Family Circus

Do you think your family is a circus? If so, perhaps you should check out a real family circus—and feel free to bring the family.

This weekend, UApresents will host six performances by the Zoppé Family Circus, a one-ring circus run by and starring members of an Old World Italian family—the Zoppés, of course—who've been in the business for about 170 years.

Way back in 1842, a young French street performer named Napoleone Zoppé was looking for work in a plaza in Budapest, where his eyes met those of a beautiful young woman called Ermenegilda—who happened to be a talented equestrian ballerina. The two promptly fell in love.

Since Ermenegilda's father didn't like the idea of his daughter falling in love with a clown, she and Napoleone ran away to Venice to marry. As the story goes, in Venice, they founded the circus that still bears the Zoppé name—a circus which has been growing in fame over the generations, as it makes use of each family member's unique showmanship (or business) talent.

Napoleone's great-grandson, Alberto Zoppé—a skilled equestrian like his great-grandmother—inherited the circus 100 years after its founding. On a tour of Europe, he met famous director/actor Orson Welles, who convinced Alberto (after he was bribed with a promise of a loaned elephant) to go to America and perform in Cecil B. DeMille's Oscar-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth.

Remaining in America with his wife, Sandra, after the movie's filming, Alberto produced circuses for the Ringling Bros., and then revived his own family circus with the help of a new generation—his children Giovanni, Tosca and Carla, along with their spouses.

Alberto, now more than 80 years old and with an artificial hip and knee, still wows audiences in the ring of his family's intimate 500-to-600-seat circus tent. Son Giovanni has taken on a starring role as Nino the clown, who weaves a central story around which all of the performances revolve.

These performances include all the must-have circus elements: acrobatic and trapeze feats, horseback showmanship, dogs that do amazing tricks—and, of course, plenty of clowning by Giovanni (aka Nino) and others.

"We don't go forward with fancy lights and fog machines and stages that go up and down," said Giovanni Zoppé, in a charismatic Italian accent. "This is what true entertainment is supposed to be. Instead of smoke and mirrors, our circus is about family love and real life."

Throughout all the performances, the circus strongly encourages audience participation.

"You don't come to our circus to see our circus. You come to experience it. When you come to our show, you become part of our family," said Zoppé.

That family, of course, includes many of his blood relatives, as well as his "circus family"—those in the circus with whom he's developed intimate working relationships as he travels and performs with them.

The folks at UApresents are getting quite an emotional boost from preparing to host their first-ever circus. Said Darsen Campbell, the group's marketing and publicity manager, "Were absolutely thrilled to bring the circus here. It's good family entertainment for all ages—from the little ones all the way up to the grandparents. ... It sounds like a fairy tale."

Giovanni Zoppé promised attendees a wonderful experience. "Our job is to give other people joy. It's the greatest job in the world. Circus is about joy, passion, love," he said, adding that he hopes his own young son will one day follow in his footsteps as the ringleader of the ensemble.

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