Secrets of a Modern Circus Family

In a time when so many people are considering downsizing, learn how one family makes their silver trailer work for a family of six as they travel the world, one circus tent at a time.


Parents Orlene & Carlo met in college as he was studying Italian and she studied Biology. Both shared a passion for travel and performance, so they decided to go all out as traveling performers. Then along came the G’s!


Known for their awe inspiring foot juggling feats, La Famiglia Gentile perform all across the country.


They also have their own bay area base circus camp, 888 Monkeys, which they started 14 years ago with a friend from college (Jennifer Devereaux-Ellington). This summer, the family rehearsed with  Circus Bella, a free, open-air circus in San Francisco– reminiscent of the early Pickle Family Circus – which performs in parks on weekends in June and July. At the beginning of August, the family drove from the SF Bay Area to Denver, Colorado to meet up with the Zoppé Family Circus.


As seen in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Greatest Show on Earth, the Zoppé family has a long family tradition in equestrian circus arts. 

 In an effort to recreate one of the human pyramids on horseback from that era, Carlo agreed to be a base. After an emergency jump down from the horse’s rump, Carlo broke both his fibulas.

“Fortunately, I have 5 wonderfully talented, fun-loving, flexible people who could take over in a pinch. So, for the last 3 months, Orlene has been doing a single mother version of our act, while I’ve been watching my family function just fine without me. Orlene drives our truck and trailer like a pro, Gianluca helps set up and tear down the tent in my stead.” – Carlo



What advice do you have for traveling performers?


1. Orlene – Have fun no matter what, and remember that it all works out in the end. Anything is possible, the impossible just takes longer.”

2. Carlo – If you want to work in the circus (or most other) business for that matter, it’s much more important to be a good human and act with integrity than it is to have a great act. And, be prepared… an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…

…The first, I say because the majority of our work comes from people we know or referred to by people we know. The people we have worked for on and off for the last 15 years, have been friends for 30 years. I’ve probably celebrated more holidays with them than with my birth family. I’m closer to people on that show than my own brothers. As I reflect, I’m pretty sure that just about every show or project we do is just our family working with our friends to create work that we are passionate about.

What are the best and hardest parts about being a traveling circus family?


Being together all the time.” – Orlene & Carlo


“I love the fact that I’m around my kids more than not, but sometimes, I just want to go to bed… before they do. And, since that’s the largest, bounciest patch of flat space in the trailer, it’s often filled with wrestlers, ninjas, Pokemon, dragons, fairies, Quidditch players, and the like. Even when these rambunctious characters are not playing in the (one, big) bed late at night, they are, at their farthest, 20 feet away. The mid-trailer accordion door does little to muffle sound…

…Maybe it’s not so much being together as much as being together in a tiny space. When I’m tossing and turning in bed – waiting for Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three to calm down – I’m usually dreaming of more space: table space, divided space, adult space, counter top space, quiet space. And other little things that bigger than 200 sq. ft. brick and mortar home dwellers may take for granted: all-you-can-eat internet access, unlimited fresh water, more than 6 gallons of hot water, water that drains directly to a sewer, enough power to run a space heater and a vacuum at the same time. But, mostly, I’m dreaming of a double-decker bus with space for all of us to eat at the same dinner table and spread out the sleeping a bit.”      – Orlene


“Two of my favorite moments on any given day are just before going into the ring with my family and when we are in that tanbark circle together. But, that’s about 21 minutes of my day. The rest is filled with prepping for those minutes among the sawdust, washing dishes, changing diapers, rebuilding every major appliance in my trailer, and sweating with people who make ephemeral art. I’d much rather do that with people who will gladly lend you a tool, a hand, or a cup of sugar than with a bunch of folks who don’t talk to each other or, worse, argue all the time…

…A close second best is the commute, or lack thereof.” – Carlo 

Gianluca (11) –  Best – Traveling. Hardest – Answering peoples questions after the show. Lesson learned – Have FUN!

Giulia (9) – Best – Traveling. Hardest – Answering peoples questions after the show.  Lesson learned – Always have a book to read in the truck!

Gioia (6) – Best – Circus! Hardest – Driving. Lesson learned – Pancakes.

Favorite Acts


Orlene – “Any act where the artist connects with the audience heart to heart —whether a person or animal I love to witness the joy that comes from sharing one’s art, heart and performance with others.

Gianluca – Foot juggling.

Giulia – Foot juggling.

Gioia – Suitcase manipulation (like Justin Therrien).  


I think that we have learned from La Famiglia Gentile to have fun, take a deep breath, and be good to the people around you. You just might need to borrow a balding tire from them one day.  That, and we all could use a little more pancakes…


You can also see them at the upcoming Moisture Festival! Check out the schedule here.

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