A big top on the northwest side of State Fair Park is where fairgoers can find the Zoppe family, whose six generations have been circus performers since the 19th century.
The Zoppe Family Circus presents shows at noon and 6 p.m. daily at the Oklahoma State Fair.
The Italian family entered the circus business in 1842. In 1948, Sandra Zoppe's late husband, Alberto Zoppe, was invited to film “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The family immigrated to America where the show went on.
Normally the family doesn't take fair bookings but, as Giovanni Zoppe said, “The Oklahoma State Fair really searched us out. They believe in true art.”
Sandra Zoppe, the family matriarch, opens the show as performers in the ring juggle, present acrobatic feats and warm up the crowd.
Nick Harden and Wendy Allen perform an amazing act as he balances on a unicycle while balancing his lithe partner on his shoulders, even on his bald head.
Rudolf Heinen and Carla Zoppe bring out a pack of performing dogs with their adorable tricks; tiny dogs jumping through huge rings, big dogs jumping through tiny rings, dogs leaping over hurdles, one mischievously sneaking under the hurdle. Two poodles walk into the ring on their hind legs, dressed in circus garb, and dance together cheek to cheek, snout to snout.
Jim Decker, recruited from the Peru Circus, amazes audiences with his mastery of the high wire. He walks, rolls, lays down and even rides a bike along the tight wire, working without a net.
A Shetland pony, Cavalino, takes his turn in the ring, performing tricks guided by equestrian trainer Tosca Zoppe. She also performs an equestrian act called Passo Duo with her husband, Jay Walther. He balances on two large horses while his wife does acrobatics in the air. The horses, considered part of the family, are Fancy, a Belgian, and Roman, a Pentro.
David and Blaze Jones trust each other more than many married couples might, as they sling sharp knives at each other during the knife throwing act, missing human flesh every time.
“I can say personally, there's no greater art form than circus. I mean, if you see the skills of a circus artist, we are actors, we're acrobats, we're balancers, we're drivers, we're mechanics, we're grooms, we're makeup artists, hair artists. I mean the skill and art of a circus artist just doesn't stop,” Giovanni Zoppe said.
He normally stars in the show as Nino the Clown, but on the way to Oklahoma from Winter Park, Colo., he injured his left leg in a car accident and will have to sit out for a while.
This year, the Zoppes will perform for about 18 weeks across the country. The family members' home bases are spread across the United States.
Giovanni Zoppe is training the seventh generation of Zoppes. His 2-year-old son is mimicking his father's clown act. His 10-year-old daughter is mastering the circular trapeze.
The Zoppe family plans to return to the state fair for at least the next four years.
“They're so kind here and they really know art and they treat us like artists,” Giovanni Zoppe said.