Big Top Circus rolls into town starting July 22
Families can step inside an enormous blue-and-white Big Top tent adorned with international flags representing the homes of the performers inside from July 22 to Aug. 1 in Fraser. Attendees can get up close and personal to the circus ring, where clowns act out a story, acrobats leap and tumble through aerial stunts, equestrians show off skill from the saddle, and canine performers get a time to shine.
In 1842, a man named Napoline Zoppé was performing as a street clown. He fell in love with Ermenegilda, an equestrian ballerina. Since Napoline was a street performer, Ermenegilda’s family disproved of their romance. The couple ran away together, founding Zoppé Circus, which lives on today.
This is Zoppé — an Italian Circus, which has been bringing this ancient entertainment around the world since 1842. Attendees are transported back in time as they experience classic acts. Zoppé Circus is run by Giovanni Zoppé, with his wife, Jeanette Prince-Zoppé, as marketing director. The Zoppé family has handed down the ancient art form from parent to child. Director Giovanni performs with his siblings and children in the ring with him.
Prince-Zoppé emphasized their circus is an exceptional experience. “We are one of the last family-owned, single-ring traveling Big Top circuses in the United States,” she said. “We have international artists … a troupe from Kenya, a troupe from Mexico, from Florida and our ringmaster from Colorado. They come from all over with their talents.”
The performers work alongside the Zoppé family. Giovanni, a sixth-generation performer, plays the clown “Nino” in addition to directing. Circus entertainment runs in the family’s blood, bonding them together. Giovanni’s father originally produced the Zoppé Circus in Italy; then brought the act to America. He also produced circuses for the famous Ringling Brothers, though the Zoppé Circus stretches back even farther than the Ringling Brothers era.
“Fraser Valley has a lot of activities and events, but I’m really proud to be one of the exclusive, genuinely family-orientated events that is very unique, historic, touching and connective. All those things that are meaningful,” Prince-Zoppé said.
The Zoppé family and the artists who tour with them will perform stunts and clowning stories in the Big Top every day except for Tuesday. The show opens Friday, July 22 with a 6 p.m. show. On Saturdays and Sundays, they offer three shows at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Their final show will be Aug. 1 at 6 p.m.
They’re hoping to make the final show a locals’ night with a potluck offered to attendees.
“Whoever wants to stay after the show can have dinner with us in the ring … and get a chance to meet the circus artists,” Prince-Zoppé said.
For the past 12 years, the circus has come to Grand County on Labor Day weekend. This year, they decided to come during summer to host their circus camp while kids are out of school. The Zoppé family has been trying to bring camp back for some time, since the community has been asking for it.
“The very first time we came to the valley, we did a circus camp and it was hugely successful. There are people in the community who still remember it,” Prince-Zoppé said. “I’ll be out and about, and people will say, ‘Oh, I went to that when I was little.’ Or, ‘My child went to it and still talks about how great it was!’”
The camp will take place July 25-29. Prince-Zoppé emphasized that Zoppé Circus is only one of two Big Tops that offers a kids camp in the U.S.
“It’s something very special to us and this community. We’re really happy to be here early so we can do it. Planning our touring schedule is complicated, but it was a priority for us to be able to able to offer circus camp in this area!” Prince-Zoppé said.
The only other Big Top circus that offers children’s camp is run by extended members of the Zoppé family, including Giovanni’s sister.
“It’s very unique to get the opportunity to come into the Big Top to be coached by international circus artists that are professional, traveling artists. They work, live and breathe this. It’s their community, it’s their life,” Prince-Zoppé said. “It’s a special kind of teaching and connection that we offer to kids. It’s an extremely memorable experience.”
At camp, kids gain self-confidence by learning acrobatic and clowning skills. “In the circus, there is a place for everybody,” Prince-Zoppé said. “Some people have physically demanding jobs, like aerial or tumbling. Some people have more emotionally demanding jobs, like clowning or ring-mastering.”
On the last day of camp, children choose the activity that most resonated with them to display during the finale. By then, they have learned the art of showmanship to win the crowd’s attention, and how to respect their fellow performers. Families and friends can come fill up the stands to cheer for the kids during this final performance, which models a traditional circus show.
“Kids leave (camp) with more confidence in their decisions, more confidence in their body and physical abilities,” Prince-Zoppé said.
Since the circus is here for a week because of camp, they are offering several more shows than the traditional four to five they’ve offered during Labor Day weekend.
Although this is only their second time offering camp, Zoppé Circus has a long-standing history in Grand County. The first time the circus performed in their impressive blue and white Big Top tent was at Winter Park Resort. The circus still uses that same Big Top today.
After their stint at Winter Park Resort, they connected with Grand Park to continue to host the circus. This year, the circus and the camp are next to Fraser’s Ski Broker.
Although the circus always takes place in East Grand, Prince-Zoppé travels throughout the county to offer coupons. When she was in Grand Lake last week, residents greeted her, excited the circus was back for another year.
“Grand Lake is so far away, but they are totally connected to (the circus) too,” Prince-Zoppé said. “I feel very confident that we are a uniting factor in this valley. There’s a lot of towns here, and they all have their own personalities. This is something that everyone can connect together with and support.”
“It’s not like that when we go to other places,” Prince-Zoppé reflected. “When we’re in Phoenix or San Francisco, there’s nobody coming from 40 minutes away. Here, it really draws everybody.”
She added that the circus’ tradition of coming to Grand has benefitted her family too. They have the fortune of walking the line between being visitors and locals.
“For us, this is our community. When we travel to places that we’ve been coming to for so long—like we’ve been here 12 years—it becomes our tradition. We see people we haven’t seen since last year, we’ll have dinner since we’ve become friends,” Prince-Zoppé said.
Prince-Zoppé’s children have grown up coming to Grand every year, creating their own special traditions.
“They love the skate park, they love certain coffee shop.s … They’ve been talking about Winter Park for the past month. ‘How many days until we get there? As soon as we get there, I’m going straight to — this place!’” Prince-Zoppé said with a laugh. “It’s different for each kid. One kid is skate shops, one kid is the chai tea, one kid is the hiker.”
During their off season when they aren’t traveling for circus, the Zoppé family lives in Mexico. However, Grand has become a home away from home for them.
“Every place we go, that’s where we live, because we live with our Big Top. We’re so thankful this area welcomes us to be part of their community,” Prince-Zoppé said.
To register for the children’s camp or purchase tickets for the circus, visit Zoppe.net. Eligible veterans, active-duty military personnel, first responders and their families can request free tickets through Veteran Tickets Foundation at VetTix.org or First Tickets Foundation at 1stTix.org.
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