Circus Down Under Aug24

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Circus Down Under

Posted by on Aug 24, 2011 in News | Comments Off

Photograph courtesy of Richard Payne

Before you start reading this you should know that I am not from a circus family. I, in no way, claim to be an expert on circus but I have often been asked how circuses compare between Australia and the United States.

Firstly, there is no such thing as a “mud show” in Australia and building dates simply do not exist. If you work consistently you are working in a tent. There is another circus market that is made up largely of corporate work, fairs and other events. Some people find enough work this way, but not many. The circus that travels and works in a tent is referred to as traditional circus. They travel for approximately 11 months of the year and everyone does everything. Everyone does everything means exactly that. It is not optional or extra, your job is: your act, putting up the tent, working concessions, pulling down the tent, pony grooming, poop raking, painting and even office shifts. Almost all jobs are divided amongst the show into girls jobs and boys jobs. Boys do heavy lifting, ushering and the like while the girls do not so heavy lifting and work the concessions (called the “canteen”).

The amount of work depends on what type of route, or “run”, the show is on. Sometimes the run requires one night stands for weeks on end and other times you can do a whole season of three week stands. The country is big with vast distance between populations and one night stands are the most common way to cross the less populated areas. The amount of shows varies according to the run. For example a 3 week stand would generally consist of one evening show Wednesday to Friday and 2 shows Saturday and Sunday. In most cases the show provides accommodation for the performer in the form of a caravan which is pulled by a show owned vehicle; usually a large box truck that hauls show equipment. If you have a license you are generally required to drive and with a different licensing system, the show encourages a truck license to be obtained by all employees.

Not unlike the United States the shows are made up of a mix of Australian and International performers. There is a University that offers a degree that majors in circus and there are numerous schools around the country that produce performers every year. The University and some other schools receive government arts funding to support their operation but these Australian performers that are being produced do not want to travel with the traditional form of circus. Many choose to wait tables and do an occasional show rather than perform their act regularly for 11 months of the year. Many state that they simply do not want to travel for that extended period of time.

Whatever the reason, the circus is left with towns to play and a shortage of performers. To fill the performer shortage circus owners look overseas; which until recently filled the gap. Just like the United States, international performers need Visas to legally work in Australia and every year these visas require renewal. The Australian Immigration Department has received opposition to renew the Visas of one particular family currently working in Australia from the University that offers the degree in circus. The opposition comes in the form that the international performers are taking jobs from the graduates of the University. It leaves the question where do circuses get performers from now? This is contrary to American circuses where the long contracts are highly sought after and many travel vast distances to make consistent work of building and other spot dates.

Now, animals in the circus… that is another story on its own. ■