About Signora Bella

The Real Signora Bella

Signora Bella

Jody Ellis, the only female child of Mama and Papa Ellis, grew up with four brothers on a farm in a small Northern California valley. She demonstrated an interest in the stage at age six, when she made headlines for the first time with an exuberant dance to "Aquarius" in the musical Hair. But the highlight of her budding career was playing the role of John Merrick (the elephant man) in Thomas Gibbons' one-act play The Exhibition.

Jody went on to study theater arts at Santa Clara University, and received her bachelor's degree in May of 1986. During her senior year she received the prestigious Helen Hayes Scholarship. For her senior recital she produced and acted in Listen With Your Eyes. That production happened to include a reprise of Jody's elephant man role. According to a review of her performance in The Santa Clara, Jody "was, in a word, 'fabulous' ".

Two months after her graduation, Jody joined the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter Ring Sidewalk Circus. The Circus was sponsored by the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order and combined elements of traditional circus acts with vaudeville sketches and simple morality plays. The circus wound its way up and down the Mississippi River, performing at hundreds of venues in seventeen states. Jody acted in the circus's stories and juggled in both a four-person passing routine and a two-person, three-club stealing act. She also performed a solo balancing act on the rola bola (a board set upon a cylinder).

Following her season with the circus, Jody was accepted to Dell'Arte School of Physical Theater, which emphasizes the concept of performer as creator. From September 1988 through July 1989, she studied physical acting styles including mask performance, mime, melodrama, clowning and commedia dell'arte. It was during this period that Jody's alter ego, Signora Bella began taking shape.

In the spring of 1990, she was hired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and began performing as Signora Bella, the Great Italian Equilibrist, a travelling 18th century performer who has recently arrived in the new American republic. And Jody quickly added two new skills to Signora Bella's balancing, juggling and story telling routine: walking on the slackrope and on a big red ball, that playfully came to be known as "the razor-sharp globe of death". At Colonial Williamsburg she appeared in the Grand Medley of Entertainment, an eighteenth century variety show, and in many other special events, including forty performances each summer at Colonial Taverns' Dinner Theater.

In September 1999 Jody made major upgrades to her performance equipment and began sharing Signora Bella with audiences at historical sites and fairs across eastern North America. In these venues, where female performers are rare, she is captivating audiences and building a loyal and enthusiastic fan base.


The Life and Times of Signora Bella

Papa Bella was the living aquarium, swallowing live fish to the astonishment of all. Mama Bella, with her bare hands, snatched each fish from a tank of teaming trout, tossing them into Papa Bella's mouth, which he swallowed for stunned crowds. They traveled the entire peninsula of Italy amazing peasants to popes, dukes to dullards, cretins to courtiers, heathens to holy men. You know a what I mean?

They decided to expand the act, so they began the next generation of Bellas. Nine months later came Carmella , named after St Carmellita, patron saint of the hair that is red.

In the next eight years Mama Bella bore six more baby Bellas (in between handing fish to Papa Bella): Luchetta, Lucia, Luchiano, Giavanni, Guiseppi, Massimo and Bob. But we don't talk about Bob.

They discovered that Carmella had an amazing sense of balance when, at her baptism, Monsignor Maleachi dropped her into the baptismal font. Instead of cracking her little noggin she landed with a flourish, balancing on the rim of the font. The priest exclaimed "Ain't that pretty!" Impressed by her poise and grace, not to mention her beauty, the priest cried "Bella Bella!" So the destiny of Signora Bella is revealed.

Mama &Papa Bella placed Bella with the Little Sisters of the Soup until she was old enough to hand Mama Bella fishy from her own little pail. But at the age of thirteen, during her confirmation, she brought shame to the Mama and Papa by juggling the Eucharist, so they apprenticed her to a gypsy mountebank.

Signor Mountebank, stunned by both her beauty and talent, booked passage on a ship sailing across the Atlantic, and they paid for their passage by entertaining. Signor Mountebank acted as the ship's doctor as Bella amazed the crew. She took to walking the ship's lanyards for fear she might be tossed overboard to preserve the ship's good fortune. Everyone knows it is bad luck to have a woman onboard ship, and even worse luck for that young Italian beauty who finds herself there.

Arriving in America, she fled the mountebank when she had the chance. The first person she met told her "Welcome to America; this is land of opportunity." But she decided she didn't care for his opportunity. She went on to entertain across the young republic, trumpeting her talent and beauty for all who were fortunate enough to be graced with her charm.

Performances 1990-2014

  • Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Grand Medley of Entertainment 90-00
  • Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Shields Tavern Dinner Theatre 90-93
  • Program Development, Performance, and Management 97-99
  • Meadow Farms 10/90
  • C0lvin Mill Run 10/90
  • Salisbury MD Pemberton Fair 9/90-96,98-00
  • Henricus Family Day 9/90-97
  • 4th of July Celebration, Adam Thorougood House, Virginia Beach VA 7/92
  • Tryon Palace, New Berne, NC 5/92, 10/92, 9/97
  • Museum of the Confederacy First Christmas- 12/ 93-96
  • 1850’s County Fair, Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA 10/93
  • Defenders Day, Fort Howard, MD 9/ 94
  • Occasion of the Arts 94-99
  • Harpers Ferry 93
  • City of Manassas, 19th Century fair 5/95
  • Valentine Museum- 1890’s Bizarre at Trudgers ironworks 96-98
  • Bateau Festival, Lynchburg, VA 6/96
  • Dumfries town fair 5/10/97
  • Mount Vernon 18th Century Fair 9/97-2013
  • Alfam Convention at American Frontier Museum 6/97
  • Fredericksburg Colonial Fair 5/00
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Family day 98,99,00
  • Shakertown, Kentucky 19th Century Fair 9/98
  • Tarrytown, NY Phillipsburg Manor Pinkster Festival 5/99
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest 4th of July Festivites 99, 2013
  • 300th Anniversary of City of Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA 9/99
  • Virginia State Fair 9/00
  • Madrigal Feasts, Fairfield Singers, Fairfield, PA 12/00

Presently Jody peforms her character "Signora Bella, the Great Italian Equilibrist", to audiences of all ages balancing and juggling on the rola bola, the slackrope, and the large sphere. She juggles knives and flaming torches. With much zest, Signora Bella brings to life the tradition of the travelling performer of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Her performances encourage audience interaction, creating a unique performance every time - truly a celebration of the ephemeral delight of live performance.