Life in a Traveling Circus – Nick & Wendy’s Story

Where did Coaches Nick and Wendy disappear to and what are they doing? Here is their story in their own words…

Living on the road with the Zoppe Circus, and being part of a tented touring circus is a grand adventure! We see so many small towns, big cities, and all the land in between. We get to meet local residents from all around the United States and circus performers from all over the world. Our show takes place in our “home”, a beautiful four-pole circus tent. The show is an intimate one-ring family show with a sawdust ring. Our family consists of a duo trapeze act from California, a family teeterboard troupe from Spain, a dog act from Germany, a highwire walker, horse riders, and, of course, a clown. The Zoppes have been performing in circuses for over 170 years and 6 generations.

We live in a small motorhome. Our small home carries everything we need to live and perform comfortably while traveling across the United States. The hardest part of living in a motorhome is being able to cook home-made meals and store our food, but we are learning as we go.

We are in charge of the concession stand for this season. It is our way of earning extra money while on tour (also called “cherry pie” in circus lingo). We make and sell popcorn, cotton candy, lemonade, and bottled water. In a typical weekend, we will pop at least 50 pounds of popcorn, spin at least 450 sticks of cotton candy, and mix at least 30 gallons of lemonade!


Most of our weekends are filled with performances. On show days we usually wake up at 8:00 a.m. to start our preparations. First, we get ourselves ready: get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth and warm up our bodies for the day’s performances. Then we get the trailer ready: make the bed (it converts into our couch), wash the dishes, fill our water jug, sweep the floor. Then we get the concession stand ready: fill the lemonade containers, pop popcorn, get ice for the water, make the cotton candy, clean the counters and make it look inviting. Then we get show ready: Wendy always start with her hair and make-up. Nick makes sure the unicycle is in good working order, and the stage is set and level. Then we get dressed into our costumes for the opening numbers, and lay out our performance costumes so we can change quickly before our act. All of the performers gather in front of the tent thirty minutes before each show for the pre-show entertainment. During the pre-show, all of the performers get introduced to the audience gathered in front of the tent. We do tricks, play music, and interact with the audience before welcoming them into our home.

Once the show gets started, we spend the next two hours running back and forth between the ring and the concession stand. We have our first rush at the concession stand as the audience files into the tent and takes their seats in the bleachers. We then run into the ring for the opening group number. After that we rush back to the concession stand to restock everything before intermission. We then run around the tent to change costumes and perform our act. After that, Nick performs in a group juggling act while Wendy finishes prepping the concession stand for the intermission rush. Intermission happens, we close down our concession stand, and run back into the ring to help with the horse act and the group finale. After the show, all of the performers gather outside the tent to shake hands, give high fives, take pictures, and say goodbye to the audience. Once the audience leaves, we reset all of our props, and prepare to do it all again the next show. It’s a flurry of activity, and it always goes by so fast!

Our favorite part of being circus performers is listening to the audience react to our routines. Whether it’s cheers for a trick well done, or gasps for the close calls, it is so neat to have the audience in a circle all around us. They are so close, and we cannot hide anything. There are no fancy lights, or moving props or even a stage to put distance between us. It’s just Us in the center of the ring with the audience watching and cheering all around us. We come alive with total clarity, and feel the connection we have made with the audience…

A typical weekend will start with one show on Thursday evening. Fridays usually have one show in the evening, but sometimes we have an additional kids’ matinee or press event on Friday afternoons. Saturdays usually have three shows (at 1:00, 4:00, and 7:00). Sundays normally have either two or three shows. We start to tear down the tent immediately after the last show on Sunday. Actually, the crew starts to tear down and pack the trucks before the last show is even complete! We usually try to get the tent down and loaded onto the truck before we go to sleep Sunday night. Sometimes we leave some work to be done on Monday morning.

We will usually wake up early Monday morning, and start our drive to our next location. We travel in several small caravans. Our caravan usually consists of three vehicles: Nick drives a box truck filled with everything that goes inside the tent, and tows the living quarters for the crew. He is usually the navigator. Next comes Dennis driving the semi and flatbed trailer that carries the tent. After that is Wendy. She drives our home. We take either one or two days to jump to our next location, depending on how far we have to drive.

We arrive at the new lot on either Monday or Tuesday night. A few members of the crew measure and mark out the lot, putting a mark on the ground for every stake, tent pole, and other important landmarks for putting up the tent. We park all of the vehicles and trailers, and go to sleep.

We typically take two days to get the tent set up. WendyandNick_setting upWe have a very small crew, and everybody in the show participates in getting the tent set up and ready for the performances. It involves a lot of pounding stakes, lacing canvas, raising tent poles, and many other things to get our home ready for each town, but it is a lot of fun raising our beautiful tent in some really beautiful places.

Our life on the is a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding. It is an amazing experience being able to tour across this country with a tented circus show. We miss all of our SANCA family and friends in Seattle, but we are having a wonderful adventure with the Zoppe Circus!