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October 13, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Photo by Justin Miel

Running off with the circus wasn’t something Giovanni Zoppé’s parents ever worried about.

Why would they? The circus was a family gig.

Zoppé was first introduced to the audience as a newborn by his father. From an early age, Zoppé remembers being around the show. Often he was wandering rather than being a scripted performer. That changed at about 10 years old. Since then, he’s been in the ring for every show. It’s his life.

"People need to know what [the circus] is really about. Circus is theater,” he said.

The family act travels inviting each location to join the family fun. From Oct. 12 through Oct. 26, Zoppé, An Italian Family Circus, will return to downtown Redwood City with both matinee and evening shows. For Zoppé, Redwood City is a special part of the traveling show. His son was born in Redwood City three years ago. Now the little one, like Zoppé as a child, enjoys being part of the show.

"He’s teaching me what’s pure and real,” Zoppé said of his son.

The hope is to continue to provide an experience that matches what a circus is like in a child’s imagination, he said.

Creating that experience has a long history for the family dating back to 1842 when a young French street performer named Napoline Zoppé fell in love with an equestrian ballerina named Ermenegilda. Her family disapproved of their relationship and the couple ran away to Venice, Italy where they founded the circus which still has their name.  

Alberto Zoppé, the couple’s great-grandson, took over the circus 100 years later. The act toured Europe until there was a job putting together circus acts for Cecil B. Demille’s film "The Greatest Show on Earth.” The job took Zoppé and his family to America. All his children, along with their spouses, have been active in the family business at one time or another. About 10 years ago, Giovanni Zoppé, Alberto Zoppé’s son, revitalized the show in America.

"The real feeling of circus is not just lions and candy,” Zoppé said.

Zoppé features horses, ballerinas, dog and jugglers. It’s the things of children’s minds, he said. Through his own child, Zoppé has been able to watch a child create a unique performance during shows. Working with family has its perks and drawbacks. Ultimately, Zoppé said, the goal for each person involved is to make the best show.

"We are so happy to come back,” Zoppé said of returning to Redwood City. "It’s my son’s home; his birthplace. … [Redwood City] is always so welcoming and has loving audiences.”

Zoppé, An Italian Family Circus runs Oct. 12 through Oct. 21 with matinee and evening show times. All shows will be held in the circus tent, 1044 Middlefield Road, Redwood City. Tickets range from $10 to $23. Kids under 2 are free but must sit in a parents lap. No car seats allowed. For more information and tickets visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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