Page 24                                            Summer, 1994

Avner the Eccentric Reveals the Final Technique

By Karl Saliter


"By admonishing latecomers at the beginning of the show and taking their picture, I'm planting a hypnotic suggestion which says, 'you may be watching a play, but we're watching you, and you are part of the dialogue now. If you do something, it's going to be part of the performance. You thought you could just come and sit and be the Broadway audience. No. You're the audience, and you've got work to do.'''

Avner The Eccentric, as quoted in Acrobats of the Soul.


Avner Eisenburg operates in his show on a level of awareness high enough to look down on kites. His empathy for audience members makes them respond to him, and they love his work. This summer in Burlington, Avner will attend the IJA festival and juggle in the Cascade of Stars show. He plans to teach a workshop on working with audience volunteers and "controlling the space around us while we are onstage." Participants will benefit not only from the master clown's stores of knowledge, but from extensive teaching experience as well. For years, Avner and his wife, Julie Goell, have taught at the Celebration Barn Theatre in Maine.


The man the New York Times called "hilarious" and New York Magazine called "a thinking man's clown," has more rave reviews than whiskers - and a big year planned for 1994. With a month-long run at the Syracuse Stage, Japan's FISM Festival, a month at the Portland Stage and a tour of Europe in the fall, Avner will entertain countless thousands this year.


I first saw Avner in Key West at the original Buskerfest in 1986. My partner, Mark Farneth, and I left the theatre in awe. I remember Mark mentioning that perhaps a year or two studying at the Delle' Arte School would be a good thing. We were honored on Sunday when Avner walked on Mark's rope in the park, and we came to see that the smile so quick to grace his face on stage was no script. In the Town Crier Cafe, a little nightclub owned by Avner's friend Phil Ciganer where Magical Mystical Michael himself regularly performs, I caught up with Avner again. Here's what he had to say.


JW: What makes you angry?

AE: Public administration in any form. Parents who let their kids watch too much TV. We don't have a TV. Our family and three others nearby do not own TVs, and I

think we are kinder and gentler as a result.


JW: Do you have a "message?"

AE: If I do, it's a minimalist message. All the props are everyday objects, which allows the possibility of lots of drama. My character is reachable to audience members. I think it's more fun to watch a fallible person. I would rather see Ratso Rizzo or Woody Allen than Arnold Schwarznegger anytime. It's boring to watch a perfect person, and I think many jugglers run the risk of appearing macho.


The sense of discovery is often killed in most jugglers' approach to props. The emphasis here is on character development and on weaknesses. The character has to be a little dumber than the audience.


JW: Are you?

AE: Is my character?! Yes. When I do the kickup with the bat and it lands perfectly, I am as surprised as they are. The kickup is rediscovered by the foot each show out of an emergency.


That look of surprise at the perfectly kicked bat is typical of a mindset and a presence Avner employs through the show. Like an old master fingering frets on a favored mandolin, Avner plays his face. The show is not the show; Avner's reactions and interaction with the show give silent commentary riddled with insight and lavished with intelligence. He is on the stage, yet he sits in your seat. Therein lies the show. He walks on stage and brings the audience into the palm of his hand. From open to close, he never says a word. The only sound is laughter. OK, so he plays a kazoo for a while...


He once brought a napkin doll so resoundingly to life that, when he pretended that it died, a small boy in the audience "On no!" In response, Avner resuscitated the napkin. He eats a pancake stack of paper napkins, turns nested paper cups into a snake, his hand does a miniature high wire act on an imaginary rope, and he balances many things, including a 10-foot ladder on his chin.

Avner the Eccentric
Avner the Eccentric
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