A Trip to the Circus

A fall-time “family tradition” returns for a twelfth year in Redwood City.


Cedrik von Briel

A family takes a picture with director and head clown Giovanni Zoppé outside Zoppé Family Circus’s distinctive tent after a show on October 26, 2019.

Cedrik von Briel, Health, Lifestyle, and Technology Editor

After four weeks in Redwood City, Zoppé Family Circus is back on the move.

The one-ringed, kid-friendly spectacle was in Redwood City’s Red Morton Community Park between October 10 and November 3 to feature this year’s show, La NonnaThe Circus prides itself for being a family-run show for more than six generations. 

“My family started the circus in 1842,” Giovanni Zoppé, the head clown and director of Zoppé Family Circus, told The Paw Print. “It was a French clown and a Hungarian ballerina who met each other on the streets of Budapest, Hungary. They fell in love, migrated to Italy, and opened one of the first circuses in all of Europe.”

While the circus itself has been around for more than 175 years, it has only visited Redwood City since 2007.

Cedrik von Briel
One of Zoppé’s acts involves trained dogs.

“About 20 years ago, I met a gentleman by the name of Bruce Labardy in New York City at a theatre-arts conference,” Zoppé recalled. “We talked about my circus, before I recreated the Zoppé circus. He kind of fell in love with the idea of it, and then about eight years after I met him, I got a call through him from Redwood City. [He] wanted me to come here and perform.”

Current Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard, at the time a City Council member, elaborated on the story, explaining that the circus first had to be approved. 

“Bruce Labardy, who works on some venues for Redwood City, brought it to the attention of the Parks and Recreation and Community Services department and told them about what [Zoppé does],” Howard explained to The Paw Print. “[The Parks and Rec department] then brought it to the City Council so that we could approve some money, resources, and space, and we said yes. The idea of a family circus… that was affordable for families was very appealing.”

Howard added that it was initially a struggle to find a location for Zoppé to perform.

“They first performed downtown,” Howard said. “They were in the main library parking lot for a number of years, then [the large field of grass at Red Morton Community Park] became available when there was too much construction going on downtown, and I think it is a better fit. Red Morton is a big playground for everybody, and [Zoppé] belongs on it, too.”

Cedrik von Briel
Zoppé features the traditional circus tightrope act.

For the past two years, Zoppé Family Circus has spent a full month in Redwood City, longer than any other stop on its yearly tour. Zoppé says this lengthy stay is due to the kindness he and his performers receive when in town.

“The people [in Redwood City] are so giving with their lives,” Zoppé acknowledged. “We have so many neighbors that constantly invite us over to their house for dinner… They welcome us here incredibly. We get welcomed here more than any other place we work.”

Zoppé Family Circus also performs in Miami, Florida; Tuscon, Arizona; Denver, Colorado, and other cities around the nation. However, Howard believes Zoppé Family Circus is especially appropriate for Redwood City.

“Zoppé is a natural fit for Redwood City,” Howard stated. “Redwood City is about family… community, and engagement with each other. I think that is also what this particular circus is all about.”

Woodside senior Ziggy Sheynin, who has been performing at the Circus Spire Youth Troupe in Oakland for more than three years, offered an insight into typical circus acts. 

Cedrik von Briel
Zoppé’s wide variety of acts include singing and acting.

“A circus is unexpected,” Shaynan explained. “There are a lot things that are unique about the circus. You are not [just] going to see feats of strength. There is an element of circus that is physical theatre, there is an element that is dance, [and] some people sing. Circus has a lot of singing.”

Zoppé added that his circus is special in another aspect.

“The family atmosphere [is what makes Zoppé different],” Zoppé said. “There’s not another form of entertainment that captures the audience like a good circus does. When you can sit there and feel your whole body trembling because somebody is entertaining for you, it’s a different type of feeling.”

Sequoia senior and Teen Advisory Board [TAB] member Maria Casique picked up on a similar community feeling.

“I like that Zoppé Family Circus brings a bunch people together, especially families,” Casique observed. “I have never seen as many families come together as I have at Zoppé.”

However, along with bringing together many dozens of people, Zoppé says that a main reason why they put on the show every year is to continue the tradition.

“My ancestors made the circus over seven generations ago,” Zoppé reflected. “It is innate in our soul. It is innate in our spirit. It is innate in our body.”

When asked about what lies in the future of the Circus, Zoppé immediately responded with three simple words. 

“Blue is Magic,” he said, possibly referring to the title of next year’s theme. “The next year’s show is going to be a celebration of magicians, illusionists, mind-readers, and a live gypsy band. Come see the Circus!”