I’ve been thinking a lot lately about re-opening and the decisions that individuals, small businesses, big businesses, and governments have to make around it. I’ve come to realize that my background as a Circus Performer, Instructor, and Business Owner has been influencing the way I think about this complex subject, and that that framework might provide some insight to others that are making these hard decisions.
Circus is a calculated risk sport. The risks inherent in circus can never be fully taken away, they can only be mitigated. In my circus business and practice I am constantly asking myself, How could I make this safer?. Not safe, but safer. I also regularly ask myself, Is this risk worth it? There are certain tricks I’ve decided not to do or teach because I have deemed them not worth the risk; they are too risky, they fail too often or maybe they don’t fail often but when they do it is catastrophic. Coronavirus has created a situation where the risk is inherent. Any activity you take part in with other people now carries risk with it. So, we have to ask ourselves, How could this be safer? Is this risk worth it? For Circus Sanctuary we spent a couple weeks mitigating risk, we washed fabrics regularly and sprayed down soft goods with everclear. We created a hand washing station and provided hand sanitizer. We stopped doing hands on adjustments and restricted spotting to only when absolutely necessary (think emergency situations). I researched, a lot, to figure out how to mitigate risk and determine if the risks were worth it. As I learned more about the virus it became clear to me that THIS was not a risk worth taking. Circus is important. It has value. It impacts people positively, both emotionally and physically, but it is not necessary. It is my belief that my students and their families lives were not worth risking for circus. No matter how much money that decision cost me. You see, running a circus school is a big responsibility. I’ve grown accustomed to being responsible for people’s safety in situations where there is potential for loss of life. I take that responsibility seriously. And while I’m used to letting people risk themselves in a manner that is made as safe as possible, this situation is very different.
I’ve learned that people have different tolerance to risk. Some people come in and are afraid to take a foot off the ground, others would climb to the top on their first day if their body would allow. In order for people to make informed decisions around risk they have to have an understanding of what those risks are. Part of my job as an instructor and a director is to relay my understanding of the risk involved and then respect the student/performers decisions about whether or not to take it. As a studio, we have a certain amount of risk we are comfortable with and a responsibility to set limits on the risks taken through people’s work with us. Just because you are comfortable with doing that new trick you just learned in front of an audience with no mat doesn’t mean I am going to allow that in our space. In fact, I have over the years chosen not to work with a number of people that have high risk tolerance because I am not comfortable with associating my business with people that have no sense of self preservation. Another thing I’ve become aware of is that my tolerance for risk for myself is very different than the tolerance I have for risk when it comes to my students and peers. I might choose to do silks off of balloons with no safety lines or netting 100ft in the air; because to me that risk was worth the experience, and because the only person I’m really risking is me. I won’t let my students go 20’ in the air without mats and rescue plans and my hawk eyes watching their every move. I definitely wouldn't put something in a show that puts the audience at risk, that is not a risk they had a chance to assess and consent to.
The thing with coronavirus is, one person’s risk affects all of us. And while it should be true that we should all be able to determine our own risk tolerance, the fact that the risks we take put others in danger changes things. While ideally those most vulnerable should be able to stay home, some of them can’t. Not only that but there are essential workers to think of. Doctors and nurses risking their lives to save ours. But they don’t get to determine the amount of risk they take, you do. The choices you make determine their exposure. It’s not just them either, there are non-medical staff working in hospitals. My wife works at an optical place. People need to see, so sales associates helping you pick out glasses are subject to the risks you are taking, and they don’t have doctors' salaries that might make that risk more worth it for them.
I get that this is a complex issue, that people need to feed their families. That people are struggling with so many things that weigh in to their decision-making process. There are no easy answers. It takes doing your due diligence to determine an appropriate path forward. Assess all risks involved, consider others, and make the decision that’s right for you. I just hope it’s one that you (and others) can live with.