Circus Bella’s host Abigail Munn is more than a circus artist and entrepreneur.
“I’m the wizard behind the curtain,” says Munn, when asked to describe the various roles she’s played with her San Francisco-based troupe, which is celebrating its 14th season with free outdoor performances of “Bananas” in Bay Area parks from mid-June to mid-July.
“This is all I do. This is my life. I just eat, breathe and sleep Circus Bella,” adds Munn, who co-founded the troupe in 2008 with David Hunt, another performer, when she was a trapeze artist.
“I love it. It’s so great. During the year, all year long, I’m fundraising, trying to build awareness for the company, trying book new opportunities for us, and then in the summer, I’m out in the parks. I’m now the ringmaster of the show, so I’ve grounded myself,” she says.
During the height of the pandemic, Munn decided it was time to move on: “I had been on the trapeze since I was 9. I was 42. I had a good run.”
Munn, whose pre-Circus Bella days included notable stints with Zoppé Family Circus and Lone Star Circus, was born and raised in San Francisco. “How this whole silliness started is that my parents signed me up for a class with the Pickle Family Circus,” says Munn, whose teachers included Judy Finelli, Wendy Parkman and Karen Quest.
“I remember, it was when Pickle Family Circus was still on Potrero Hill. I walked in the door and there was a picture of Buster Keaton, and it kind of smelled like feet, and I was like, was, like, ‘This is my home.’”
The strong sense of community in the circus world is among the things that keeps Munn attracted to the industry. “The wonderful thing about circus is you make connections with other artists and then you circle back to them. You don’t say good-bye, you say, ‘See you down the road.’ It’s fun for me as I’m casting my own company,” she says.
Circus Bella troupers (who, unusually, are employees earning living wages for rehearsals and performances) in “Bananas” include strongman Toni Cannon, clowns Jamie Coventry and Calvin Kai Ku, juggler Jefferson Freire, aerialist Dworia Galilea, contortionist Elise Hing, and clown-hula hooper Natasha Kaluza.
Noting that it’s important for the growth of the company and circus in the Bay Area in general, Munn likes to bring in guests who are up to the job, which includes setting up and breaking down the show, as well as performing. This season, they’re chair stacker Cole Bennington from San Diego and tightwire walker Logan Kerr from upstate New York.
Munn emphasizes the key role musicians play in Circus Bella and she’s grateful and thrilled to have composer-band leader Rob Reich, also on keyboard and accordion, as a longtime friend and collaborator: “It’s just a very magical relationship where we just kind of look at each other and it’s just right, most immediately all right.”
The style of the music in “Bananas,” played by a live six-piece band (a rarity in circuses these days), Munn says, is “all over the place,” with traditional circus marches and contemporary jazzy sounds. And yes, it does include singing clowns and the tune “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”
Calling this year’s show “exceptionally silly,” she says, “We really took the bananas theme and ran with it.”
Even though she’s a self-described eternal optimist, Munn admits that she didn’t imagine at the outset that Circus Bella would last as long as it has: “It’s, like, ‘Wow, we’re just still doing this.’”
With continued growth, ongoing support from a great team and wisdom from experience, every year the show gets better, says Munn.
On the phone from Treasure Island, where the Circus Bella show “Kaleidoscope” took place in 2018 and current site of Circus Bella’s storage unit, Munn chuckles at another recent positive development: “I’m admiring our merch stand right now. It’s never been so organized in our lives.”
Circus Bella’s “Bananas” 2023 Bay Area performances
Noon and 3 p.m. June 18: Point San Pablo Harbor, 1900 Stenmark Drive, Richmond
Noon June 23: Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission between Third and Fourth streets, San Francisco
Noon and 2:15 p.m. June 24: Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission between Third and Fourth streets, S.F.
6 p.m. July 13: Lincoln Square Park, 261 11th St., Oakland
6 p.m. July 14: Elmhurst Park, 9700 C St., Oakland
1 and 3 p.m. July 15: PROXY Hayes Valley, Octavia and Hayes streets, S.F.
Noon and 2 p.m. July 16: TJPA Salesforce Park, 65 Minna St., Floor 4, S.F.
All shows are free; a $20 donation is suggested. For more information, visit circusbella.org.