Avon circus is an example of the new model in America | VailDaily.com

Avon circus is an example of the new model in America

The Zoppe Italian Family Circus is family oriented with a 19th century European feel.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Every discussion of the circus these days seems to go back to one theme — they don’t use elephants anymore.

Indeed, the circus tent that has been set up in Nottingham Park has been quite the conversation piece. This weekend the Zoppe family circus will bring their 19th century style show to Avon, where a confused Italian clown will delight audiences in multiple shows throughout the weekend.

The show is perfect for Eagle County families whose children have been brought up among a constant presence of friendly dogs. Instead of elephants, the Zoppe family uses canines, who have an impressive array of tricks that would be a worthwhile standalone act in Avon. This weekend, as the circus returns for its 2018 edition, the dogs are expected to be just one part of a 90-minute show that local families are sure to enjoy. Tickets are $25 and shows are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.


When the show that gave birth to everyone’s idea of a circus in America — the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus — announced plans to shut down in 2017 after 146 years, a common reaction I heard was, “Also, they don’t use elephants anymore.”

A lesser-discussed take on the matter was the fact that the big circus simply wasn’t as feasible as it once was.

“Many smaller circuses are thriving because of their economy of scale, something Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey ultimately couldn’t compete with,” wrote Meg Jones with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has provided many with insight into the workings of the Ringling Brothers circus for years, but for me personally, the two are forever linked because my mother appeared on the front page of the paper at a circus related event in the early ’90s. I grew up not far from the town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, where the Ringling brothers were born and raised and where the circus was headquartered. The big top is woven into the fabric of the community there, and the circus train’s annual trip from Baraboo to Milwaukee was something my brother and I looked forward to witnessing every year.

We followed the train along its journey and then watched the circus itself when it hit the city. It was an incredible show, but for us, the most incredible part was seeing the animals, and the elaborately decorated train cars they were housed in.

Imagine you’re my father, your wife and children are an hour and a half away in Baraboo, watching the circus train depart and making a weekend of it. You are hoping for few reminders that you were not able to join your family on this trip due to the hectic work schedule you endure in the summers. You awake, make coffee, pick up the paper, and there’s your wife on the front page with the circus train behind her.

Needless to say, both the circus and its coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel left a big impression on me as a child.


In recent years, I’ve been keeping up with the Journal Sentinel’s circus coverage, and it’s been sad to read. First went the elephants, then the Ringling Brothers’ entire operation. The news broke in January of 2017.

Jones’ detail about keeping up with smaller circuses was something I barely took in on first read. But last summer I started thinking about that detail quite a bit as a small circus set up a tent at Nottingham Park. Walking through the park, you couldn’t miss it.

My wife and I took our two children, ages 1 and 2, to see the show.

We emerged through the corridor under the tent and I was immediately taken back to the circus in Milwaukee. It was a miniaturized version of the same experience, with the smells of popcorn and horses triggering the proper amount of nostalgia.

The circus itself had many of the same elements, but it also had a European feel that my wife really appreciated, as she enjoyed a few dancing bear circus-type events of her own as a child growing up in Eastern Europe.

The Italian clowns were loved by the children, and provided a level of audience participation that was perfect for the intimate venue.

With dogs and horses replacing the elephants, or — as my wife pointed out — the Russian bears who could do a jig on command, children still seemed to find the same level of animal-related amusement.

In my later years, I began to appreciate the acrobatics of the circus more than any of its other many components, and the Zoppe family did not disappoint. I think a lot of young freeskiers and snowboarders in our area would agree the acrobatics on display made the whole show worth attending. The performers are both young and old, and their skills are a reminder of the incredible feats human beings are capable of.

I felt really good leaving the big top in Nottingham Park, having experienced both the large circus that once dominated the traveling amusement scene in America, and the small circus that has become the new model of today.

Like the protagonist clown who will keep the show going in Avon this weekend, I felt both sadness and confusion from reading about the circus in recent years, but in Avon the Zoppe family has put a smile on my face and is leaving me with a feeling of elation.

For more information visit zoppecolorado.com.

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