Zoppe: What’s in a Circus?

It isn’t every day you see a guy swinging through the air from a cable attached to his man-bun. But if you do, you’re either at a frat party or the Zoppe Circus.

Zoppe Circus, since 1842

In our continued quest to put a dent in our bucket list, Hubbs and I snagged tickets when a small, Italian family-run circus came to town. Believe it or not, neither of us have ever been to a circus before. Maybe it’s the idea of creepy clowns getting up in my personal space, or the sure understanding that, in case of fire, we’d be trapped like rats in a plastic casserole. My cynical side questioned whether a generation of smartphone junkies would be impressed with real-life danger. Or if, in an age where most circus icons have become politically incorrect, there was anything fun or fascinating left in the tent.

We followed the crowds into the bleachers: dubious affairs made of planks strapped together with rope. An elderly couple sat on the top row, the lady holding a balloon animal and the gentleman enjoying his cotton candy, oblivious to their peril. They either knew what they were doing or no longer cared. So we sat at the very top, too. The show began.

Arial acrobatics, cantering horse tricks, jugglers, accordions. And a clown called Nino. He pulled people from the audience with the single purpose of public humiliation. Did you cry in McDonalds when Donald er, Ronald came around handing out hugs? Yeah.

Nino was all fun and games until the intermission. He disappeared into the crowds and I was just starting to relax when he materialized in front of our seats with a tray full of popcorn, frowning right at me. He ascended, speaking clown words, and gesturing wildly.

Who wore heels to the circus? That’s right. I did. I reached down for my secret weapon when the man next to me stood up and reached for Nino. “Get him!” I thought, ducking.

But the man was shaking Nino’s hand and speaking more clown words and I was about to bolt for the exit when he turned to me and said in perfectly good King’s English, “We know him, we follow his act. Want some popcorn?”

Nino smiled and offered me the tray. There was both challenge and laughter in his eyes, and something familiar that I couldn’t quite identify. I thought about it as I munched my way through the rest of the show.

Who runs away and joins the circus? I considered the qualifications:

Can you touch your toes?

Do you look good upside down in spandex and could you shoot a bow and arrow with your toes if you had to?

Are you afraid of heights?

Can you flip a pancake or toss a pizza?

Are you okay with being a human piñata?

Can you balance school, work, home, and clowns on a regular basis while everyone is watching?

It was a startling moment when I realized that all of my answers to these questions were “Yes”! Turns out, I own a circus. I have five monkeys. I still work for peanuts. And Nino knows it.

The evening ended with a standing ovation. The performances were fun, but their demonstration of solid teamwork, cooperative hustle, and unflinching trust earned my respect. It gave me hope that – with a lifetime of practice – even my family circus can do it. Bravissimo!

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