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21-year-old chose circus career over going to college—what her job is like


Skyler Miser’s average work shift lasts about three seconds — a time during which she’s shot out of a cannon in front of thousands of people. 

Miser, 21, is the “human rocket” in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s circus. 

During the show, in some cases three times a day, Miser is blasted through the air out of a rocket at 7 G. For comparison, the fastest rollercoaster in the world, Abu Dhabi’s Formula Rossa, reaches a maximum of 4.8 G.

“I love the adrenaline rush, I can’t imagine a more fun job,” Miser tells CNBC Make It. “I also like seeing the reactions from the audience. People don’t expect a young girl to do such a daredevil stunt.”

For Miser, working in the circus is a childhood dream realized. 

Miser was just 2 years old when she first performed in the circus, joining her parents on stage to introduce their act.

Photo: Skyler Miser

Joining the family business

Some people dream of running away with the circus, but for Miser, it’s home. Her father, Brian Miser, and her mother Tina Miser performed in earlier versions of the Ringling Circus in the early and mid-2000s, also as human cannonballs. 

“One of my earliest memories is watching my parents fly out of the cannon,” says Miser.

She was just 2 years old when she first performed in the circus, joining her parents on stage to introduce their act.

Miser grew up in Peru, Indiana, a small town in the Midwest known as the Circus Capital of the World. 

The circus is in the town’s blood: Benjamin Wallace, one of the Ringling Brothers’ greatest rivals, first brought the big top to Peru in the 19th century, and it never left. Every July, Peru hosts an eight-day circus festival, culminating in a parade.

Miser spent her summers training with the Peru Amateur Circus, learning trapeze and acrobatic skills. 

Miser’s father, Brian, started training her on a trampoline when she was young, teaching her how to develop proprioception, which is awareness of your body’s positioning in space — a helpful skill to master if you’re flying through the air.

She first shot out of a cannon at 11 years old. 

“My dad had made an eight-foot-long cannon for a clown act and before he sent it over, he asked if I wanted to be the test dummy,” Miser recalls. “I was like, ‘Absolutely.'”

At the time, she flew about 18 feet in the air — a small fraction of the distance she travels today. During her act, Miser is propelled about 70 feet in the air at speeds of up to 65 miles an hour.

Miser says she was “instantly hooked” and decided then that if she were ever given the opportunity to follow in her parents’ footsteps (or flight path), she would take it.

That chance came in 2022 when Miser’s father received an email that Ringling, which shut down in 2017, was making a comeback, and planning live auditions in Las Vegas.

At the time, Miser was finishing her senior year of high school. She applied to a few colleges and debated continuing her education or enlisting in the Air Force, but says she “couldn’t resist” the chance to work with the circus she grew up with.

“That email was the end of my college quest,” she jokes.

A few months later Miser attended live auditions in Las Vegas and in September 2022, she received official word that she was cast as the show’s “human rocket.” Ringling made its official return in September 2023.

She signed her contract in an old Ringling train car that her parents had bought when the circus closed.

Miser’s entire act is done without any safety gear — like helmets or shoulder pads — which she says would slow her down.

Photo: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

Getting shot out of a cannon for a living

Miser typically performs in six shows per week, all of which happen between Friday and Sunday. 

She’s traveling with Ringling to perform in cities across the United States nearly every week between now and December. Her work schedule varies leading up to each weekend’s performances, but Miser says she has at least one dress rehearsal to walk through her act at the venue.

Much of Miser’s prep happens outside of the cannon. 

“Normally, Friday is my first night flying for the week,” she says. “Getting shot out of the cannon is a lot of pain on your body, so I don’t want to put my body through more than I need to.”

The trick takes skill, practice and “extreme focus,” Miser explains. “It’s a bit nerve-wracking, you just get one shot to get it right.”

To prepare for the stunt, Miser does yoga, stretching and foam rolling to release tension in her hip flexors and back. She performs drills on a trampoline and practices falling on an airbag. She prioritizes sleep, aiming for 10 hours a night.

Miser learned from her mother to meditate right before her performance, to help focus and reduce anxiety. 

“As soon as I walk out into the ring, I’m thinking of every little detail: where the airbag is, my posture, if the cannon feels hot or cold,” she says. “The flight might be two to three seconds but to me, it feels like I am moving in slow motion, I’m feeling every millisecond.”

Her entire act is done without any safety gear — like helmets or shoulder pads — which Miser says would slow her down. She adds that she hasn’t suffered any injuries beyond minor scrapes and bruises from the act.

On her days off, Miser says she likes to explore restaurants and museums in the cities the circus is passing through or sleep in. “I try to listen to my body to make sure I’m ready for the next weekend of shows,” she says. 

The career path of a circus performer

Miser’s professional human-cannonball career with the Greatest Show on Earth kicked off in September 2023. Miser plans to tour with the circus until April 2025, when her contract expires.

She declined to share her salary with Ringling. In the U.S., the average pay for a circus performer is about $30 an hour, according to ZipRecruiter, equating to about $62,000 a year for someone who works full-time. 

“Right now, I’m just living in the moment,” Miser says of her future career plans. “I could see myself going back to school and becoming a physical therapist or athletic trainer, it depends on how my body feels … but on a good day, I could see myself doing this my whole life.”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. Use discount code NEWGRAD to get 50% off from 5/1/24 to 6/30/24.

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