“When a kid imagines a circus, this is what they think of. It’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. It’s like the circus was 100 years ago..” Giovanni Zoppe.
Every October, posters are splashed around town advertising the upcoming arrival of the Zoppe Circus. It is our fourth year attending and each year offers something new and different.
To sum up the Zoppe Circus, I would describe it as a two hour show intertwining artistry in motion, impeccable comic timing, and great athleticism, all wrapped up with enthusiastic audience participation.
It’s a family circus with deep roots; over seven generations have performed in the Zoppe Circus.
They are a hard working crowd. On the road twenty-two weeks year with over 15,000 miles driven by caravan.
Before we even walk into the tent, there is festive Italian music floating over the air. A short show kicks of the circus as we crowd around the entrance to the tent. Performers are introduced and games are played with the audience. Ava sees one of the performers dressed in his circus uniform, a white shirt, gold sash, burgundy vest, and black pants. She thinks he is a prince and proceeds to ask him where his princess is. He smiles and is thoughtful in his answer.
A traditional big top tent with flags waving in the wind. The inside of the tent is dim with strategically placed spotlights. The ceiling is a deep blue reminding me of a twilight sky. I feel like I should see stars twinkling.
A single ring is located in the middle of the tent. Surrounded by just 500 seats; it is intimate by it’s very nature.
Each performer possesses an unique ability to keep even the smallest audience members in rapt attention.
We have seats in the front row. We are so close that when the horses run around the ring, their hooves shake the seats and you can feel the breeze as they gallop by.
Ava and Mia especially enjoy Nino, the clown. His pratfalls, stunts, and subtle humor combine together to create a close relationship between himself and the audience.
This year, the clowns have switched places due to the usual Nino having an injury. However, Giovanni continues to ringmaster the show by introducing the performances and leading us through the Zoppe experience.
As always there are new acts, adding fresh talent while still keeping the crowd favorites.
When the high wire act begins, he appears to be walking right above our heads. It’s both thrilling and just a bit unnerving, all at the same time. We hold our breath as he performs.
The Daring Jones Duo, a young charismatic couple, keep us on the edge of our seats with their knife throwing and stunning trapeze acts. I envision a deep trust between the two and unspoken cadence when swinging high above the sawdust.
Hand over hand.
Twirl with a twist.
Swing, drop and catch.
Our breath is taken away.
The Unicycle Built for Two artistically blends a little romance with strength, balance and acrobatics. As he balances her in the air, we are charmed by the love between the couple.
A whole family of prop acrobats. Carefully tossing and spinning a huge vase, a large red table, and even their children. A strong family bond.
No circus is complete with out dogs. They are well-trained; jumping through hoops, racing over fences, running up and down agility props, and even dancing. The couple also had trained chickens, which were enormously entertaining for Mia. For some unknown reason, she loves chickens.
And of course, the clowns. Theatrical comedy, where two talented sketch artists play out various story lines. Nino behaves unconventionally while his partner pretends to be outraged and frustrated. Laughter erupts and we all cheer on Nino’s antics.
Midway through the show, they choose a child from the audience to participate in a routine.
This year, Mia is selected. Nino plucks her out of her seat and carries her into the ring.
She is a willing participant and excited about the whole experience.
Her role is to help Nino find his uncooperative red hat. She is points at it. Jumps and tries to reach it. Earnestly tells Nino, it’s just behind him. The pair have great synergy and the crowd is enjoying their interaction. She is Abbott to his Costello.
She loves performing. When she is returned to her seat, hugging her Nino doll, she informs me she is joining the circus.
And finally the equestrian ballerina appears. She is known for her beautiful costumes and a rainbow of ribbons and flowers flowing through her hair. She does both acrobatics and equestrian stunts. New this year, she jumps over fire while on the back of a running horse. It was breathtaking.
And Cavalino, the miniature horse also decorated in flowers and ribbons, trots around the ring and jumps over brightly painted fences. Twice during his performance, he ran over to our side of the ring and poked his face over the wall, just close enough for us to pet him.
The circus passes quickly and before we know it, the show is over. The Zoppe family gathers in the ring, ceremoniously placing their favorite items into a trunk. A symbolic close to the show.
Rousing applause thunders throughout the tent.
As we leave, the performers are outside waiting for us.
Taking pictures. Giving hugs. Thanking us for coming.
They are so accessible, it is my favorite part of this circus.
They bring us into their world and make us part of the family, even if it’s just for two hours.
And though we are thrilled with the show, there is just a hint of disappointment that it is all over until next year.
With over one hundred years of tradition, the Zoppe Circus is making its’ way through the modern world, earning every laugh and smile while protecting the art and history of the family circus.
Their commitment to creating a show that my children look forward to year after year, make them a very special circus indeed.
Photographs by Megan Maxwell-Bey ©