Working as a fire performer

 15 November 2012

A former electrician, fire performer Tim Marston developed his act and launched his business, Juggling Inferno, from scratch. He spoke about his career and shared 5 tips for freelance performers.

Starting out as a fire performer

In his mid-twenties, Tim went backpacking round the world. When he came back, he had a new hobby – and a drive to make a career out of it.

"I was travelling round Australia, and while I was out there I got into fire performing. I became instantly obsessed.

"I am fully self-taught in performing. For the kind of work I do, I wouldn’t actually recommend drama school or formal circus training."

"When I returned to the UK, I started training after work every day. I made my own props. Because I'd worked as an electrician, I could do that without too much trouble.

"I kept up the training for hours outdoors behind my flat. I practised constantly.

"I taught myself how to eat fire in about 20 minutes – none of this is as dangerous as it looks, but don’t tell anyone! The job is to make it look dangerous – really, there are a few dangerous elements to it, but most of it is really controlled and safe.

Finding performance work

As he gained confidence, Tim began performing for free at friends' parties.

"People began to offer me £50 here and there to do a wedding, or a slot at a festival in return for a free ticket and some beer money. I started building it up from there.

"One of the first realisations I had was that performing is dramatically different from juggling on your own – it’s a whole new ballgame.

"I am fully self-taught in performing. For the kind of work I do, I wouldn’t actually recommend drama school or formal circus training to the majority of people. 

"I was so into my training, and I trained so hard, that the act became very good pretty quickly. It was also very unique, and completely self-devised, which was an advantage when I started to network with other professionals.

"YouTube didn’t exist when I started, but I got a lot of inspiration from other performers.

"I was advised by an existing juggling performer early on, and that was a huge help."

Launching a performing business

"After about five years of training, I decided to go full-time. To do that, I started building a crew of regular fire eaters, and I launched my company, Juggling Inferno.

"I built the company website and used a number of tools to promote it. My ultimate aim was to become one of the go-to guys in the UK for fire and circus performance – and I've achieved that goal.

"Most performers who are successful apply themselves to all aspects of their career – not just shining on stage."

"I now earn my living performing. Generally, my act tends to be a 25-minute street theatre-style fire show, with a bit of patter thrown in.

"It's a big show, with lots of big tricks. I show off a lot, and tell a lot of – hopefully! – funny jokes.

"I tend to do most of the solo work, but when we get a booking for a team of fire performers we have a group. 

"The thing I value most about my work is how enjoyable it is. I get to have fun, mess around, and inspire kids to have a similar amount of fun in their lives."

5 tips for starting out as a freelance circus performer

  1. Work very hard on creating an act that is commercially viable
    "Your act shouldn't just be a collection of skills. It also shouldn't be something so artistically personal that only you and your mum would be interested in it."
  2. Take responsibility for the business, marketing and logistic aspects of your career, as well as the fun stuff 
    "Don’t expect some sort of magic pill solution to the challenges you'll face. You're unlikely to get spotted by a super-rich agent, so don't sit around waiting for it. Most performers who are successful apply themselves to all aspects of their career – not just shining on stage."
  3. Get a mentor or advice from older or more experienced performers
    "This made a massive difference to my career. It’s surprising how keen people are to help. The advice you get can provide invaluable shortcuts to help you achieve the career you really want."
  4. Keep looking for ways to improve your act, marketing and business in general
    "Work hard, and then work harder. Always aim to put more effort in than your competition. It’s either that or win 'Britain's Got Talent' – and really, the odds are not on your side for that."
  5. Research what going freelance is really like, and how you can make it work for you
    "It's important to really understand what skills you're going to need to make a living from your act and keep the bookings coming in. My site and book, How To Sell Your Act, aims to brings together a lot of useful information for performers who want to make a living from their art."

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