A Day in the Life of a Circus Performer

circus ringmaster

As with all productions, celebrities, businesses or institutions, most people have no idea of what really goes on behind the scenes of a circus performance. What the public views is just the iceberg of a complex, time-consuming process that descends deep beneath the water’s edge. It is very easy (and only natural) to judge a performance based off what you immediately see and without considering the other factors at play. Here is a glimpse of the other 90% of the iceberg…

Skill – Act – Performance

A good performance will make most of the skills in a circus show look easy and undemanding. However, what you haven’t seen is the hours upon hours of gruelling training that has gone in to each individual skill. Most skills require a helluva lot of training and attention – drills to build up the muscle for a certain move, videos or help from trainers pinpointing errors in your technique, the frustrating moments when it all seems impossible, fixing said errors, and slowly chipping away at the skill until finally it becomes solid.

Once the skills are there, next comes the act development. Simply having skills goes nowhere in a performance – one needs to add music, a style or character, a reason for being there on stage. The movement between skills and the flow of an act is absolutely crucial in creating an entertaining and engaging production. This process requires a lot of attention and it often takes a lot of rehearsal time before the skills disappear and immerse themselves within the act.

Creating an entire performance is once again a whole other development process. Working with other people and putting your act within an entire performance takes plenty of time and effort. Collaborating with others is often much more time consuming and aggravating as people work in different ways and at different paces. The more people there are, the more variables there are in play, the harder it is to find time to train together and the more room there is for error.

Behind the Scenes of the Performance

Far from just waltzing on stage and performing the pre-prepared show like popping a frozen meal in the microwave, there are many other factors at play when it comes to circus. The dangerous nature of circus means that many artists often have injuries. This might mean that someone can’t do particular acts or skills, and hence the routines may have to be rejigged or replacement performers may have to be found at the last minute. Therefore, changes are always being made just days or hours before going on to the stage, but the performers must always look like everything is exactly as it should be.

For festival performances, bump in and bump out involves taking all the props, equipment and sometimes lighting on and off the stage both immediately before and after the performance. Performers are probably inside yelling for some strips of gaff tape, running around to find where their chalk got to, struggling with ladders or props up and down staircases, sweeping confetti off the stage from the magician in the previous show, fixing last minute costume malfunctions and breaking and replacing lights all while the audience is impatiently lining up outside blissfully unaware of why the doors haven’t opened yet so they can take their seats.

Or maybe that was just our show.



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