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San Francisco’s Circus Bella : Performers You Should Know

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The Performer You Should Know series highlights local artists before they perform something awesome, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place.


Che Bella! Or rather, Circus Bella! Photo Credit: Daisy Rose Coby

We’ve got a soft spot in our hearts for circus folk here at brokeassstuart.com, we are kindred spirits.  There is no art form older or more human than the circus.  People have been clowning, tumbling, and contorting since before the phrase ‘performance art’ was even a concept. The circus just took thousands of years of individual human creativity, organized them, and put them all in a tent together.

And like tumblers, buskers, and trapeze artists…gin-joint writers like me practice an art that is old-fashioned and usually pays very little, but is simply something we don’t know how not to do.  In a city that is constantly in a hurry to modernize and accelerate, it’s the circus folk who remind us where we came from and how simple a smile can be.

San Francisco has a long circus tradition from the SF Mime Troupe to the Pickle Family Circus to today’s Circus Center training the future of circus on stage, while our ‘street circus’ took improvisational form with the Cacophony Society and the St. Stupid Day Paraders, and even the big wheel racers and the costumed Bay to Breakers,  San Francisco’s particular brand of street performance satire. it’s all circus, our circus.

This summer, Circus Bella is performing all over the Bay Area, outdoors, for free!  For those of you with children, there isn’t a better way to pass an afternoon in the sun.

Today we’re introducing you to Circus Bella’s performer, writer, and artistic director Abigail Munn, she quite literally runs a circus!  She’s also a performer you should know. 

Circus Bella performing at Yerba Buena Garden Festival. Photo Credit: Amal Bisharat

Artist Name:  Abigail Munn 

Artist social Handle(s): IG @circusbella @highflyingabigail 

Where ya from?  What was your first job in San Francisco?

Hayes and Baker – Western Addition, now NOPA.   My first job was as a supernumerary for the San Francisco Opera (my dad was the lighting director at SF Opera). I was in a production of Madame Butterfly and I got paid $5 for performances and $3.50 for rehearsals.

Abigail. Photo Credit: Daisy Rose Coby

Where are your performers from? 

Performers are from all over – many including myself trained at the Circus Center but that was a long time ago.  Check out the performer bios here.

What’s Flip Flop Fly about and how do you start writing a circus? 

Flip flop fly is about human imagination, curiosity and exploration – why do we as circus performers decide to try to do the impossible? This year the clowning is very much an anchor point for the show. Before we started rehearsals, the clowns and I got in a van and traveled to Del Arte, a famous physical theatre school in Humbolt county to study with Michelle Matlock.  While at “clown camp” we created the framework for three pieces that became the anchor points for the show. Meanwhile, I assembled a company of other acts – when casting for any show I try to capture as many different pictures, textures, and emotions as possible.

Circus Bella is at the crossroads between the traditional (Ringling Brothers, Circus Vargas,  and other family-run shows etc) and new circus (Cirque du Soleil, 7 fingers, Cirque Eloize etc). All company members have their own circus act that they contribute to the show (trad circus) but we also spend time with our transitions and ensemble work.

Photo Credit: Aaron Weinstock

For me, show creation begins more with a feeling or a spark rather than a linear story that I  write down. To me, circus is about the visceral feeling and connection between the audience and the performer in the ring. Somehow deep down inside, on a cellular level we can identify with the flight of an aerialist, the struggle of a clown or the stretch of the contortionist. I hope to take audiences on a journey and there is an emotional logic to the way I put the acts together.

How has the circus changed since the Pickle Family Circus in the 1970’s?

The spirit of the Pickle Family Circus is with us every day. It is my home base and my roots. Our big tribute is that we end the show with a full company Juggling Act “The big Juggle”.  Other similarities: like the Pickles, it is a family affair – you will see kids running around backstage. We also make music a priority with live original music at all our shows.

The Pickle Family Circus.

At the same time, a lot has changed since the 1970s. Everything costs more and gone are the days when performers can just camp behind the show. I feel like there is a lot more “adulting” that has to go into a show – who knew that to run a circus I would have to become an expert in worker’s compensation categories in the State of California (That is a whole other, much less interesting article).

Abigail with the Pickle Family Circus in Glen Park circa 1989.

Is the next generation interested in circus & acrobatics & clowning?

Absolutely! I feel like now more than ever, Circus is very popular with the next generation.  In our current show our show we have one act, Gianluca Gentile who started as a kid in the CB ring with his parents many years ago, and this year is performing as a soloist. Very cool. Also inspiring is our work with Prescott Circus Theatre, who will be performing their stilt dance “Higher Ground” as an opening act to many of our Bay Area Shows.

What’s the craziest thing that happened to you while you were on stage.

The stories are endless and most of them are better relayed over a martini at the bar after a 3 show day. I often say that they are the very top tear performers and then those of us who have fantastic stories. I have survived falling flat on my back in the middle of the stage, trapeze costume malfunctions, misplaced hairpieces, and older gentlemen Japanese audience volunteers nearly diving through a hoop at a show we used to call the “5:30 soul crusher”. That said, I grew up in San Francisco so is any of this really crazy?

Photo Credit: Daisy Rose Coby

What does live music do for your performance?

Live music is everything. An artist’s act is slightly different from day to day and the music should reflect that. With Circus Bella and the brilliance of Rob Reich, the Circus Bella All-Star Band and the music are essential characters to our show.  When a clown trips and falls, Michael Pinkam our drummer is right there. Meanwhile, careful scoring helps elevate the artists as they perform death-defying tricks. The music is just so good. At the beginning of the show we have a saying “Be Brave, Be Funny, Be Safe, Be better than the band”.

Flip Flop Fly Preview:

Who makes your amazing costumes!?

Huge shout out to Autumn Adamme at Dark Garden Unique Corsetry. We have been friends, creative collaborators, and dancers together since 1999.  From about 2002-2013ish along with Artemis Anderson, we had a neo-burlesque troupe called Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.  When Bella needed a new set of costumes in 2021 she was the obvious choice.

Circus bella is performing all over the Bay Area, outdoors, for free, this summer.  For those of you with children, there isn’t a better way to pass an afternoon in the sun.


Circus Bella’s 13th Annual Summer Season 2022

All Shows FREE. To support, consider making a suggested donation of $20.

Saturday, June 25, 12:00pm and 2:15pm ***

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, Mission St. between 3rd and 4th, San Francisco

Map


Saturday, July 2, 4:00pm and 6:00pm

Sunday July 3, 11am

PART OF ART TOWN FESTIVAL!

Memorial Parking Lot, Idlewild Park, Reno NV

Map


Friday, July 8, 6:00pm ***

Studio One Arts Center, 365 45th St, Oakland

Map


Sunday, July 10, 12:00pm and 2:00pm ***

TJPA’s Salesforce Park Amphitheater

Salesforce Park, 65 Minna St, San Francisco

Map


Saturday, July 16, 1:00pm and 3:00pm***

PROXY Hayes Valley, 432 Octavia St, San Francisco

Map


Sunday, July 17, 12:00pm and 3:00pm***

Point San Pablo Harbor

1900 Stenmark Dr, Richmond

Map


Saturday, July 23, 12:00pm and 2:30pm

The Crossing at East Cut

200 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94105

Map

***PRESHOW PERFORMANCES BY PRESCOTT CIRCUS THEATRE AT SELECT LOCATIONS

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

If you're a writer, artist, or performer who would like to get your work out there, or if you've got great things to promote, we've got 120k social followers and really fun ways to reach them. We make noise for our partners, and for our community.
alex at brokeassstuart.com

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