Howard Patterso arrives at the BBC studios looking more like Billy Connolly than a west coast American with a Russian patronymic. He is wearing a kilt and a squishy beret and like most of the other Flying Karamazovs, he is tall and lean and whiskery.
He is in fact of Irish-Scots Presbyterian extraction. He has traced — and is wearing — his family tartan, Farquharson. and the leather jacket will be replaced as soon as he can find a suitable tweed alernative.
Another Flying Karamazov. Sam Williams, walks in. He has less of the height, more of the whiskers. ‘Less shared genetic material‘ explains Howard. Sam joined the group about three and a halfyears years ago (‘it was either me or Ringo’) and also admits to Irish-Scots descent. although he is less sure about the Presbyterianism.
The name of the group was chosen in the middle of a field when they were hitching to Expo ’74 and sleeping outside in the mud whilst their female chauffeurs slept in the van. Realising ‘Patterson. Nelson and Magid didn‘t have much of a ring to it’ they found an interesting and unexpected juxtaposition between Dostoevsky‘s 19th century Russian classic about parricide. anarchy and atheism The Brothers Karamazov and an ‘over-educated circus act‘.
A biology graduate member of this over-educated group which represented the USA at the Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles in 1984. Howard began his juggling career by juggling two walnuts in one hand. Sam learned from a friend in High School who
The Festival starts here. Sally Kinnes talks to'The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
learned from a book. Anyone. they claim. can learn to juggle. itjust requires a willingness to lose your attachment as to whether or not you drop the pins. Given the complexity ofsome fifteen pins being thrown at any one time during the act by five performers who are constantly moving. they readily accept the fact that there is a certain probability — or probable certainty — that they will drop the pins on stage. If the difference between juggling well and juggling very well is four hours practice a day. they would rather keep the time for themselves and their families. than become fanatical about it. In the act. they easily overcome the tension about dropping the pins: Sam claims to be testing for local gravity — ‘there‘s some‘ he observes as he drops one, as if surprised at its presence. Howard describes a few of the basic principles ofjuggling in which they aim to focus on the top of the orbit of each object and see its curve without focusing on it. Ifyou look beyond it your hands will get enough information about where the balls are coming from.
From their ‘anarchic‘ rehearsals, which can be called at any time by anyone. a show emerges which includes much humour as technique and as much improvisation as planning.
‘We take the humour very seriously‘ says Howard while
admitting that for a long time he couldn‘t look Sam in the eye on stage without bursting out laughing. ‘Going on stage is the most relaxing thing we do‘ says Sam. as though its
the rest of life that's the difficult part.
They don't now depend on hours of practise. Practise is ‘useful . . . . helpful‘ but they don‘t really learn what works until they’re performing. The act changes all the time with no two shows being exactly the same. Much more frightening. was their experience of an audience in Chicago. They performed The Three Moscowteers. a play about funny Russians and the ‘concept was too much for a Chicago audience in 1984 — if it was about Russians it couldn‘t be funny.‘ It was a disquieting period for them and large chunks of the play had to be cut to make it comprehensible and acceptable. ‘They didn‘t know who Lenin or Stalin were and they certainly didn‘t know who Trotsky was.‘ However.the final version become ‘very Trotskyite‘ and it may still come to London where ‘at least they know who Lenin / and Stalin are‘. The nature of their act depends for effect very I
much on their reading of and
; response to different audiences.
Audiences vary considerably. not just in humour. but also in speed of reaction. On east coast the audiences are very sharp and quick to laughter, while in the south they are much calmer and the pace is more , leisurely. The group have to slow the act right down; they tell a joke and then wait. . . . In Dublin however, the audience not only rose to the occasion. they practically took it over. heckling with a vengeance, but with a perfect sense of timing. something apparently lost on both the English and Americans who have all the jokes but none of the timing of their Irish counterparts.
They have worked in both film, as desert jugglers in The Jewel ofthe Nile and television. althought their experience of the latter was often that the wrong part of the juggler would be in shot or the wrong part of the action. They are currently working on a play by Stravinsky.
L 'Histoire d'un Soldat. Keen on the ‘shot gun‘ technique of humour, hitting all levels of humour from all directions. and, they hope, all the audience. they have the sort of relaxed and interested disposition which will take things to their funniest extreme and find lurking somewhere an unexpectly funny sub-text. For the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984 they performed the Comedy of Errors. Wasn‘t Shakespeare a long way from juggling? ‘Aaah‘ says Sam, and he quotes from the play: ‘They say this town isfull of cozenage/As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye. ’I admit I had forgotten that bit. ‘Mmm’ says Howard, ‘most people do.‘
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