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Giovanni Zoppé – “Nino”

Nino Zoppé with childSixth-generation circus performer Giovanni Zoppé has nothing against the modern lions-and-tigers-and-bears spectacle of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, or the Vegas-style slickness of Cirque du Soleil. He just doesn’t think high-concept shows like those capture the essence of the circus. “If somebody came to see our show, they would see what the circus was like a hundred years ago”, says Zoppé, a part-time Pilsen resident and performer in his family’s theatrical circus. Though he only recently returned to Chicago, Zoppé’s roots tie him to the Midwest – he was born in the parking lot of WGN studios following a family appearance on Bozo the Clown in 1966. The Zoppé show is something akin to a child’s pure, more simplistic idea of circus entertainment, he says: some equestrian feats and dancing dogs, human balancing acts on tin cans, and clowns performing pratfalls and toying with the audience. Originally hailing from Italy, the Zoppé family is a travelling band of performers and animals that makes appearances mostly at fairs, carnivals and parks around the country each summer. (In the off-season, the family disbands into solo acts, working as actors and stunt people and performing at other circuses independently.) Legend has it that the family circus, said to be the first tent circus in all of Italy, began in 1842, when a French clown and Hungarian ballerina fell in love and ran off to start their own show in Venice. Over the next century, the circus travelled throughout northern Italy.

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