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Big top goes up as Italian circus prepares for weekend visit

Big top goes up as Italian circus prepares for weekend visit

Wondering what’s happening on Broadway this week near Proctors? The Zoppe Italian Circus is calling

Wondering what’s happening on Broadway this week near Proctors?

The Zoppe Italian Circus is calling it their home, refashioning an empty downtown lot into a traditional European circus, circa 1850.

The old-time, audience-involved entertainment includes clowns, a ballerina, world-renowned acrobatics, horses and clever canines.

“It’s very old-fashioned. You can’t see this kind of presentation anywhere in the world,” said Giovanni Zoppe, a member of the Zoppe family who plays the clown Nino in the show. “It’s the true Italian family circus, where the circus comes from.”

Zoppe takes his craft very seriously, even if the craft is clowning.

“My family started [this circus] over 160 years ago. For over seven generations, it’s been going on, now with my son and my daughter,” he said proudly. “We are an antique circus family doing what our ancestors did. We’re the only ones in the world doing this today.”

An idealist, Zoppe wished to return the audience’s circus experience to its roots.

“Ten years ago, I wanted to put the circus back in ‘the big top’ tent, back the way it was 160 years ago, with the same feeling and emotion and realness that the circus is supposed to be,” explained Zoppe. The tent was designed by him and his father over the course of many years, and his father’s death two years ago gave him the inspiration to finish their project.

“It was my father’s and my dream to do it like this, to make it come true this way,” he said.

The troupe’s colossal 56-foot high, 500-seat tent is being set up across from the New York Lottery building on Broadway, where eight shows will be staged beginning Thursday evening. With twelve people, says Zoppe, it’ll take anywhere between 30 and 40 hours of work to complete.

“About Thursday afternoon we should be almost ready,” said Zoppe.

The tent, fit with an exhaust fan at the tip to cool the interior, was engineered in Italy and manufactured in Mexico with materials from France.

“There’s so many different things about this tent that are so different than all others,” Zoppe explained. “When it’s up, you’ll see it — it’s definitely the most beautiful tent in America.”

Zoppe’s last visit to Schenectady was for a performance at Proctors 18 years ago. He was wearing an old Proctors shirt Tuesday afternoon while putting up the tent.

“This is an antique shirt from Proctors. I’ve had it in my closet, waiting to come back here,” he said laughing. “Last time we played inside the theater, it was incredible. When I heard I was going back to Proctors, I found the shirt, put it away, and I’ve had it on the side about eight months now, waiting to come here. This is the first day I’ve put it on.”

The traveling troupe will be on the road this year for a total of 22 weeks, performing in cities such as Las Vegas, Tucson and Oklahoma City.

“My family is from Venice, but we’re based out of Chicago now,” he explained. “We have people from everywhere here: Florida, Canada, France, Russia, Germany and more.”

Zoppe realigned with his distant cousins, the Christiani family, to bring his audience their renowned trampoline act. “They’re the best in the world. The last time they worked with us was 54 years ago in Italy,” Zoppe said.

The Zoppe Italian Circus at Proctors is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Shows begin Thursday at 7 p.m. on Broadway between State and Hamilton streets. There will be two shows Friday and Sunday and three on Saturday.

Tickets start at $25 for adults, $15 for children ages 17 and under.

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