. And then after I have to deal with cold squinces and get it fixed. But that was the only one I can remember that was in a show; the rest were in training. Or just doing something stupid like you get drunk and decide that you can do acrobatics drunk and you actually can't.
How dangerous is your profession?
It is dangerous. No doubt about it, but it's the way you look on life. You can walk across the street and get killed by a bus, so it is dangerous, but if you're trained well, and you're fit, and you don't take unnecessary risks within the performance. You train your skills over and over and over, so when you come to do them, there's always the danger with something like flying trapeze. You can always fall, so you have to remember that. Generally, in an actual performance, you won't put in loads of risky moves and go, oh my god, I've got eight risky moves in this performance. You may have one that you really have to zoom in with your brain and focus on, but you can always fall.
Are there busy and quiet periods during the year?
Yeah, definitely. Christmas is very busy. Everyone wants performers, lots of parties. And the summer seasons, all the shows, the summer season run from like April to October. So January, February, March are generally really quiet. January, you can have an overspill of Christmas parties that have run late. So I'd say February and March are definitely really dull months for performers.
How does being a circus performer affect family life?
It's kind of good, both me and my husband are circus performers and trainers. We've now got a baby and it's manageable because the circus space can accommodate that. We are self employed so we both work. If he is working then I'll babysit, then I'll work and he'll babysit. So it fits it quite nicely for us.
How much travel is involved in being a circus performer?
There are lots of gigs overseas, and if you're willing to do them, then you can travel all over the world, five star. That's quite a nice way to travel. Sometimes you might have a corporate where you fly out, do a gig, and fly back, which is a lot of travel and not a lot of performing. Then other gigs you might do a gig say, in Florida or something like that. If you want to travel you can, definitely.
Do you need to be fit to be a circus performer?
Again, depending - aerial and acrobatic circus performers, definitely need to be fit. 100 percent. You need to be in top form, definitely. To juggle, it's not completely unfit, because your arms get a good workout. But obviously, you don't need to be a mountain runner to be able to juggle. But generally if you're doing lots of shows a week as an acrobat or aerialist, you will need to be very fit.
Do you choreograph your own routines?
I do. But if I'm in the show, obviously no, because they have a choreographer. But I like to do my own choreography for my own acts, definitely. In a show, generally they may sometimes say, “Can you show us what you can do here” and then you show them. Other times, if there's a dance routine, the choreographer may come in and say, “This is what you're doing”. So it's both.
How often do you change your routine?
In terms of acts, if it's a good act and it sells and people love it, then you keep with it. You can always keep updating them if you want to, but if that act is doing good and it sells, then keep it, definitely. If it goes a bit stale or you get bored with it, you can change it. I've known people who've had the same act for ten years and it works, so they stay with it.
Do you have to practice your routine?
Definitely. If you've got an act and it sells, then generally two or three times a week you need to run the act and keep it up, because you're performing it all the time. If you have an act, say, one of my acts is a handstand act and I don't work it that often, so if I get a gig, then I suddenly have a week of panicky practice going on, like “Oh my God, I've got to get back on it again.” But if you keep yourself fit somehow during the training, and you're always training, then you can pretty much pick up whichever act you have in your act box, and then can just pop it out. One training session and it's back.
Who is your inspiration?
Obviously when I was a child, Nadia Comaneci, gymnast of all gymnasts and Madonna, actually. I like Madonna. She is not a circus performer but she inspires me in the performance sort of way.