At three days old, she had her first elephant ride, signaling the beginning of her career; Tosca was performing as a little ballerina on the family's horses soon afterward. As she grew, she excelled in equestrian artistry. Invoking the memories of her Italian ancestors as she performs, a devotion to her ancestors of a by-gone era.
She has an innate awareness of the arts, is in tune with today's society, yet retains her sincerity and humility. As a sixth generation equestrian artist, she is carrying on her rich heritage which is renowned for bareback equestrian arts since 1842. Tosca has had an extraordinary life performing a variety of circus disciplines, as well as directing her family's theatrical production, Circo Zoppé, and continues to be the creative vision behind the Zoppé Circus.
However, her true passion is the preservation and awareness classical circus and equestrian arts, by creating and directing shows that evoke the love, passion, and dedication of her family's rich history.
It is important to her that the audience has a true connection to the performers. She believes that it is essential to stir emotion during the show.
John "Jay" Walther
John "Jay" Walther, aka "Papino", has been working with the Zoppé family for 26 years this season. Starting out as the shows sound engineer, John has since worked his way up to his current position as Technical Director. John fell in love with and married Tosca Zoppé in 1997. He considers himself to be the most blessed man in the world with both a woman he loves and a job he loves. He also took on the role of a classic European whiteface clown in 2005. "Being head pooper scooper is a demanding job sometimes, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Sandra Zoppé, 1941-2020
Sandra Zoppé was born to a vaudevillian family. Performing was in her blood, and at a very young age, she started singing. Sandra studied at the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts. By the time she reached the age of 18 she was singing professionally and landed a contract to record “Till the Last Beat of My Heart”.
In 1964 Sandra met Alberto Zoppé while they were both performing at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, NJ. Alberto asked for a volunteer for his comedy horse act, and as Sandra stepped up on stage, she never thought that the circus would be her future. They got married and went on to successively produce many circuses throughout North America.
However, it was Sandra's desire to combine her theatrical background with the beautiful world of circus. It was then that they combined their talents, and created Circo Zoppé, a theatrical Italian circus, performing on some of America's most prestigious stages.
She believes her highest calling in life is to be a mother to the children God gave her. She is thrilled that they have chosen the circus as their profession and continues to realize her dream through them. She is a true advocate for the Circus Industry in America. Her aspiration is to see the circus returned to its respected place in the arts.
Alberto Zoppé, 1921-2009.
Along with his siblings, Napoline's great-great-grandchildren, inherited the circus almost 100 years ago. A grand equestrian in his own right, Alberto forged many unique friendships, including one with famed actor/director Orson Welles. Welles persuaded Alberto to take a role in a small film about the circus being shot in London. Orsen then brought John Ringling North of Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus, to meet the family.
He asked Alberto to bring his family to America, as he was putting together circus acts for Cecil B. Demille's epic film “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Alberto was hesitant to leave his family's circus. After World War II, the show had already lost so much to the war, including their animals, due to the bombing. If him and his sister, Tosca, and other family members were to leave, the show would lose even more. Alberto recalled hearing that the American circus giant had 52 elephants touring with them. He knew that if the family show had an elephant as an attraction, then it would prosper while they were gone.
He suggested that Mr. Ringling-North provide an elephant to the family show during the Zoppé's tour in the United States, to be returned at the end of the Zoppé contract. The response was, “If I sent an elephant to replace every act, I would not have any elephants left.” Alberto replied, "Then we can't leave our family."
The next day, Alberto received a telegram to meet Mr. Ringling-North at the train station. They came to an agreement to loan the family circus an elephant for the show as long as Alberto worked for him. He obliged and was prominently featured in the film.
Alberto would remain in America, starting his own family. His children Tino, Delilah, Carla, Giovanni, and Tosca, along with their spouses, are all active in the family business.
Carla Heinen (Zoppé)
Carla Heinen (Zoppé) began her career at age three as a ballerina on horseback. As the oldest of Alberto and Sandra's children, she had the responsibility to prove her family's heritage. Carla made her mark in circus history at the age of 24, building her own all-girl equestrian troupe to perform in Baraboo, WI for the Circus World Museum for 7 years. As a true showgirl, she also performed in aerial acts and many of the spectacular show productions. From there, she took the show on the road, working engagements from coast to coast for many different circuses and theater shows. Now she performs with her husband Rudolf and their 16 rescued dogs, all of whom live with them. For Carla and Rudolf, their dogs are everything.
Rudolf Heinen came from the Heinen Circus in Hanover, Germany, where he performed as a bareback rider with his family, and also learned to become an animal trainer. He arrived in America in 1963 to travel throughout North and South America with many traveling circuses. He comes from a long tradition of circus and has found his true passion, working with his dogs. This extraordinary Octogenarian has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Meet Matti Esqueda.
Matti is a 5th generation circus performer.
Born in Las Vegas where his parents were performing at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino. He started performing at the young age of 4. As soon he could walk he was riding a unicycle.
He grew up performing in the family act (combination unicycle & teeterboard). Ever since he was young, Matti was always captivated by the circus clowns and comedy. So naturally, when he was old enough to choose an act, his chose to perform as a comedic artist, and has never looked back since.
Matti has performed all over the world with performances in Japan, Bahamas, Spain, Philippines, Venezuela, and all over the Americas.
"What makes me love my clowning is the fact that I get to interact with the audience and I have just as much fun during the show as the audience, sometimes more.!!"
Nikolas Strubbe is a performer, creator, and teacher of Physical Theatre & Circus Arts. He has performed around the world with stellar companies, including: Circus Avalon, Zoppé Circus, Kelly Miller Circus, We Players, Boxcar Theatre, Burlesque Idol Australia, and his own solo improvised “manic vaudeville” show, The Incredible Feelzo: Man of Moderate Talent. Nikolas was a featured juggler on Discovery Channel’s MythBusters, and has taught workshops & courses through: SF Circus Center, Berkeley Rep School of Theatre, UC Santa Cruz, Clown Conservatory, Stanford University Live, The Nueva School, and more. Keep in touch via Instagram: @circusnikolas and his upcoming YouTube channel, “The Circus Nomad,” where you’ll find tutorials, exclusive performances, and a behind the scenes look at life on the road & in the circus ring.