Circus Bella bringing laughs and family fun to parks

‘Humorous’ promises ‘infectious joy’

Responding to the current need for uplift, Circus Bella’s new show “Humorous” promises to deliver a hearty dose of fun and spirit.

The free outdoor performance debuts in DeFremery Park in Oakland on Thursday, followed by two shows at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival in The City on Saturday.

“We all need a little humor,” says Abigail Munn, cofounder of Circus Bella who wrote and directed “Humorous,” the company’s 12th annual summer show.

The circus’ fresh and funny material is brought to life by jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, clowns and other circus artists in a one-ring format; the ensemble dynamics create “infectious joy,” Munn says.

Happiness, love and radiance – not politics – are on the bill, Munn adds.

While noting that every troupe member is a valued talent, Munn, a trapeze artist, gives special mention to the clowns, whose work may not appear as difficult as that of an acrobat or aerialist but, in fact, requires immense skill.

“The clowns have the hardest job in the show,” says Munn. “They have a huge responsibility. They’re asked to be the thread in the show. They must be adaptable. They must be present. Their work requires timing and physicality. They must be athletic.”

They also “help us see our foibles and allow us to make fun of ourselves.”

Circus Bella cofounder Abigail Munn created the troupe’s new show “Humorous.” <ins>(Courtesy Ron Scherl)</ins>

Circus Bella cofounder Abigail Munn created the troupe’s new show “Humorous.” (Courtesy Ron Scherl)

Part of a longtime Bay Area circus scene, Circus Bella came into being in 2006 as an idea shared by Munn and colleague and friend David Hunt when the two were working with the Zoppe Family circus. Their hopes became reality a year later when the Bella Winery invited the new company to perform what turned out to be an unpolished but ebullient show there. The six-member group used the winery’s name. Intended to be only temporary, the moniker stuck.

Since that time, Circus Bella, which currently consists of about 16 members, has grown into a highly regarded presence in the local circus community.

Munn, who fell love with the circus world at age 9 when her mother signed her up with the Pickle Family Circus, describes Circus Bella as a diverse modern troupe devoted to circus traditions, including the circus ring.

Some brief history: The ring is attributed to 1770s London trick rider and theatrical manager Philip Astley, who performed in a circular amphitheater called the “circus” or “circle.” Over time, “ring” became the word for performance circles like Astley’s.

The ring gives the audience visual access that conventional theatrical staging style can’t, allowing spectators to enjoy both a full view of the performers and a feeling of connection with fellow spectators. Munn, a circus advocate as well as creator, believes the ring to be essential to a circus.

A live band, a rarity in modern circuses, is also a key ingredient in a Circus Bella show. “The band is a like a character in the show,” Munn says.

While circuses have evolved to reflect modern sensibilities and large traveling circus companies have decreased in number while small regional companies (a development that excites Munn) seem on the rise, the art form’s chief elements — traditional feats, a community vibe — haven’t changed much, and Circus Bella’s shows, including “Humorous,” illustrate that.

The “Humorous” lineup suggests a circus-arts cornucopia: Garret Allen (chair stacking), Toni Cannon (strong man), Jamie Coventry (clown), Jefferson Freire (juggling and unicycle), Dwoira Galilia (aerial hoop), Elise Hing (contortion), Natasha Kaluza (clown and hula hoops), and Calvin Kai Ku (clown).

Also aboard is the Circus Bella All Star Band, performing live original music by Rob Reich.

Munn is both host and ensemble performer.

Craft contributors include San Francisco corset maker and Dark Garden founder Autumn Adamme, the costume designer.

IF YOU GO: Humorous

Presented by Circus Bella

When: Aug. 26 to Oct. 3 (subject to change)

Where: Bay Area and beyond

Admission: Free, $20 suggested donation


LOCAL SCHEDULE (subject to change)

Aug. 26, 5:30 p.m.: DeFremery Park, 1651 Adeline St., Oakland

Aug. 28, noon and 2:15 p.m.: Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission, between Third and Fourth streets, S.F.

Sept. 11, 2 p.m.: Mission Creek Park, 290 Channel St., S.F.

Sept. 16, 6 p.m.: Lincoln Square Park, 261 11th St., Oakland

Sept. 19, 1 p.m.: Dimond Park, end of Dimond Ave., Oakland

Oct. 3, 2 p.m.: Cargo Way and Jennings Street, S.F.

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