Safety in Circus

As circus rises to the mainstream, gracing all manner of venue from backyard birthdays to the grandest of stages, it is easy to lose sight of one of the core reasons that what we do is so interesting:  risk.  Do you remember the first time you saw a contortionist bend her back flat in half?  The first time you saw an aerialist climb 30 feet in the air and plummet within inches of the floor?  What did you feel?

Disbelief, fear, shock?

A circus performer’s job is to perform seemingly super-human feats of strength and agility, wrapped up in an artistic shell, and make it appear effortless.  But please don’t let this fool you when you are thinking about the safety of your performers or guests at an event.

What we do is inherently risky, but we are not daredevils: we do our best not to leave our safety to chance.  Our art thrives on implied risk.  No one actually wants to see the aerialist fall before their eyes.  We take a lot of precautions to ensure that we are not playing roulette.  This is why you need to take our technical requirements seriously, even if a 110lb girl requesting a rig point rated for 5000 lbs seems like overkill to you.  Check out this short video:

Let’s say the aerialist weighs 200lbs (an overestimation for sure)–he generated 900lbs of force with one basic drop!  That’s 4.5 times his weight, at least!  And because circus performers are calculated risk takers, not daredevils, we want every piece of equipment that will take the force of the drop to be rated for a lot more than the 900+ lbs we might generate.  Like 5 times more, because we don’t know what that ceiling has been through–was it ever over-loaded, exposed to extreme weather or climates, or effected in any other way that might weaken it?

Falls, equipment failure, and human error are a risk even among the largest circus companies; it is imperative that the client and the performer work together to create the safest environment possible every. single. time.

Be wary of hiring a performer who is willing to do things others won’t.  A performer who is inexperienced in managing their own bookings may not have the necessary experience to make important safety calls.  They may be willing to work longer sets with fewer breaks.  They may not ask for crowd control to keep guests at a safe distance while they perform.  The money you save hiring this performer opens you up to a world of risk–is it worth it?

I don’t know any circus performers who request bowls full of blue M&M’s in their green room, but our contracts do tend to be lengthy and may be overwhelming at a glace.  But I promise there is a reason for everything.  It may seem like a lot for 5 minutes or a couple of hours of entertainment, but keep in mind an aerialist may easily be on site for 12 hours to set up before the event, perform, and take her equipment down after all the guests have left–it’s a long day, busy day, and she needs a vendor meal and a quiet green room to rest and focus before she performs.  The contortionist is asking her body to do crazy things–she can’t do it safely for hours straight!  The stilt walker needs a handler to makes space for her in a crowd (especially if there are people drinking or children–who have about the same amount of spacial awareness).  As a client, you’re not expected to know and anticipate all of these things on your own–it has taken me years, and I learn new things at every unique event.  Circus performers just need a little understanding from our clients–our requests are rarely about being a lazy diva or wanting to cost you extra money, we just want to keep everyone safe so we can entertain you.

For fun (because aerial arts secretly turn you into a physics nerd), here’s another load rating video: