Life Under the Big Top
As in any business, the unskilled laborer may have to start at the lowest rung of the totem pole, hopefully showing the aptitude and initiative to rise within the ranks. That is, it's good to have a skill if you do not want to spend your career cleaning up after Dumbo. (Don't knock it—the spiritual among us will tell you that there is nobility in every profession.)
For those who consider the circus to be inhumane, one must admit there has been some improvement since the days of ancient Rome, when animals were pitted against each other to the death, and also got to feast on the occasional Christian.
There is a lot more going on in the operation of a circus than the hijinks that delight the cotton-candy-consuming spectators. Like any of the performing arts, there are stagehands, set builders, ticket takers, concessions people, and many more. You may find yourself doing a little of everything, especially in the smaller circuses. An ideal circus employee is a jack of all trades.
A Day in the Life
A typical circus day begins in the middle of the night, driving into the next town where the circus will perform. Arriving at the empty lot where the circus tents will be set up, the staff can catch a catnap before rising at dawn to assemble what is essentially a small town. This is physically demanding work that has to be completed in a few short hours. There is a lot to do. The canvas crew pitches the tents. The seats are put in place, the concession stands are put up, and the electrical crew sets up the generator. The performers are responsible for preparing and testing their own rigging. A trapeze artist usually wants to supervise his or her own setup and does not trust it to others. Their life may depend on it, particularly if they are working without a net.
There are usually two performances on weekdays, three on weekends, and immediately after the last show the whole thing is broken down, packed, and off they go to the next venue.
A circus community is like a family, with all the joys and dysfunctions that family life entails. Since they spend all their time together, close bonds are formed. They celebrate holidays together, and children are home-schooled by their always-traveling parents. Given the nature of show business in general and the eclectic citizens it attracts, circus folk are a tolerant and diverse group of people.
Though there is ritual, rote, and routine, no two days are ever the same. There are always problems that arise, whether it be accidents, temperamental animals, damage to the tents by the forces of nature, or myriad other crises large and small.
This life goes on uninterrupted on the average of eleven months a year without a break. Circuses typically take a hiatus for a few weeks around the Christmas holiday, but otherwise it is a nonstop grind with no days off.
Mooseburger Camp is one of the many clown schools across the country that will give an aspiring clown the training and skills they need to go out into the world and entertain and amuse children of all ages. You can find them on the Web at
People do not enter this life to make their fortune. They do it for love. Some performers can make a nice living, and it is reported that the concession stand owners can make a nicer living through popcorn and cotton candy. But is the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd that draws a certain type of person to the circus world.
If you do not want to do the grunt work and clean the cages, and you have your sights set on the performance element of the circus world, then you will need to seek training. It is just like any other career in the entertainment field. There are schools for aspiring circus performers.