Should Circus Performers Have a Standard Minimum Rate?

For Part 1D of my Gold Arts Award I am looking into is pay rates for circus artists and if there should be a standard rate set for various disciplines. My final argument is below!

Should Circus Performers Have a Standard Minimum Rate?

Quite often I see posts pop up on social media by circus performers I know about the rates paid to circus artists. It's constantly suggested that performers are extremely undervalued and unpaid despite the risks associated with their performances and the increasing costs associated with creating and maintaining good circus acts!

Artists Union England recently found that 75% of artists felt they were not paid fairly for their work. 

It's been suggested on numerous occasions on performer groups that a standardised minimum rate should be set for various disciplines to help prevent the constant exploration of circus artists.

As an aerialist, I've often seen these posts and been in complete agreement but have never really stopped to look at the implications of that until now!

Having a national standard minimum pay for Circus artists that is outlined as a day rate, half day rate and hourly rate would really help artists ensure they're always getting a fair wage, it would help prevent drastic undercutting and the devaluation of the circus industry and would prevent the exploitation of artists completely. 

However having looked into it, I'm not sure how it would even work!

Artist Union England and Equity have created guidelines and recommendations on the fees artists should be charging, which are fantastic at helping artists negotiate better fees but both organisations have very different views on what those rates should be and that isn't even considering any of the other variables that may come into play.

One of the biggest obstacles to setting a standard rate for performers is there is a big difference in the preparation requirements for various events and gig types, even in the same circus discipline. A performance at a corporate event that requires a specific theme and new costume will cost the artist more, both in finances and time, than a community event that is happy for an old routine to be recycled and doesn't require new costumes. 

This could however be addressed by having a standard rate with add on options for extras like 'bespoke choreography' or 'themed costume' but that could end up being quite a complex system. 

Another issue is the variable standard of 'professionals' there are in the industry. With some artists advertising themselves for work with minimal experience, expertise or professionalism. Having a standard fee for artists would mean artists like this are charging the same as someone with years of experience and training. 

Lots of events directors simply don't have as much available funding and having a set standard rate could cause many events to just stop hiring circus artists. For example small town community events that often hire walk-about circus artists don't generally have a lot of funds, especially in rural areas and my concern would be that if all circus artists had to be paid a standard rate, then lots of the smaller scale events would just choose not to have them, limiting the community engagement opportunities. It could also cause traditional travelling circuses to go out of business. 

So while I believe it's important for all artists to know their worth and be paid fairly, I think it's down to the individual performer to negotiate terms that suit both parties whilst taking into account the performers skill level, the type of gig it is, the average cost of the performer in the area, if it's a one off or regular and how long the act will be and how much preparation will need to go into it. Then if the fees offered are going to be to low and there are no other reasons for the performer to want to take the job (i.e I have often performed for expenses only for projects I feel strongly about or projects that can benefit me in other ways), or the producers clearly do not respect the artists work, then the performer should not be scared of walking away from the job.


Grace McDowall

Grace McDowall

Aerial Arts and Circus Performer

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