While it goes without saying that circus performers are largely employed by traveling circuses, they are being used in a variety of other venues, including stage shows, nightclubs, casinos, on Broadway, and on television. As with many other performing arts professions, more opportunities of this type are available in larger cities, especially those that appeal to tourists, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Circus performers usually enter the field through one of four methods. First, they may join a circus in a relatively low position and work their way up through the ranks. One option for someone joining the circus this way is to look at the Web sites of larger circuses, such as Big Apple Circus (http://www.bigapplecircus.org), for job openings. Those who enter the circus profession this way, known as "walk-ons," may start as part of a set-up or clean-up crew, or they may care for animals. Then, as they get to know performers, they become apprentices. After learning the necessary skills, they gradually work their way into the act.
The second way is to purchase an existing act. Beginners do not usually start with this method. The buyer often receives training, costumes, and equipment as a condition of purchase.
The third method is to enter a pre-professional program that offers a placement service once training is completed. There are very few of these programs in the United States.
The fourth method is to be raised in a circus performing family. Most circus performers enter the field by this method. From 75 to 90 percent of all circus performers come from circus performing families. Obviously, joining the circus this way is more a matter of luck than choice—but perhaps you can be "adopted" into such a family.
Most circus performers develop their acts and then hire an agent who finds work for them. There are only a few agents in the United States who specialize in circus acts. Performers have to audition for potential employers the agent finds.
Circus performers counsel that it is wise to get as much work in as many different places as you can and to not limit your skills. Develop a specialty or gimmick, but learn several skills. Most circus owners look for performers who can perform a variety of acts during a single show.
It helps if an aspiring circus performer is born into a circus family and can begin training as soon as he or she is able to walk. Later, the performer will be incorporated into the family's act and over time, he or she will take a more and more prominent position. But many successful circus performers started at the bottom as laborers and learned their skills by watching. Once performers have developed skill in a variety of areas, they gain journeyman status and may set out on their own, acquire their act from the performer who trained them, join an established act, or form a new act with others. Those with the most unusual and unique acts and skills may find themselves in great demand and can sign long-term contracts with a circus.
Some circus performers become quite famous and can command large sums of money. Some performers enter other performance areas, such as the stage, Broadway, Las Vegas variety shows, and television programs and commercials.
Tips for Entry
Participate in competitions offered by Clowns of America, International; World Clown Association; and the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) to raise your professional profile.
The IJA offers a mentorship program for members that matches less experienced jugglers with mentors who provide advice on performance, competition, marketing, business, and other aspects of juggling.
Talk to circus performers about their careers. Ask them for advice on breaking into the field.
Learn as many circus-related skills as possible. Circuses are more apt to hire performers with multiple skill sets.
Visit Cirque du Soleil’s Web site, https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/casting, to learn more about career options and to apply for a job.