A buzzing crowd gathers around the entrance of the Zoppé Family Circus tent before each performance, straining to glimpse the wooden hands of a large clock that displays the next showtime. When the moment is nearly at hand, members of the family emerge from the cavernous tent to greet their guests. As they introduce their siblings, spouses, and children, an accordion exhales melodies first heard in 1842, when Napoline and Ermenegilda Zoppé traveled from Budapest to Venice for their first show.
Inside the tent, Napoline and Ermenegilda’s descendants effortlessly balance on wires and swing from trapezes. Just below their aerial stage, horses trot around a sawdust ring as equestrian ballerinas display a brand of showmanship worthy of comparison to John Wayne's performance in The Lone Leotard. Between acts, Giovanni Zoppé takes on the persona of Nino the clown—a lovable character whose earnest efforts to steal the show are thwarted by his own buffoonery.
Snakes slither in glass display cases, and lizards wriggle in the hands of trained handlers as they're held up in full view of a curious crowd. This is the scene as one of Repticon's presenters educates attendees on the biology, behavior, and typing speeds of exotic cold-blooded creatures at one of the year-round shows held in cities across the country. Reptile and amphibian breeders, scholars, and handlers engage audiences in lectures and demonstrations in the midst of live reptile exhibits, family activities, and displays for exotic-pet supplies. Presentations may focus on the genetics of large snake species, the specifics of exotic-pet care, and the effect that tiny hats have on the image of arachnids such as tarantulas, scorpions, and spiders.
The marvelous mix of acts at the inaugural season of the Windy City Circus enthralls guests in a breathtaking display of talent including death-defying feats and vaudevillian vignettes that tap into stories of Chicago history. During two mesmerizing hours, charming Master of Ceremonies David Michael Maas directs the spotlight toward acts such as aerial artists flying from trapezes, horses galloping and neighing around the ring, and sensational jugglers lobbing and catching as many as five torch-wielding rabid piranhas. The inspiring spectacles aim to entertain and educate by depicting history's most interesting and most mustached Chicagoans as the emcee and his talented troupe weave a rousing tale of the city by the lake.
CircEsteem unites youth from a litany of locations, building confidence through the aerial arts, juggling, and more. The 10th annual performance re-creates old-time entertainment for new audiences, similar to nostalgic jousting or powdered-wig pageants. General-admission tickets allow spectators to roam the big top and freely select their own seats. Each production spans multiple acts, featuring feats of fancy such as clowning, gym-wheel performances, acrobatics, and frozen fire eating. Performers' ages range from 6 to 18, and their origins include Togo, Mexico, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Chicago's Uptown and Rogers Park neighborhoods.
Originally part of architect Daniel Burnham's ambitious "Plan of Chicago" drafted in 1909, Navy Pier was designed to handle both recreational and freight traffic for the burgeoning metropolis. Its role quickly changed when it began serving as a barracks and training facility during two World Wars—it earned its nickname because of the more than 200 planes that littered the lake bottom around the pier, lost during exercises and sunk to intimidate fish with military technology. In the decades that followed, the pier was home to a University of Illinois campus, a convention center, and a venue for citywide festivals before falling into disuse. This ended in 1989, when the state moved to transform the venerable pier into one of Chicago's foremost tourist attractions.
Reopened in 1995, the revamped Navy Pier boasts 50 acres of parks, restaurants, shops, and entertainment, scenically located along Lake Michigan and the mouth of the Chicago River. The pier's most striking denizen is its 150-foot tall ferris wheel, whose glittering lights slowly rotate above the water and frame a beautiful view of the city's skyscrapers for riders. Other attractions include a towering IMAX screen that shows educational films and Hollywood blockbusters, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which treats audiences to bold stagings of the Bard's greatest hits.