Circus News

“Certification” Versus “Experience” for Acrobatic & Circus Riggers

I often get asked if I am a “certified circus rigger”. This question typically comes from individuals and programs looking for small-scale rigging. When I say small scale, I am referring to individual performances, corporate events, one-off gigs, and aerial or circus schools/studios. I do my best to explain that what they are looking for is a “competent” or “experienced rigger”. By phrasing the question for a competent rigger, the asker is including experiences a rigger may have gained from on-the-job training or apprenticeships. Certifications give a rigger proof of continuing education in their field, and this is very important, but there are many lessons learned on the job site that cannot be learned through a course or test. The question changes from “Are you a certified rigger?”, to “Are you a competent acrobatic rigger with experience in rigging circus arts?”

Understandably, there is a sense of safety and security that comes along with hiring someone certified to do their job. A doctor spends years in school, and auto mechanics learn their trade-in mechanics programs; I wouldn’t attempt my own surgery, and though I know my way around a car, I still take it to the shop for an oil change. However, acrobatic (or circus) rigging is still very much learned through apprenticeship and on-the-job training. Every show, theatre, tent, and act holds different challenges for a rigger. Trying to encompass everything you might encounter when rigging a circus act into one course would be almost impossible; there will always be site-specific hurdles to overcome. Most of the common certifications that circus riggers carry show broad, general knowledge of loads and forces (hanging things overhead), and not human dynamic loads like we see in the circus ring. These certifications give a rigger the building blocks of...

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Ben Schiffer

Ben Schiffer began his journey into circus rigging as a Junior Rigger (apprentice) at the Circus Smirkus Summer Camp; he went on to do 6 tours with the Circus Smirkus Big Top tour, 3 as Head of Rigging. Ben has rigged multiple tours for Cirque Dreams, and numerous circus school, studios, and private events. Over the past 7 years Ben has spent his time rigging on Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, Corteo, and most recently as the Assistant Head of Rigging on Kurios: Cabinet of Kuriosities, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entertainment world.