I come from a very close-knit family, but even I don't feel close enough to any member of my family to climb a pole balanced on their head, do back flips off their feet or let them shoot me off of a swing into a net.
But these things are all everyday occurrences for the Zoppe family.
Since 1842 the family has been touring Europe and, eventually, America performing their family circus. Since Dec. 29 they've been here in Arizona at the Chandler Center for the Arts.
Giovanni Zoppe, a sixth-generation performer who plays Nino the clown during the performance, says circus life is all he knows. Now 45, Zoppe says he's been travelling and performing with his family all his life.
"I don't know what it's like to not have circus around me," Zoppe said. "I think it's the greatest life in the world. I would not change my childhood for anyone else's, but I know a lot of people feel that way about their childhood. It's all I know and it's all I ever want to know."
I asked Giovanni if there's a prerequisite to join the family. Seems like you'd have to be pretty committed to spend 24/7 with your in-laws and trust them to catch you during life threatening acts. He told me the only prerequisite is a love of life. His own wife already had some circus experience in her past, but he met her when she was working a "normal" job in Chicago.
They dated for a few years before they were married and she went back on the road with him. His sister's husband travelled with the family for about a year-and-a-half before they started dating, and another two years before they were married.
"Our family is always together," Giovanni said. "For me, I'm 45 years old and all my family is still together. We live together. When I say family I'm talking about my wife and child, but I also mean my mother, my sisters, my brothers-in-law and my father before he passed away a few years ago. We stayed as a unit all the way through my life. I don't think that's very common in most homes. Most kids go off to college or go off to work and they choose their own lives. You see your mother and father every once in a while, but it's not every day."
Like I said before, I come from a very close family, so the idea of loving life and experiencing it with them all the time is something I could really enjoy. It's the actual performing part of the circus I couldn't do.
I've never attended a circus before so I was excited to see my first show. My sweet husband was too nice to tell me flat out he didn't want to go, but I could tell I was dragging him along when he'd rather see a movie or have a quiet night at home.
When we pulled up to the huge tent and saw all the kids waiting to enter the show I almost felt bad. I'm all for family fun, but it was Saturday night and this was our date night. We needed entertainment, not mind-numbing cheesiness. But - we gave the show a chance and by the time we left we were both glad we'd gone. It really was entertainment the whole family could enjoy.
Giovanni says the Zoppe Family Circus is different from other circuses because it's all about family.
"Circus is for everybody," Giovanni said. "You'll reunite yourself with what family is about. Someone wrote something like this about our circus; he said at the Zoppe Circus the audience leans forward together to push all power to the center of the ring and everybody remembers how circus use to be. The audience becomes part of our family."
No seat inside the tent is a bad seat, and I was surprised how often someone was pulled from the audience to become part of the show. After the show all the artists leave the tent first and position themselves outside to shake hands, give hugs and genuinely thank people for coming to the show, like a family thanking guests for coming to dinner.
There's still a few more chances to see the Zoppe Circus. The show is in town until Jan. 7. For more information on show times and tickets, visit chandlercenter.org.
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