Family circus

Giovanni Zoppé, who has been a clown since he was 2, has a special definition of his art.

“Circus is family — those two are almost the same,” says the performer, who plays Nino in the 168-year-old Zoppé Family Circus, which opens in Redwood City on Friday.

He adds, “It’s magic that touches your heart, that you can feel.”

He doesn’t have anything against Ringling Bros. (although he says, “There’s no focus on one thing”) or Cirque du Soleil (“It’s an amazing show, but it’s not circus”), but he thinks they miss the joy, history and spirit that characterize the Zoppé presentation, which tells a real tale in every performance.

“The theme goes back to my family history, when a French clown met a Hungarian ballerina in 1842 in Budapest, and they fell in love,” Zoppé says.

While a concrete, central story runs through each show, the amazing stunts and animal acts (featuring about 26 artists this year) change every season in the extravaganza, which is set in his new, custom-made, antique-style tent.

For Zoppé, the tent represents a dream come true.

“It’s a masterpiece,” he says. “It’s taken my life to build it. It’s the most beautiful tent in America.” Based on a structure first created by his father in the 1950s, the new tent was designed by Zoppé and partially built by his brother-in-law. Engineered in Italy, with materials imported from France and Mexico, it has a release hatch at the top and a fan that sucks out hot air. 

It even has a name, Veneto, the same as Zoppé’s young son, who recently celebrated his first birthday.

Little Giovanni Julien Veneto Zoppé, in fact, was born last year at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City; he arrived about four weeks early, before the show was about to begin its Peninsula engagement.

“Redwood City was the first town he performed in,” says Zoppé, who doesn’t remember his own first public appearance, though his family tells the story about how, when he was 2, he was in the trailer with the babysitter and broke away to be onstage.

“I was completely naked,” he says. “They don’t let me do that anymore.”

Except for a short stint building trusses for houses once — “It lasted about two weeks,” Zoppé says — circus always has been his career. He has no hesitation about life on the road or about sharing his art with audiences throughout Europe and North America.

Happy to be with his own family “24-7,” Zoppé enjoys witnessing the reactions of families, and people of all ages, who come to the performances.

He says, “Circus is good for everybody. All are amazed, with big eyes, watching the show. That’s what circus is about.”

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

IF YOU GO

Zoppé Family Circus

Where: 1044 Middlefield Road, Redwood City

When: 4 and 7 p.m. Friday and Oct. 22; noon, 3 and 7 p.m. Oct. 16 and Oct. 23; noon, 3 and 6 p.m. Oct. 17; noon and 3 p.m. Oct. 24

Tickets: $10 to $20

Contact: (650) 780.7586; www.redwoodcity.org/events/Zoppe.html

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