Thursday, September 06, 2007

More Circus

I promise to get back to writing about writing...really!!

This was a week of circus for us. Tuesday we headed out to a far suburb to see Culpepper-Merriweather Circus perform. CM is the same circus Klown toured with three years ago. They are a typical traveling mudshow, complete with plenty of questionably maintained vehicles, tents, and performers. Like most mudshows these days, CM is showing its wear a bit around the edges. Finances are tight for these types of traveling troupes, and without the corporate and non-profit assistance that larger circuses like Flora and Big Apple receive, they are making do with what they have.

That doesn't mean the show was bad. It was actually quite good, and I was pretty impressed. The entire performance revolved around two circus families doing multiple acts, which is certainly not uncommon in this day and age. I did take pictures, but then ran out of batteries half-way through the first act, so my pictures are VERY limited. But I'll share what I have.

The show opened with a cat act. I'm not a huge fan of cat acts, but they are beautiful creatures to watch. The smallness of the tent meant that we were sitting about 20 feet away from them, which is about as close as I've ever been to a big cat. The tigers were Casey McCoy's. One cat was giving him a hard time, but they all went through their paces eventually.

Chico the clown interspersed his comedy in between acts, mostly while they were setting up the ring for the next act. I met him before the show, he seems like a nice guy, but he didn't wow the audience much. He was on the midway before the show hawking his "It's The Strangest Thing You've Ever Seen." I didn't go in, but Klown took Tater into the little tent to see the Strangest Thing. She came out with a totally disgusted look on her face. Klown said it was like the Fiji mermaid. I have never seen an actual midway, but I imagine they were a lot of fun and weirdness in their day. The CM midway had a slide-bounce, pony rides, the Strangest Thing, and a ball bounce.

The second act of the show was Simone on the single trap. She is a beautiful girl and also played the role of ringmistress the second half of the show. Her father was her prop man. Simone and her family were also the unicycle act later in the show, and her sister April performed a pretty incredible rola bola act. Their baby sister Pauline performed an act with trained birds, an act Simone used to do.

After the trap, there was a Hula act. The performer was so tiny she was smaller than my teenage daughter. She had a lot of energy and could really work the hoops. Turns out she was part of the other performing family with CM, the Perez Family. She appeared later during the high wire routine, and at the end in the Russian Swing act.

Probably my favorite act was the Russian Swing. This is always done with such high energy and leaves you feeling quite "up" by the time you leave the show.

CM was moving down the road about 9 miles for the next night's performance, so they were going to make their jump that night. I watched the "little things" going on in the background as the work crew was breaking things down, even while the performance was still going on. After intermission, the entrance gates were taken down, and during the high wire act the large "no smoking" banners were removed from the sidewall. As soon as the show was over and people were walking out, the ring curb was removed, and the sidewall was dropped starting at the far end of the tent. By the time the audience had cleared the tent, there was crew folding up the seats onto the seat wagons and a small bobcat was going around lifting stakes that had been used to hold rigging. The rigging had already been removed. Klown was hanging around talking to his friends as I watched them put away the schwag and close up the concession trailer. It all went pretty quickly after that, Tater and I walked to the van and watched as the side-poles came down, then the quarter poles, and finally the two center poles. The whole thing took maybe twenty minutes. It was just about full dark by then, I don't know how they were doing it with no light.

I have gotten to see a tent go up, and that takes quite a bit longer than going down!

As promised, here are a few pictures:

This is "The Frog," the little vehicle that usually goes ahead of the circus by a day.

The ticket end of the trailer that also housed the concession stand.

The concession side of the trailer. It was run by two guys who doled out an awful lot of diet coke and cotton candy, as far as I could tell!

Tater standing at the entrance to the little tent housing "The Strange Thing."

The only bit of performance I managed to get before the camera batteries conked out.

Being a geek, I noticed this almost right away. This was in the concession trailer, on a little window between the concession part and the ticket part. This high-end wireless router was probably providing wireless access to the performers and workers on the circus. I also wondered if it was providing voice over broadband, but I didn't see any evidence of that. I also did not see the satellite dish that was probably providing the originating signal for the wireless router.

Monday, September 03, 2007

More from Zoppe Family Circus

Sorry, had to change the layout of the blog a bit as it was cutting off my pictures. Hope it didn't RSS you to death as I was working on it.

I have a couple more pictures to share. After the show I did manage to catch the sound girl, and she is very open to doing an interview. Zoppe has one more show scheduled, then I believe they are done for the year. I will try to hook up with her after that. She is very young, and joined the circus kind of accidentally. She handles the sound (all of the music is recorded) and lights, as well as wearing a costume and performing in small roles during the show. She was in the ring during the juggling portion of the show, and was also in front of the circus tent, under the marquis, dancing with Giovanni and trying to keep the waiting audience entertained. She was about "thisbig" and cute as she could be. I hope to learn a lot from her, as she knows (or knew) nothing about circus before going with Zoppe.

I also spent some time talking to Giovanni and Jay afterwards, told them how wonderful we thought the show was. Jay asked me how my book and research was coming along. I say what I walways say, "it's coming along." I wish it were going faster. We took a few pictures, as well, including this one of Jay, Tosca, and Nino in the curtain of the back door.

And this one of the three of them. Jay was already out of costume but hid behind Tosca and Nino so it wouldn't show. I looked at his costume, it was wool, and I can't blame him for getting out of it quick! That, and they had to set up for the next show, and that costume looked brand new. Tosca's costume was quite beautiful, as well.

A Day at the Fair

Yesterday, Klown and I went to the St. Louis County Fair and Air Show. We didn't go for the fair, or the air show. We went to see the Zoppe Family Circus.

I have never seen their show, only bits and pieces of it in other shows, so it was great to see it whole. The show was supposed to be 45 minutes but we got 65 or more minutes of Zoppe, which was great. It was a small show, just a handful of performers, but all very talented and many doing multiple things. Before the show, Giovanni (Nino) Zoppe, several musicians, and two jugglers (Rich and Jacob) entertained the waiting crowd. There was a lot of interaction with the potential audience, getting everyone excited about the show.

I spent a few minutes talking with Rich, an older man juggling with devil sticks, as he manned the booth full of items for sale (t-shirts, Nino dolls, Nino coloring book, Sawdust, Life in the Ring DVDS, and a few odds and ends). I told him about my book project, and he suggested I talk to Zoppe's sound girl, Di, as she was brand new to circus.

The show opened with Mama and Papa, Sandra and Alberto Zoppe. Alberto is in his mid-80's and becoming frail, but he stood tall and proud in his dress suit with ruffles at the neck. Sandra is still beautiful, dressed in black velvet with plenty of rhinestones. She was a force to be reckoned with standing next to Alberto. After announcing the start of the show, they exited the tent, and the performers entered, juggling and dancing, and Nino carting in a huge trunk full of props. One by one, the performs finished their opening routines and left the tent, leaving Nino alone. He did his usual "lost my hat" gag using a little boy who was sitting in front of us. The kid was 8 or 9 and played along beautifully. His mom was taking pictures for all she was worth!

There was a German dog act with samoyeds, poodles, and one very fat little chihuahua. Tosca Zoppe, Nino's sister, performed with a tiny little horse who did small jumps and stood atop a drum in the center of the ring. Jugglers comprised of Jacob and one of the stage-hands/tent men that I recognized from Flora, along with Di, the new sound girl. Jacob was the main attraction, and was juggling what looked like spokes from a brass headboard, along with the requisite clubs and balls, up to five each.

Tosca returned to the ring to perform on her beautiful blond horse. I had seen her perform previously this year with Flora, in an act that looked stilted and uncomfortable. I knew she was better than what I saw at Flora, and I was not wrong. Atop her huge Principessa, she did several acrobatic acts with very steady feet.

Nino joined her then, with a second horse, and they performed acrobatics together atop them. Again, I had seen the more stilted and uncomfortable act at Flora, and this was so much better than what I'd seen there. I'm still trying to figure out what the difference was, why they had seemed so nervous at Flora but not on their own show. I think it may have possibly been the placement of the rigging at Flora. Much of the rigging was quite low, only 20 feet or so, and there was no way to do that act with the rigging hanging so low over their heads. With Tosca atop Nino's shoulders, and Nino atop the backs of the draft horses, they were more than 20 feet up. Tosca was completely relaxed on her brother's shoulders, and both of them looked completely comfortable.

In amongst all of the acts was Nino and his clown schtick. He appeared in the ring, in the stands, and behind the performers. On skit involved him in the stands near us, arguing with the Ringmaster about who was the boss.

It was a third of the way into the show before I realized that the Ringmaster, dressed as an old-fashioned whiteface Pagliacci clown, was Jay, Tosca Zoppe's extremely hard-working husband. Check some of my older blog entries to see what I had to say about him before. At one rehearsal for Flora, I asked him if there was anything he couldn't do. "No," he said confidently. I had no idea he ever put on makeup or performed, so that was kind of cool to see.

The final act of the show was Nino on the big swing. I've seen this act before, but it is still amazing to watch. He is so strong, and when you see him work you just don't realize it. At one point he is hanging from the giant swing by one hand as if it is no big thing. I am always amazed. He brought the crowd to cheers several times. Klown commented that Nino really knows how to bring his emotion to the audience. He gets everyone involved, and gets the emotion he wants from the crowd, whether it is a chorus of boos for the performer who snubs him, or a rousing chant of "do it" when he defies the Ringmaster to get to the big swing.

When the show is over, and Nino brings out the big trunk so all the props can be put away, there is a distinct sigh of sadness that settles over the audience. It is over. And it was a wonderful ride.