I am a member of a fairly new and inexperienced unicycling club. We were recently involved as some side entertainment at a recent community event. We had no idea what to charge. Inevitably, due to our lack of experience and lack of a formal show, we chose to charge very little and use it as more of a learning experience.
Since then, we have been asked to perform at a circus themed event. (I do not have a desire to perpetuate the clown/unicyclist stereotype, but I’ll use any excuse to unicycle. No offense meant towards those who are clowns!)
To make a long story short, I have several questions for those of you willing to provide us with some advice:
What should we charge for our time? (I realize this is based on number of performers, difficulty of performance, and if we are the main entertainment or not.)
If we are not the main performance (just working the crowd for example), should we have a routine worked up? (Keep in mind that most of us are skill level 5 or below.)
Due to the low skill level of the club, should we wait until we have developed our skill set further or go ahead and seize opportunities as they arise?
Is the liability insurance that we carry as members of the Unicycling Society of America enough, or should we pursue additional insurance?
There can be a big difference between skill level and entertainment value. Even at around level 5 you could put on a very entertaining show if you introduce some humour and some rapport with the audience.
I would be inclined to do it for free, or maybe just try to cover any expenses. Last time I did anything like this I was happy to get a free meal and drink. We did it for the experience, and to help develop our skills, and to inspire other people to start riding - which was reward enough. As soon as you get paid, I think that just adds too much pressure to put on a great show!
Check with TCUC and RTUC in the upper Mid-West, they both have web sites. They do most of their fund raising by participating in parades during the summer. It’s not quite the same as a performance but it should give you a ballpark estimate. John Foss could also give you some advice in this area.
Do check the TCUC and RTUC sites. Keep in mind that they’re also very long standing clubs with routines and services that have markets that support those services. It’s awesome that they do these things and make money for their clubs that way as they get a lot of people into unicycling. TCUC has a Show Group as well which is specific to performances. They are all Level 5 or higher riders with well choreographed routines.
Our club is around 6 years old. We don’t seem to get many riders interested in the artistic side of unicycling so we don’t do many parades or performances. We typically offer demo sessions where people can sit on a uni (with supervision) and give it a try. We don’t charge for these sessions, but partner with local organizations when the need arises, our schedule fits, and we view the event as a good fit with the local direction we see unicycling taking- it’s fun and for everyone. It’s good exercise too. We also partner with the local YMCA and offer free learner sessions from November through April.
This is just what works for our club. It seems most of our riders prefer Muni.
Maybe. When we did demo events at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh we rode through the crowds and mainly talked to people. Good for uni awareness, but there wasn’t the space to have a routine worked out. People were more interested in participating by sitting on a unicycle than watching others ride. When we were asked to make an appearance at a YMCA employee picnic people wanted to watch.
Depends on what you see your club’s mission as. If the event seems like a good fit with our plan of getting as many people as possible on unicycles because they’re fun and for everyone we often agree to do it. We’ve turned down parades (non-paying) and some performances because they wanted an act, and we just don’t seem to have many riders interested in doing an act. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, we just don’t have a lot of people who like to be center stage.
We’ve never had a problem with USA insurance. If you’re club is an affiliate club and all members are USA members it is supposed to cover the liability aspect. We have needed to get specific additionally insured certificates, and USA has been great at supplying those. Getting insurance on your own may be tricky for a unicycling club. Maybe not. I do know checking into event insurance for a cycling event we were looking at $400ish per day. It’s a much better idea to be a USA affiliate.
Audiences don’t care about skills. They care about personalities. So in moving from working on skills to working an audience, you don’t need to spend months learning to one-foot wheel walk; instead, spend a few days working on characters, and how you’ll interact with each other and with the crowd. If you look at good street performers, they spend way more time building up a trick than doing it–and often the trick isn’t difficult at all. Watch one of Jamey Mossengren’s busking videos; he’ll spend five minutes on mounting a giraffe and juggling.
Try to find at least one person in your club who has some theatre or performance background or interest, and have them work up a loose set of characters (the surly guy, the cheery girl) and weave them into a kind of a story. To do it well requires another set of skills, but it’s actually easier than coming up with tricks that people will respond to.
Two tricks which have the biggest bank for buck: The kick-up mount, and jumping rope.
Unigoat, thank you for the very specific answers! Our club is heavily biased towards Muni, so these answers are definitely geared towards us. Uni awareness is our main goal as well. We want to introduce as many people to unicycle as we can! Could you give me some more information on the free learner sessions that your club offers through the YMCA?
Tholub, excellent points! The crowd isn’t there necessarily because of a love of unicycling, they are there to be entertained. The most difficult skills aren’t necessarily the most visually impressive. Jump roping had never crossed my mind. Creating characters is another interesting thought.
Several unicycle clubs offer learn to ride courses at schools around their community. There typically is a nominal charge and the lessons go for several weeks. It’s a system that works well as often they can barter for gym time and if there is a fee associated with the class, it raises revenue for their club.
We started a “class” through our YMCA to teach people unicycling. It’s pretty much open gym time where we give people the chance to give uni riding a try. The YMCA provides the space and we provide the unicycles and helmets (required by the Y for their insurance). Since it’s ongoing open enrollment, we often have at least 3 or so people working at riding without assistance. Being that it’s essentially a public space we often get people who are hanging out at the YMCA anyways to give unicycling a try. We run the sessions every Saturday from the beginning of November through late April from 4:30 to 6:30pm.
Sounds great, huh?
There is a bit of a catch. In general, the YMCA organization isn’t going to just let people who want to unicycle start unicycling at their local Y do so without being certified instructors. While there is no certification for unicycle instruction, there are Group Exercise and Group Cycling certifications. Our Y is happy with our program because we offer a service to the community while satisfying their requirements for a certified instructor. I taught Spinning™ classes for 5 years or so before we started the unicycling program. I keep all the certifications they require current. I’ve been a volunteer instructor with the Y for over 10 years now. The downside of all of this is that unless I’m deathly ill, I have to be at the Y for every session since I’m the only one in our club who holds the necessary certifications to keep us legal.
Every club seems to find what works for them as far as recruiting people into the unicycling universe. Either that, or they don’t exist very long. What works for us are the Friday night Wheel Mill sessions and the Saturday afternoons at the YMCA. With the Wheel Mill, we keep 4 unis there at all times so that people can rent them for free and give unicycling a try. It does get some people interested, but is overall less beginner friendly than the Saturday sessions.
As far as specifics for what we do with first time rider, check this out: https://vimeo.com/92461013. There are many ways to teach people unicycling. Ours focuses on getting people up on the unicycle and keeping them safe. In 6 years at the Y we’ve only had 2 reportable accidents with well over 100 people learning to ride with us.
Thank you unigoat, I will try to start working with one of our two local Y’s to see if that would be a possibility. A local school would be a nice possibility as well. Our club meetings are normally at a local park, so bartering for some gym time is not a bad idea!
Funny you should mention that tholub, I am signed up to have USA level tester training here in a couple of weeks! Our club doesn’t have one, and I thought it would be a good idea that would help progress our club.
I spend more like 15 minutes building up the tall unicycle and juggling! When I first started performing I was a ton of crazy hard tricks that most of the audience didn’t know how hard they were. Over the years, I’ve learned the less tricks I do (to a certain extent), the more money I make which seems kind of backwards. They want to be entertained not just be cool tricks but through laughter. So if you can find funny bits, that’s gold. Now for big group shows like TCUC does, that’s a bit different as they are usually shows with group riding to music and usually no one is talking or MC’ing. Although I think if TCUC had an official MC that mixed group riding together to add jokes and such, that would be awesome!
Here are some of the easier tricks I do that are really impressive to the average person: one foot riding, wheel walk, 180 uni spin, kickup mount and jump rope. Some of the harder tricks I do are: 1 ft backwards, crossover, drag seat and pedal with hands.
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it! Make sure to try and interact with the crowd, looking at them, talking to them, smiling and just having fun and they will have fun too.
As for prices, well that varies depending on so many factors so can’t really suggest the “best price”. Just whatever you think they will pay and if it’s worth it for your time to do it. I sometimes do events for free just for publicity or fundraiser. Good luck and have fun! Feel free to ask me any more questions.
If you are performing on unicycles, sponsors are going to naturally tend to slot you into circus-themed events. They wouldn’t know where else to stick you, or even think of unicycles at all in a different context. In other words, no reason to feel bad. Get out there in their circus-themed event and wow them, while at the same time showing everyone what a great sport/fitness activity it is.
“1) What should we charge for our time?”
Think of it as a donation to your program, not compensation for services rendered. That will come later. Depending on the size of your group, I’d start at $500. Think of the costs in time and gas just to get a large group of people to their event. But then put the $500 toward the group; don’t buy gas with it.
“2) If we are not the main performance (just working the crowd for example), should we have a routine worked up? (Keep in mind that most of us are skill level 5 or below.)”
Absolutely. If you don’t have a routine, you are just a bunch of people riding around, which is not particularly interesting. And don’t be concerned about skill levels. Most of the world’s best unicycle entertainers don’t even know what the skill levels are. Most of the funniest unicycle performances I’ve seen (outside of uni conventions) were done by people that would be less than 3 on the levels. It’s all about the show.
“3) Due to the low skill level of the club, should we wait until we have developed our skill set further or go ahead and seize opportunities as they arise?”
Carpe Diem! By working on a show, your skills will automatically improve.
“4) Is the liability insurance that we carry as members of the Unicycling Society of America enough, or should we pursue additional insurance?” Have fun pricing it. The USA insurance should be more than enough unless your riders are jumping off high things or riding extremely tall giraffes very close to your audience. If you shop, you will learn that liability insurance generally does not distinguish one type of unicycle activity from another. It’s just this mysterious “gray area” called unicycling.
As Jamey Mossengren mentioned above, tricks do not make the show. If you rely in tricks and don’t have an act, your audience will lose interest in the first 2 minutes.
30 years ago I was in the Redford Township Unicycle Club, which had been doing shows since 1975. They grew out of a different club that came before them. Our team consisted of riders of various skill, doing some pattern stuff, and then specialized stuff done by the riders who were good at those things. We started with some simple line shapes, followed by riding through a long line of cones while keeping all the wheels parallel. If each person enters on the opposite side of the first cone and they all follow the leader’s wheel (turning the same way at the same time) it makes a great effect. With more practice, you can do the same thing with 2 lines by entering the cones from opposite sides (at the same time). We did a square dance on unicycles. That’s pretty easy because riders are holding hands most of the time; they can support each other. Then we broke out into riding our equipment, such as a 4-way ramp, a jump ramp and a balance beam.
RTUC’s shows, in those days, were in a lecture-demonstration format. The approach was to say “Look at all this fun stuff that anyone can learn to do with unicycles. We’re having a blast!” I was always wanting to do more “performy” stuff, like comedy, but the club’s leaders at the time weren’t into that. But we had many experienced riders, so we were able to be fairly impressive without having to be very entertaining. That group or riders actually later became 5 of the early IUF world champions.
Absolutely. In fact, there was a thing I always wanted to do in a routine, but RTUC seemed to be a little averse to comedy (in the early 80s). You have your long line of riders. One by one they come to a stop across the front of your stage or performing area. The littlest rider comes in last, but she’s a super-ham and paying too much attention to the audience; waving and making faces. She’s not looking where she’s going and crashes into the line of riders, knocking them all down like dominoes.
Stuff like that can be very fun to practice, and the audience will love it. It’s important to practice intentional falls, so you know how to do them without getting tangled up or hurt. With practice you can make very gentle falls look like Madonna falling backwards down a staircase!
Explain what you’re going to do and build up to it. For the “cooler” stuff. Then surprise your audience with some of the other stuff. Tell them a little about what’s involved in learning to ride a unicycle. But not too much; don’t bore them. Just enough to put out the word that anyone can learn; mostly you just have to be willing to put some time in.
Get someone to video your show, and let us know how it turned out!
My very first show with RTUC, 1980. That’s the jump ramp. Pretty hardcore for 24" Schwinns with cottered cranks and 60psi in the tires!
Square dance portion of another show, in the same location (Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit) in 1983