The circus is packed with talent. From the acrobat who performs on a tightrope high above the ground to the clown mingling with the audience, circus performers are professional entertainers. Life in the circus is demanding, too. A touring circus often gives over 300 performances in a year. Performers rarely stay in the same city for more than a few days and might not get back to their homes for months or even a year. Salaries for circus performers depend on many factors, including the experience of the artist, the performer’s act, and the reputation of the circus company.
Be a Clown
In the past, elephants, lions and tigers were the stars of the circus. In recent years, however, some circus companies are shifting their focus away from animal stunts and developing clown celebrities. Bello Nock, a circus clown with foot-high red hair, became very popular performing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the clown was paid a salary of $600,000 per year. His job benefits included “a personal assistant and a driver for his 78-foot custom RV.”
Not every circus performer earns celebrity pay, though. Entry-level performers may oly make $300 per week, though their room and board is included. Circus pay also varies according to the performer’s act. Acrobats, for example, have physically strenuous jobs and generally earn more than jugglers. Trapeze artists generally earn between $40,000 and $70,000 per year.
Regardless of experience, performers with travelling circus companies generally receive food, lodging and a tour allowance. The average performers won’t get a custom RV like Bello Nock; they may have to bunk in the circus train or receive accommodations at a hotel. Cirque du Soleil offers access to free schooling for children of artists performing with the Big Top touring shows and continuing education opportunities for adult performers who have been with the show for at least a year. Circus companies may also offer health insurance benefits, access to health services, vacation days, a paid trip home once a year and bonuses.
Acrobats, clowns, jugglers and other artists can prepare for a career in the circus by attending a circus school. Circus Center in San Francisco, for example, offers an aerial arts program and a clown conservatory. Students at the Center receive help in creating an act or repertoire. Circus companies hold auditions where aspiring performers demonstrate their acts. Circus performers generally enter into employment contracts for one or two years. Some performers work with an agent to find a job with the circus and the agent can help them negotiate salary terms.