Page 18                                              Fall 1986

Juggling Makes A Hit On Broadway

by Joel Fink


The Tony Awards on Sunday, June 1, closed the 1985-86 New York theatre season. Though generally disappointing, the past 12 months gave evidence of change at every level of American theatre. Traditional definitions of 'theatre" no longer encompass much of the most exciting work being done.


"New Vaudeville" is a major force, representing the resurgence of popular entertainment associated with vaudeville, variety shows and the circus. Leaders of the movement - Avner the Eccentric, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Penn and Teller, Michael Moschen, Bob Berky and Bill Erwin - have expanded their work into the realm of "legitimate theatre."  


What these people do has provided some of the best theatre to be seen during the past season. Along with a number of one person performances, such as Eric Bogosian's "Drinking in America," Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," and Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia," the New Vaudevillians have been redefining Broadway's performer-audience relationship. Though only Tomlin was technically "on Broadway," the performances of others in well-recognized New York playhouses moved them into the mainstream.


Juggling and Broadway are by no means strangers, productions like "Sugar Babies" and "Barnum" employed it. But there is something new in the association. Coming from varied performance backgrounds and traditions, the new vaudevillians are pushing back the bounds of popular entertainment as far as possible.


They speak directly to the audience, breaking down theatre's "fourth wall" in ways that challenge expectations. At the same time, they challenge themselves to rediscover the "need" to juggle, clown,

mime, conjure and even speak at all.                             


Jugglers and juggling are at the heart of this exploration into new directions for contemporary performance.   The Flying Karamazov Brothers appeared last year at  the newly-reopened Vivian Beaumont  Theatre at Lincoln Center with their "Juggling and Cheap Theatrics." They will appear next season in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's (BAM) Next Wave Festival to show off the next stage in their theatrical development.                                                      


Another exciting and successful theatrical "transplant"  was "The Alchemedians," a collaboration of Bob 

Berky and Michael Moschen. They opened at the BAM Next Wave Festival in November 1985 and reopened a revised  version of the show at the Lamb's Theatre in late March. Although Moschen's specialty is juggling and Berky's is clowning, both men seem to have an almost limitless range of   performance skills.


"The Alchemedians" shaped their skills with the theme of alchemy, and juggling was used throughout the production.  A written summary of "The Alchemedians" does not appear to have the kind of dramatic unity to make it a coherent piece of theatre. Not following a linear plot line, nor using dialogue in the traditional  sense, the production nevertheless developed dramatic action and characters at many levels. Juggling was a way of life for the two characters.  Berky and Moschen found themselves in a world where inanimate objects took on unpredictable and usually uncontrollable life.

Berkey (behind) and Moschen "bowling" over Broadway (Dan Wagner photo)

Berkey (behind) and Moschen "bowling" over Broadway (Dan Wagner photo)

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