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Playing By Air

nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
August 22, 2010

Okay, I just spent an hour laughing my face off like a little kid.

Playing by Air: A Symphony of Action and Comedy is a Nashville based ensemble of jugglers and musicians performing at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival. The piece strings together juggling routines with clown, music, and comedy in an exploration of creativity.

As their audience, the company invited us to participate from the get go, encouraging us to shout or clap whenever we felt moved to do so. There was no doubt that their claim to draw on the audience's energy was legit. The joy these four artists find in performing is broadcast on their faces and the excitement and glee it generates in the audience was infectious. From the moment the show began it was obvious that we were in very, very capable hands.

I should have known when the show began with a spectacular light show of a juggling routine performed with glow-in-the-dark diablos and poi (they're these amazing spinning things juggled on ropes—no, I had to look it up too), that my expectation of balls and clubs was naive (see above). As the show went on, it seemed as if nothing that could be thrown was off limits. The acts got progressively more incredible so that by the end of the show, I literally spent the majority of the time with my hands clamped over my gaping mouth. In one, Michael Karas plays a pitch perfect bit to a puppet controlled with one hand, while simultaneously juggling with the other. It was so seemingly effortless and enjoyable that it took quite a while for the reality of how insanely difficult it must be to even occur to me. Violinist Ben Detrick plays a tune while constantly juggling contact with his instrument in a thoroughly delightful flip of perspective that would have given my violin teacher a heart attack. Blithely on come Jacob Weiss and Ted Joblin in a crazy flurry of clubs that they toss around while sliding the length of the theatre (no, I'm not kidding) all the while wearing giant grins on their faces. For the entire duration of the show, with each new bit, the bar was raised and my expectation of what could be possible thrown out the window, and then lifted higher. At one point they all play a song together with a music stand and instruments balanced on their heads. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, it was amazing.

The company describes the show as the story of a frustrated violinist navigating his creativity in the search for a perfect motif. I didn't find the story stringing the pieces together to be fully realized, and very quickly gave up on trying to tease out a logical story in order to just fully enjoy the spectacle that was occurring in front of me. And I didn't find the clown aspects of their performance nearly as strong as the juggling routines, but at the end of the day, it didn't matter—the piece was infinitely enjoyable. The admirable discipline and dedication these four men have applied to achieving their high level of skill, coupled with the joy they receive from performing it, resulted in a really, really fun experience.