Workin Cheap: How Shortsighted Ninnies Are Killing Our Profession

Will Hoop For Free by Laura Witwer

Buckle up dear hoopers – this is gonna be a bumpy ride! Today, we will be talking about the money side of the business, specifically about working cheap. What does it mean to you and your industry? How does it affect your future ability to earn a living? Are YOU one of the performers on my I-Would-Like-To-Slap-You List? Giddyap, cowgirl – I aim to shoot straight from the hip.

How Cheap is Too Cheap?

When deciding how much I will charge for my services (that sounds vaguely naughty somehow), I take a number of things into account.

• Is someone making money off me? (ex: open to the public shows, night clubs, agents, evil dictators, etc.)
• How much hoo-hah and shenanigans are involved? (travel, rigging, equipment, the occasional high-maintenance producer – we charge a “shenanigans” tax when we have to work with unpleasant people, costuming, custom-created work, cost of meals, scheduling, etc.) The more anticipated drama, the more we charge.
• Are there any pretty perks? (professional photos or video which will contractually be made available to us, awesome location, swanky catering, free equipment or costumes, male models named Dante, etc.)
• Where is the event being held? Germany is a very different market than Ecuador.
Is this a non-profit, fundraising event, or other event where a budget is so tight it squeaks?

Show Me the Money!

Taking ALL of these things into account, what is a fair and sustainable price for my work? Adequate compensation is the best defense against Bitter Business Syndrome (and oh – Hoopers – I know from whence I speak). I want you to think about the following:

• Add up the amount you’ve spent on lessons, rehearsal space, equipment, etc. Still feel OK about charging $200 for your performance?
• Circus is a skill worth paying for. Your abilities are unique, and you’ve worked hard for your skills. Do you see accountants, nurses, plumbers, etc. lining up to work for free? Why do you value your training and skills less? Do you feel that because you love your work it’s not worth much? News flash, sistah – you don’t have to hate your job to be paid fairly for it.
• Do you “just want to perform”? Love it so much you’ll do it for free? Then by all means – donate your skills to local showcases and shows! Just don’t bill yourself as a professional. As in “I do this as a profession” – because that means it’s how you make a living. No $$? No living. Also? I really hope you love your day job, because you’ll never make enough to leave it.

When you work cheap, it gets around. People don’t value what they don’t pay for. When we hear of performers who routinely lower the bar for the rest of us, you can bet they won’t be working in any of our shows or events.

Now, I’m not saying you should never reduce your rates (we do “good karma” gigs when appropriate), or perform gratis at a benefit or local show – these can be great places to put up new acts and get feedback, give back to your community, etc. But professional shows and events demand professional pay, and if you’re walking in the door as a hooper for less than $500 (and yes – that’s on the very low end), you are undercutting, my friend. Make no mistake – it will kill our industry.

If you have any questions, may I suggest: Should I Work For

Good art and entertainment are valuable, and worth being paid for. The florist gets paid, the caterer gets paid, the lighting designer gets paid, the event planner gets paid, the stage manager gets paid – the talent should get paid too. You may have to scale up or down a bit depending on your regional market, but it’s up to you to make sure you’re engaging in healthy business practices by not undercutting an entire industry in your eagerness to work.


Laura Witwer We love it when guest blogger Laura Witwer shares her thoughts, and she always has great things to say. She can be found online at, as well as through her cirque-style entertainment company ImaginAerial. She lives in New York, New York, USA.

One thought on “Workin Cheap: How Shortsighted Ninnies Are Killing Our Profession

  1. Thank you so much for this article, I understand the frustration of undercutters. I try very hard to stay on par with the market here in my area.
    I hope what happened with the photography industry doesn’t happen to us.

    We will prevail!!!

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