Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Zoppe, Part II
Giovanni Zoppe isn’t some idle dreamer, though. He’s been a professional circus performer since he was a child, and a few years ago, he resurrected the Zoppe Family Circus in America, the same circus that his father, Alberto Zoppe, was the star of in Italy, before he came to the U.S. in 1949, lured to this country by Orson Welles, John Ringling North, and an elephant named Mary. The Zoppes may be artists and dreamers, but they are also business managers and problem solvers. To be part of a family circus, you also have to be part engineer, carpenter, truck driver, laborer and accountant.
It was Alberto who, in 1936, invented the four-pole cupola circus tent, which in addition to being more stable and secure than circus tents that had previously been in use, allowed circuses to fit nearly twice as many people in the tents as they had let in before, since the amount of square footage had been doubled by the way Alberto had devised the tents. It is Giovanni who not only takes center stage as Nino the Clown in the Zoppe Family Circus, but who coordinates scheduling with his sisters Tosca and Carla, brothers-in-law Rudy and Jay, half-brother Tino Wallenda Zoppe, and his mother and father, to insure that they, as well as all the hardware -- the tent, the concession stand, the bleachers, and the family’s horses and dogs, all of which is kept at his parents’ home in Arkansas, will be ready to hit the road when they’ve got a gig.
When he is not on the road with the Zoppe Family Circus, Giovanni Zoppe freelances with other circuses or various festivals as either Nino or whatever other character he may be suited for. This spring, for instance, he performed for two weeks in Hawaii, came home to Chicago for a day, and then hit the road for his next job, in Pennsylvania. In Chicago, he has performed at Navy Pier’s “Winter Wonderland,” where he produced a one-man show, “The Night Before Christmas,” in 2002. “It was a chair-stacking act (where his objective was to place an angel atop a Christmas tree) that we built a whole show around.”
He’s also played a scarecrow at the Halloween festival at Daley Plaza, in addition to performing at the Shriner’s Circus at Medinah Temple, before the building was transformed into a Bloomingdale’s furniture store. Elsewhere, he has performed a few times at Carnevale in Venice, as “a horny, drunk monk, an American tourist, the Greek god Mercury, … (and) a minotaur, a Comedia dell’ Arte character.”
While the origins of his family’s circus are in Venice, it is Chicago that has been his muse for the modern-day Zoppe Circus, as well as the winter circus he one day hopes to see in the city. While much of his living comes on the road, it is Chicago that Giovanni Zoppe has made his home; the place where he feels destiny has brought him.
It was while performing as Nino the Clown in 1998 as part of the Shriners Circus at Medinah Temple that Giovanni Zoppe first saw Block 37, and got his epiphany for a winter circus in Chicago. One day when he had some time to fill, Giovanni took a walk around downtown, “and I saw Block 37, and thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I stood there for like 10 minutes and thought, ‘What an amazing place to put my little circus, to put my family’s circus.’”
Even before he set eyes upon Block 37, Giovanni Zoppe says that, “I had already planned on opening my own circus. It may have been a little push from working at Medinah (where his father had performed some 50 years earlier)and the richness of it” that further fueled his dreams.
Besides mentally placing his circus on Block 37 and the German market that would compliment it, Zoppe further has envisioned the ComEd building that looks across Dearborn to Daley Plaza, as a training facility for Circus Arts one day.