A flying experiment

The Flying Karamazov Brothers. The Flying Karamazov Brothers.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers invade Victoria Theatre

By Khalid Moss

The Flying Karamazov Brothers.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers.

This is the story of a so-so, non-descript pair of street artists — whose sole objective was to make sure they could pay the next month’s rent — evolving into a world-class performing ensemble going head-to-head with the great symphony orchestras, TV stars and showbiz icons of its time.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers — appearing at the Victoria Theatre Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. — was conceived by Paul Magid and Howard Patterson on April 23, 1973, which, coincidentally, is the birthday of a man known as Shakespeare.

Much like the international performing troupe, Cirque de Soleil, whose skills were honed on the streets of Montreal, the Flying Karamazov Brothers also had humble beginnings, first performing as street artists in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Patterson and Magid began performing in theaters around the University of California and at Renaissance fairs. They were later joined by Magid’s best-friend Randy Nelson and juggler Timothy Furst.

The group lived in San Francisco for a while performing on the street and in theaters when, in 1980, they got a break. They lucked upon a gig at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The show was a big hit and soon they were in demand at theaters across the county.

They called their act the Flying Karamazov Brothers (FKB) after the novel by Fydor Dostoyevsky and took the names Dmitri (Magid), Ivan (Howard), Alyosha (Nelson), and Fydor (Furst), named for both the author and the father of the Karamazov brothers. Although they refer to their act as “Karamazov Brothers,” none are actually related.

“We are a continuing experiment in comedy, theatre and, of course, juggling,” Magid said in an interview. “From the beginning it has been our intention to blend the worlds of performance art, improvisation, word play, harmony, emotion and, above all, virtuosity into a unique form of theatre and entertainment.

“And we mean to entertain. Taking our cue from Shakespeare, we bring art and accessible entertainment to the stage. Comedy is our bread and butter and we layer it on so children [ages] 2 to 92 will laugh at the same moment for very different reasons … We play at the edge of our ability but to a purpose. Our main contention is that errors make us human but by working together we approach the divine. For us juggling is dropping. We continue to grow and learn. Our intention is to expand the horizons of comedy and entertainment. Our next shows will explore the idea of what a live audience is as we continue to find new ways to astonish by air, by laughs and by scene.”

The “brothers” each have a specialty. Mark Ettinger (Alexi) is a composer and the group’s conductor. He has played piano for Bo Diddley, taught at the Mannes College of Music and conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. He has been music director for the FKB since 1999 and has written music for seven of their shows.
Magid (Dmitri) is writer, director and co-founder. He has created and written many shows for FKB. He has also been directing and creating shows in Europe. He most recently created and directed Sogni Segni for the Pergine International Arts Festival in Italy.

According to the FKB wesbite, Harry (Boom Boom Sweets) Levine (Kuzma) believes that “laughter may be the only medicine that everyone can afford. After years of analysis, his theory on comedy can be summed up as follows: Quantity. In 1984 he founded Citizen’s Band, which performs satirical and political music… A short-lived job in an apple orchard blossomed into a fascination with juggling.”

Stephen Horstmann (Vanka) “grew up somewhere in the Midwest, though no one is exactly sure where. During much of the year he can be found working in the theaters of Minneapolis, Minn. where he remains insistent that sub-zero temperatures do, in fact, build character.”

Nick Flint (Maximov) is the media savant and Stephen Bent (Zossima) is “exceptionally tall.”

The FKB has gradually added technological elements to their performances. With the help of MIT Media Lab, the performers can communicate with each other as well as a backstage computer. The FKB exploit this technology in continually evolving ways ranging from music and lighting that change in response to throws and catches to cues that the computer chooses on the fly.

“Our years of exploration in the metaworld where music meets juggling makes the fusion of the FKB with symphony orchestra a natural evolutionary step,” Magid said. “Some of the finest orchestras in the country have stepped up to the plate to see how well they can deal with whatever we throw at them. It’s marvelous to see staid professional musicians having as much fun as we do and we love to borrow their mantle of seriousness and mess with it until we rip it to shreds.”

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are performing at the Victoria Theatre Friday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29 to $49. Call (937) 228-3630 for more information.

Reach DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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