Send in the Clowns
By David McCabe
03 August 2012
For most Americans, the ideal of a circus is clear: three rings, lots of animals, flashy acts and lots and lots of flare. But for attendees at this weekend’s Zoppé Family Circus in Westhampton Beach, things are going to be a little different.
That’s because the circus is of the traditional Italian variety, and has been since 1842 — since it was founded.
While visitors to an American-style circus might be accustomed to maintaining a level of distance from the performers, the artists in the Zoppé circus greet their guests at the door of their one-ring big top.
“It’s like going to somebody’s house,” said Giovanni Zoppé, who runs the circus that was started by his family six generations ago. He added, “At the end of the show, we’re going to say goodbye.”
Zoppe described the circus’s setting as intimate, saying that no seat in the tent is more than twenty feet from the ring.
The acts in the circus are also more evocative of shows past than of the arena spectaculars we know today. When Zoppé looks for performers, he says he wants to find acts that are unique and are based in more traditional circus skills. Case in point: one of the newest acts in the Zoppé Circus is a young man who does head stands on a trapeze while in motion.
“It’s an antique circus act that nobody does anymore,” Zoppé said.
Likewise, attendees at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center aren’t going to see many of the animals common in American circuses, like lions and tigers, in the ring. The show does feature 12 horses, one miniature horse, 12 dogs and four chickens. The dogs perform with Zoppè’s sister, who trained the chickens during the winter to incorporate them into the act.
While Zoppè said he isn’t philosophically opposed to using wild animals in shows — a topic that drew protesters to the site of the Cole Brothers Circus at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation a week and a half ago — his show doesn’t feature them because they would not have been used in the circus when it was founded.
After a season during which the program for the show is developed, the Zoppe Circus travels all around the country from June until January showing off their different type of circus.