So What Are YOU Worth?

No matter what you think – you are not worth what the incomparable KiKi Maroon with a monkey is! KiKi is an entertainer and the producer of The Bayou City Burlesque & Circus Arts Festival. Photo by July St. Juniper

In my last blog entry (which seemed overly long, I admit) I broke down the personnel costs of running a tented grind show if you were to overpay your performers based on what some kid unrealistically asked for from Hawthorne’s Circus Bizarre. I mean I broke it down to how many people you would have to bring in per hour and at what price in order to cover your performer pay if you gave every performer what this young person asked for.

What I did mention in passing, though, was that plenty of folks seem to have an overly inflated view of their worth. Working out what you are worth (what you should be asking for) is a key component to making your money performing.

Here is something to think about:

You have hear that Ringing Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus has shut down, right? They employ 400-800 people in each unit. And when we talk about circuses closing down, RBBBC are not the only ones. The Big Apple Circus has shut down. A lot of other traditional circuses are on the ropes. That means there is even more of a glut of performers out there looking for the very few jobs there are. It is a buyer’s market.

Take this example a step further – let’s say everyone can get a gig working for a show, even for a short-term gig – well, now, there is a glut of shows for a pretty limited audience! Again, a buyer’s market with the supply far outdistancing the demand.

Let me give you another example of the kind of supply & demand I am talking about: not that particularly long ago (roughly 20 years), there were not very many sword swallowers for hire out there. An estimate I read somewhere said maybe 20 in total — but as of today (July 10, 2017), according to the Sword Swallowers Association website, there are at least 127 living glommers registered with them. PLUS there are a bunch of sword swallowers I personally know I did not see on this list. So with that and world wide folks not registered, there may be far more.

What does that mean to you as a performer? If you’re a sword swallower, it means that you used to be able to charge a lot more money per gig – because you were just one of only a very few with a select skill (a skill definitely needing represented by an “traditional” sideshow). But now…?

I was looking to hire some additional performers for a week-long FreakShow Deluxe gig one summer. I hired these two somewhat-skilled female performers. After they were hired, and with the gig coming up very quickly, the two of them had their “manager” (in truth, he admitted he was just a family friend) call me to make additional demands to their contract. Their demands including more money, plus different travel & housing arrangements. I hung up on the manager, called one of the performers directly asking why — and she told me, “I’m one of only 25 sword swallowers in the world – and there are only 5 girl ones. You NEED me. I am worth more than you offered.”

So what happened?

I was pretty blunt with the performer. I told her “I can’t throw a rock without hitting a sword swallower. And I like throwing rocks.” I also pointed out to her that we already had a contract in place (which she was breaking), she & her friend were (frankly) not that special, I already had TWO (2) other female sword swallowers on the gig and, frankly, I did not need either of them. When I talked to their “manager” later and told him what I told them, he said,

“Well… they’re not exactly rocket scientists, you know?”

In the end, I saved both the money AND the headache of having them on the gig. My company no longer gives second chances – so we never contacted them again. If anyone had ever asked, we would have related our experience with the two of them in a direct way (but no one did). Last I heard, neither of them is working in the sideshow business anymore.

You may still be asking, “So what am I worth?”

There is no easy answer to this age-old question. As you can see from the example(s) above, there are a fair number of factors. You need to weigh everything you know about you – and that means some introspection to yourself, your marketability, your skills, and what other intangibles are there in the ether.

Look – all that in the previous paragraph is really tough. Training. Education. Experience. All of these factor in.

So you say, “I am working on that – is there some advice you can give me NOW??”

Let me do one better and give you TWO (2) pieces of advice:

First, from Travis Fessler of The Pickled Brothers Circus, who weighed in a post from this newbie asking for advice on Facebook’s Sideshow Spectrum – since deleted, or I would link you to it – where, in my opinion, as it reached nearly 200 posts, replies, and so on of great advice. I managed to do screenshots of most of it – so I am sure it will be posted again… So here is Travis’s advice:

This is the amazing Travis Fessler from The Pickled Brothers Circus.

If they accept the first offer, you asked for too little. If they laugh and hang up then never answer your calls again, you asked for way too much. try to hit between those 2.

Second, and along the same lines, here is some SUPER sage advice on negotiating your price from Todd Robbins, that he originally posted to the Sideshow Spectrum on Facebook as part of the above referenced thread – but then posted for everyone when the original post disappeared:

Never quote your price right away. Tell them it depends on many factors, such as date, distance, the length of performance, etc. Then ask them what their budget is. Get them to tell you what they are thinking. This way you will not underprice yourself or have them hang up the phone because you over priced yourself. I also use an adaption of the line, “I don’t want to say $100 if you are thinking $10,000 and I don’t want to say $10,000 if you are thinking of $100. I want to do this show for you, so what are you thinking?” THEN I SHUT UP and let them talk. That’s a very hard thing to do. What they say next is what you need to hear in order to move forward with booking the job.

This is Todd Robbins in his award-winning show, Play Dead, which I highly recommend. This promotional photo was provided by Todd Robbins.

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