Tips for becoming a Circus Performer

Here are some tips for becoming a circus performer.

Always before going on stage performers must clean their feet. An easier way is to wear slippers or clogs backstage and leave them out of audience view behind curtain or entrance to stage. you can also clean your feet with baby wipes before walking on.

Makeup: Never wear show makeup once the show is finished and you go outside. When I performed, we wore big glasses if we needed to go to the shops. This is about keeping the mystery of the artist to the audience.

Mehron make up is a preferred brand for most professional circus performers. Quality makeup is a must to ensure your face pops on stage and isn’t washed out by the stage lights

Boys need makeup too; oh yes, it’s true, boys in circus usually use foundation, blush eyeliner mascara. You don’t want to look like a girl, but with all of those lights, features get washed out, so just accentuate them gently.

Costume: Never let the audience see you in costume again after you have performed your act, unless you are on stage, or finale etc… This means; no sitting in the audience with costumes on, Outside in costumes or in lobby with costumes. If you would like to watch the show, make sure you wear civilian clothing, try to cover the fact you have a lot of makeup on, perhaps removing the big lashes is enough and lipstick, both are easy to put back on.

Black costumes are a big no no in circus, it’s something I even know and forget sometimes. There are many reasons behind this, a part from being bad luck to some circus owners, the biggest reason is that the curtains are usually dark blue, red or black, so you don’t see the artists movements properly. Try to pick colours that pop off dark backgrounds like blue, white, red, green etc.

Artists props are expensive, just because a contortionist and a foot juggler have tables for their acts, or hand balancer a may have balancing chairs, it doesn’t actually mean they are tables and chairs to sit on or eat off/place other items on. Peoples props are delicate, so it’s always good to make sure you never bump them or place things on them.

You should always wear

Danskin or Capezio style fishnet tights. They are a small pattern fishnet stocking and it’s pretty much a must in circus, but many people don’t know, so it’s ok. Now you know

Underwear should never be seen, it should be black in colour unless it is a part of your costume.

circus aerial performer

Never chew gum or eat on stage area, especially in act.

Don’t fix your hair on stage, if long hair is a problem in rehearsals it will be a problem in the show. Fixing your hair or costume during an act will distract the audience and take away from your performance.

If you do sit in audience, it’s important to keep good focus on show time, as you should be ready for finale backstage at least two acts before. Also don’t chat about the acts or criticize other performers.

So, for all you gorgeous people looking for work;

Have a good research into where you can find a good trainer. Who have they trained before? Do any of their ex students have big careers. Have any of their ex students suffered serious injuries?

Find a good choreographer if you can’t do it yourself.

Music choice: Music can make or break a routine. Choosing slow music without strong dramatic changes will not get you decent and on going work. When choosing your music, you must think if you are in a big show, what will the boss have to put before and after your routine (Which acts) If your music is slow for example, the boss will need to pay two VERY strong and energetic acts to wake people up before and after your act. Audience love medleys, so why not try and pick two or three different songs and have them carefully remixed together.

Costume choice: For over 18’s Choose something elegant with maybe a touch of sexy, but only a little as most circus’s wont hire girls that look tarty, so you must find a very safe and decent balance between the two. Spend a decent amount of money on your costume, it should look amazing from both close up and far away, not just one or the other.your costume should reflect you and your act, it should look artistic, intruiquite both beautiful and far away. Try experimenting with layering different fabrics, lace, lines and textures, it should look like you have spent either, a lot of time, or a lot of money on it.

Under 18’s, please do not wear sexy costumes, there is nothing more uncomfortable and inappropriate than seeing somebody that you can imagine is your daughter wearing something provocative on stage. Choose something age suitable. Use Swarovski crystal or unusual material choices or layer different items to make unusual design, be creative!

Training: 5-6 hours per day until you find a full time contract, then train approx 1.5-3 hours per day (depending on circus disciplines) as show time will be too hard for your body to make the 6 hours.

Make-up/Warm up at least 1 hour and a half before your shows, you must make sure your body is ready to perform or injuries will occur. The majority of injuries in circus happen in matiné’s, morning shows 11am and before, so make sure you wake up extra early on your matiné days and warm up properly both mentally and physically.

Learn how to do proper stage make up. 99% of circus’s require girls to wear fake eye lashes, not the small ones, but big thick black ones. Really, from far away, they look fabulous and make people that are sitting 15 rows back still see your beautiful eyes. If you need help with make up ideas, ask someone. I always say, stand 8 Mtrs from your mirror and squint, if you can’t see your eyes or mouth properly, makeup probably isn’t dark enough.

Girls Hair: Yes I know Nina Burri has short hair, but she is one of those lucky ladies that has been able to make it work. Have your hair at least medium long so that you can put it up in a high ponytail. Many contracts will require you to wear a pony tail wig, which you wont be able to do if your hair is super short. Or they will want it to be pinned up underneath a special headdress or costume, this can be hard when your hair is short.

Your web presence is extremely important as it is also a great marketing tool if used wisely.

Websites: Have 2 websites, one with your contact details and one without. The one without contact details is known as an “Agent Friendly” website. this means the agent can forward your website and videos without worrying that the client will go over their head and contact you direct.

Try not to make Flash websites, although pretty, agents wont be able to easily right click and save the photos to send to their clients.

Make a Vimeo account (Youtube keeps blocking artists routines that have music copyright, even when you have a license to use it. Most artists have already moved over to Vimeo now: Be careful what you place on there, for example, if you place your acts on there, don’t place a silly video of you out with your friends, really, agents will go through the whole youtube account to see the other acts you do and get an idea of your style. 1 out of 3 artists make this mistake to have personal videos mixed with professional.)

Don’t sign exclusive with ANY agent unless that agent will also pay your living expenses when you don’t have work. Somebody that you are exclusive with, is known as a manager, not an agent. Managers are OK, for example if they paid to make your routine and costumes or choreography, but it is not normal if they have not made a significant investment in your act …

Take Ballet classes, the lines that ballet will give your legs, feet, arms and movement is priceless.

Take contemporary dance classes, performing is also about what you do with your face and how you express your movement.

Take Physical Theatre classes, This will take you out of your comfort zones and get you used to performing different emotions and making them believable to the audience.

juggling, act

Be responsible on contracts, always be well mannered to your bosses and co workers… A team player is very important and somebody that understand hierarchy of the workplace is priceless.

Never be late to rehearsals, this shows your commitment to the job at hand and shows your respect to those above you trying to make the show happen. If you are late, don’t offer excuses, just say I am very sorry, it won’t happen again and admit you are wrong… Worst thing is to make excuses for your lack of professionalism.

NEVER, EVER close a door behind you, whenever you leave a contract, no matter how horrid or unpleasant it was, always leave on a pleasant note. Sometimes the biggest opportunities comes out of the ones you least suspect. Many of my best contracts were found on the silly contracts where I wasn’t paid much or where it wasn’t so fun to work. So always make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.

The longer you are in our industry, the more you will learn how small our industry is, everybody knows each other, if not directly, then through another person.

Make a good showreel and a good full length video of your act, most clients will not accept a cut routine when you audition, they will want to see the complete unedited act. Try to get some good lighting and hire out a local theatre space to film it, or even offer a visiting circus to perform for free for a day or two so that you can film it in a professional setting.

Don’t be afraid to take low paying contracts to get your foot in the door and work your way up, or even normal jobs like cafe work etc to get you by between contracts. I hate seeing artists out of work and unfortunately it’s the reality for the majority of artists out there.

Not everybody is blessed to land the big contract right away and working your way up will definitely make you a well rounded artist who can cope with any situation thrown at them. So if you haven’t performed yet and need names on your resume, accept small paid gigs or Free gigs until people start to get to know who you are.

Always save your money. One big problem with circus artists, is they don’t have to pay rent or electricity, so they have a tendency to blow it all away each week on clothes or partying. Many get stuck on bad contracts because they have no way to get themselves home. Remember an injury may arise one day and you may have to stop performing, how will you support yourself or pay your medical bills? Not many people perform for their whole life so have an exit plan, learn about things you are interested in and get qualifications online while you are on the road.

Always have a return ticket home, if not a return ticket, then enough in a bank account you can access unless you need to, to get you home in an emergency.

Never take a “no” as enough to stop you following your dreams, you will get 99 “no’s” for every yes that you receive, perhaps even more, contracts will come and go, signed and fall through, so grow a thick skin and let it slide, take every criticism as a positive way to see what you can change, evolve and do better. If you can’t take somebody giving you negative criticism, you probably shouldn’t be in our industry, because even the top artists still get “no’s” all the time and have months when they cannot find work.

Try to never be a DIVA, it’s a very big problem with some of the top artists, they become difficult to work with, hard to place in a team and expect too much. Employers tend to grow tired of this.

Make sure you get some good agents representing you and always ask the agents their honest opinion of your acts and what they think you should change, this feedback is priceless, remember you will get lots of different feedback, it will be up to you, what you pick and choose to change in your act. Make sure you also represent yourself, don’t just sit at home and wait for things to fall in your lap, look in every corner for work, both local and international. Don’t just rely on your agents, but be sure to ask your agent who they are contacting on your behalf, so you don’t upset them by riding over their heads.

Industry: Remember that industries are very different and what they look for is also very different.
•Corporate may look for a slow ambient piece or themed piece to fit their event.
•Circus may look for an energetic and entertaining piece or sitting on edge of seat piece.
•Variete for an quirky and entertaining piece.

It also varies from circus to circus, so know your client before you apply for the job, what were their past shows like, what were their past acts like. If it’s where you want to be, create your act based on the styles that boss likes.

Invest money into your props, you will be paid more money for the more expensive that you act looks.

There is so much more to cover, but I really hope that all of you can take these factors into account. You will most likely learn from trial and error, that is the way I had to, because I had nobody to guide me and no proper coach to make sure I did things well, but at least of of you can learn from my mistakes and achievements, it will help you:)

Last but not least be your self. Don’t copy other people acts or ideas, be unique and you will succeed.

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