Elizabeth Munn

Performance Artist

"One of the reasons I fell in love with rope is the simplicity of it. It’s just a rope; how are you going to tell me a story?"

When we first met Elizabeth Munn, she was performing on rope at the Circus Warehouse, and we were immediately captivated. Since then, we’ve discovered a plethora of separate dimensions to her art, not only her physical drama and grace, but her way of storytelling with rope and other mediums. After all, when we "feel" what we create, it’s always all about the story…

"I’m an aerialist. I focus primarily on rope, although I also perform on silks and hammock and spansets. I’m starting to play with some other things as well. I got started on a whim; about five years ago I was taking a break from everything else I was doing, signed up for a class and got hooked. I kept going and training and since I was taking a break, I had a lot of time to devote to it. It just sort of developed from there. I’ve always been a very physical performer which didn’t always work so well with my mediums I was working in at the time, so it’s really the physicality of it; the possibilities in storytelling that keep me going and draw me to it.

I started out as a classical musician, as a singer, and cycled through a lot of different phases. I started out in Baroque music and early music and I did a lot of new music and new work and ended up doing standard opera rep as well. The storytelling became more and more important to me over the years, rather than just the act of creating sound, which is exciting in its own way. I kept feeling a bit stifled and looking for ways to be more of a storyteller. My pieces that I create myself are often from a character’s perspective. It’s not always linear, sometimes it’s kind of abstract, but it almost always is rooted in some sort of character scenario rather than more traditional circus.

I work a lot in the cabaret scene and that’s not always going to be the most melodramatic story that I tell, but it’s really fun. I love the intimacy of it and the interaction of the audience often feeds what’s happening. If I come in with an idea of a character, sometimes that changes a lot depending on the night, the performance, what’s being given in the room from the audience, the other performers, the host, all of those kinds of things.

I’m interested in work that combines circus, the aerial arts with other forms of theater, combined with music or with other sorts of visual artists and trying to tell stories from different perspectives that way.

Even after all these years, obviously as aerialists we do a very thorough physical warm up and I always did that as a singer, as many singers do. But even now, I still have the instinct to do vocal warmups, so when I go to warm up for a show it’s like "oh wait I don’t have to do that, I’m not using that today."

I don’t want to set limits on it. This is my path. I teach a lot too and I love that. I’m interested in more collaboration with different kinds of artists and I’m always looking to stretch that way. I don’t want to box it in.

There are all different kinds of performers in a variety show and they all have a different way of commanding space, of taking up space in the room, and forming that intimacy with the audience. I think what’s so exciting about that scene is being close to it, because often spaces in New York are very small and intimate so you can really see that vulnerability on the stage, and I think that’s what is compelling about a performer. When you sink your teeth into a collaborative process, there’s always a new high. There’s always a new goal. I do feel more peaceful with this path. I don’t feel stifled; I really do feel like there is endless possibility in this kind of work."