Circus is thrilling. Circus is stunning. Circus is in the middle of a resurgence and renaissance, and it’s not uncommon to find a locally-based entertainment company in your neck of the woods. Or several. Some are professionals with certifications and a wealth of experience. And some… are overeager novices who have caught the bug but aren’t quite there yet.
The danger and risk involved in many circus acts never really goes away; performers and companies with knowledge and experience do everything they can to mitigate that risk to themselves, to you, and to your patrons.
What follows is a short and basic primer of things to think about–and ask about–when hiring circus performance. At the Phantom Circus, we like to do our part to keep everyone safe. If you have any questions or need guidance, please feel free to call us and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction, even if you choose another company for your entertainment.
Things to look for when hiring circus entertainment:
The more dangerous the circus act, the more training, strength, and endurance your performer should have to execute it safely. There are many different paths to becoming a competent and well-trained circus performer; but some of the signs are:
- Certifications from a circus training facility. These are intensive programs that last 9 months to a couple of years and are usually full time endeavors.
- Resumes with stints at large companies like Cirque du Soleil, Le Reve, Dragone, Barnum and Bailey, cruise ships, etc.
- They come from a storied circus family.
- Several years of experience and continued training.
Because of the popularity of circus arts, and the explosion of interest in training and performing (sometimes a bit too soon), insurance rates for circus companies have risen sharply in the last few years. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of performers underinsured or worse, uninsured. Here’s a quick rundown of what performers should carry:
Specialty Insurance Agency:
Most individual performers get aerial, fire, and other circus insurance from Specialty Insurance Agency, which is an excellent company with excellent coverage. This insurance only works for a single individual, however, so if you’re hiring one stilt walker, or one aerialist, you’re in the clear. Otherwise, you should ask about….
Group Liability Policies and Workers Compensation:
If you go to a company or talent booker who will be handling multiple acts and entertainers, they’ll need a group liability policy for everyone to be fully protected. Specialty Insurance Agency doesn’t cover groups, so if you hire company A, and their performer B has a booboo, only performer B is covered with Specialty, and you and the company are going to have a real tough time. The company OR all performers involved should also be carrying a Workers Compensation policy, even if everyone involved is a contractor. If anyone involved in the hiring of performers knowingly hires uninsured contractors, you can still be sued in the case of injury.
If your acts will be handling or serving alcohol, such as aerial bartending, your performers or company should carry liquor liability insurance, and also should have some kind of alcohol training/certifications such as TIPS. If one of your patrons drives home drunk and gets into trouble, you and your entertainers could be found civilly or even criminally liable.
It may seem like an easy thing to hang a tiny gymnast from the ceiling, but most people don’t realize that tiny gymnast can generate a few thousand pounds of force on that rig point swinging, flipping, and dropping! Rigging accidents and equipment failure can cause very serious injuries, so if you’re going the aerial route, choose aerialists who are knowledgeable, detailed, and have a rigger on staff or on call if they need one.
Riggers: though arena riggers, stage riggers, theater riggers, and climbing riggers exist in abundance, circus rigging is a very specialized niche. Rigging music equipment is very different from rigging humans bouncing around and doing amazingly acrobatic things. If you need a recommendation, call us! We have a list!
Trees: as romantic a notion as it may seem, and as plentiful and available as they are, aerialists should not rig from trees. Though not entirely impossible, it takes an arborist to check out the health of the tree (trees may look healthy from the outside but have rot or insect damage on the inside) and a rigger to figure out if it’s even possible, and you’ll likely be paying thousands of dollars just to find out the answer is no. We recommend portable aerial rigs decorated with foliage to get a safe, outdoorsy effect. If you want to try for the trees, we know the professionals to call to get the ball rolling.
Snow Load: if your rig points attach to a roof that’s exposed to the elements, you might have to watch the weather! A rig point with ample ratings on a dry, sunny day may be overloaded when a couple inches of snow add thousands of pounds to the roof. You may need to shovel the roof off for aerialists to be able to perform safely, or may need a contingency plan, like a portable aerial rig or rented box truss of a suitable size and rating.
Rescue and Security Plans: if aerial acts are involved, make sure you and your entertainers have an emergency rescue plan (what happens if someone gets stuck? What happens if the power goes out?). Also work with your aerialists to safely secure their apparatus when not in use; you’d be amazed how many night security watchmen or drunken guests like to take a swing on that trapeze when you walk away.
Fire performances are acts that can be dazzling in the hands of a trained, experience, safe performer, and devastating in the hands of an undertrained, inexperienced performer.
Officials: depending on where your venue is located, a fire marshal or fire department may need to issue a permit or be hired to supervise onsite during the fire performance.
Safety: fire performers should have a fire safety tech or techs; with fire suppression blankets and inspected fire extinguishers, on hand. Fire performers should also be a safe distance away from the audience, usually at least 15 feet. Performers should be far away from ceilings, curtains, and decorations, and everything in the vicinity should be rated as fire resistant, or treated with fire retardant chemicals.