Make your summer fair an event to remember by inviting a circus into your school! Not only will this pull in the punters, but it's guaranteed to produce a tidy profit too.
Having a big headline act at your summer fair can seem a bit daunting, especially with a large price tag attached! But the benefits are enormous – after all, how often does the circus come to town? And right on your doorstep too!
Why a circus?
- Pre-selling tickets means a guaranteed audience at your event
- Having a big top brings a colourful rainproof attraction to your outdoor event, providing a ready-made wet weather contingency plan!
- It will provide impact and excitement to promotional posters
- Whole families will come along for the experience
- It will attract an audience from beyond your school gates, meaning more people browsing other stalls
- Most of the work involved happens pre-event. Apart from checking tickets and supplying performers with refreshments, you can relax and enjoy the show!
What do you get?
Circus suppliers vary tremendously, with performance times ranging from 45 minutes to two hours, with little big tops seating 230 people and big tops seating 600 people. Think about whether you want one big show, several small shows over a couple of days, and/or circus skills workshops with pupils – where children can learn the trapeze, how to juggle and even how to unicycle! Help build excitement by linking your circus with classroom learning, too. Pupils may form part of the show, with a skills workshop provided to a small group beforehand. Performers might be selected through a whole-school competition (see case study below), or chosen at random, or as a reward for good attendance, etc.
If you're holding your circus on a weekday, will it be a stand-alone event or 'the big launch' for your fair? Is a 6pm show time late enough for parents to get home from work and eat dinner, equally would a 7pm show time be too late for little ones? Can your PTA serve refreshments and offer a BBQ to help boost profits and add to the atmosphere? Travel expenses, together with the time it takes to erect a big top can often make it more cost-effective to keep your circus for several days, so consider how you can maximize attendance and therefore profits.
Things to think about...
- If you're having any type of big top, you will need enough space – approximately 50m by 50m. You will need to verify that no underground pipework is nearby – your school should be able to supply plans. You may also need several strong volunteers on hand to help drive in stakes when setting up. Check with your school and local authority – if they cannot confirm groundwork is suitable they may not allow a circus.
- You will also need suitable access for large vehicles.
- If your circus team are staying at your school overnight, they will probably be sleeping in tents or self-contained trailers on the school playing field. You will need to check with your head teacher that the school is happy with this. Access to toilet facilities and electricity may also be required – it may affect the cost if toilets need to be hired.
- Electricity leads used by third party suppliers should be PAT tested.
- You will need to carry out a risk assessment, however, as the circus is self-contained, these are usually available from your supplier.
- Ensure that any third party providing equipment has their own public liability insurance.
- Prices vary considerably, but expect to pay between £1,250-£2,500 per day, excl. VAT and expenses.
- You may have to book up to two years in advance to secure a circus on your preferred date. Prior planning is absolutely key!
Solutions for small schools
Suppliers such as Circus Pazaz have a little big top, seating 230, which may be better for smaller schools. Consider linking up with other local schools to share the circus on one of your playing fields or even a village green. If a big top is beyond your reach, many companies offer great education workshops. Its science show – Forces and Motion – complements KS1/KS2 topic work, where children learn why objects fall, speed up, change direction or balance, while playing with diablos, plate spinning and tightrope experiments. They can even use their newly-acquired skills in a performance to a paying audience!
Looking for a supplier?
We have a comprehensive directory of fundraising suppliers, specialising in the PTA/school market. For those mentioned within this feature, contact:
- Happy's Circus – call the Fundraising Team on 02380 613288
- Popup Circus – call Ed on 0800 6347063
- National Festival Circus – call 01384 423496
- Circus Sensible – call Clive on 07958 780246 – they also offer a 'clown free circus' for anyone with a clown phobia
Jo Griffiths, PTA Secretary, Kings Worthy Primary School, Winchester (320 pupils), tells us about her circus success: 'I wanted a fresh idea for fundraising for our school. I saw an advert for Happy's Circus in PTA+ Magazine, had a look on their website and was staggered to see the booking calendar was already full for the year – fortunately they had a cancellation! Happy's Circus sent us promotional material, tickets and a CD with every bit of information you could possibly need (including insurance certificates, selling techniques, planning, etc). The CD also had suggestions for incorporating the circus into the curriculum, so I sent the PTFA teacher rep details of circus-related work for KS1 and KS2. This included clown pictures to colour in, poems, designing clown cards and information on the history of the circus.
As part of the run-up to the event, we organised a talent show. Heats took place in classrooms and those selected as winners by classmates were put forward for the final in the school hall. Acts comprised of a Mr Bean sketch, a circus-themed dance troupe and a street dance squad. In order to raise awareness of the circus, I walked around the playground wearing a clown wig and a sandwich board advertising the circus and selling tickets. We sold tickets for a flat rate of £7.50 each (regardless of whether for a child or adult) or £25 for four (under-twos sitting on parents' laps were free). I put up posters all over Winchester as we couldn't expect to sell all 600 tickets purely to families within our school and I also emailed other local primary schools. We made a Kitchener-style poster on an A-frame at the school entrance saying '13 days to go – have you bought your tickets yet?' and the number of spaces reduced each day. This acted as a great reminder to the parents and we shall definitely use this again in the future. I was pleased to start getting telephone calls for tickets, so I organised for buyers to collect their tickets at the school office and leave their payment – we sold all 600 tickets.
The circus crew were very friendly and didn't mind answering my questions on the day of the event. We organised for the children to dress in circus-themed clothes for £1, so the audience looked wonderful! The event was spectacular with lots of "oohs" and "ahhs" from the audience. At the start of the second half (after a 30 minute interval), the two winning acts from our talent contest performed in front of the audience – fame at last! We've had so much positive feedback since the event that we've decided to book it again. We were thrilled to make £1,800 clear profit from this event, and would not hesitate in recommending it to other schools.'