Doug Berky readily admits that he has a short attention span.
The physical theater artist has a dizzying array of skills — from mask-making to unicycle-riding — and influences, from famous mime Marcel Marceau to his resilient mother. Berky will give two Family Entertainment Series performances at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, in Smith Wilkes Hall. When he was learning the tricks of the trade at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, he was exposed to a wide range of intriguing practices, such as juggling and clowning, and he was inspired to learn a variety of skills rather than zeroing in on one specialty.
“I’ve found sort of a toolbox that I can use to entertain people, and I draw from the different tools to interest them,” Berky said.
The piece he is bringing to Chautauqua, titled “No Show,” displays many of those tools. It’s just one of the shows that he has personally devised from the ground up. Berky was originally following the variety show format, but he decided he ought to develop a show with a story.
The premise of Berky’s “No Show” is that an audience gathers to see a show, with props and costumes ready and waiting, but the performers don’t show up. Berky, masquerading as an audience member, goes up on stage and begins exploring the onstage elements, like unicycles and a sousaphone. False starts and pratfalls abound. The piece relies on Berky’s improvisation skills and invites the audience to participate, resulting in different outcomes every time.
“The show is improvisational in the sense that with each audience, how it develops and how long it goes really depends on how involved the audience gets,” Berky said. “So it’s really a show of discovery for me, and for them.”
Berky has traveled the country and the world with his act, performing and teaching in Oregon, South Carolina, Cuba and Denmark, to name a few. He appreciates that audiences connect with certain aspects of his repertoire regardless of geographical location.
“Because my work is so visual, I can go to places that I don’t have language for, and the humor transcends our cultures,” Berky said. “There’s some humor that is cultural, but there’s a good core of physical humor that is universal.”
Although some of Berky’s acts are geared toward adults, like the Leo Tolstoy short story-inspired show he created during the pandemic, he has a special place in his heart for family audiences.
“There are different levels of humor, where the kids see things that the
parents don’t, and the parents see things that the kids don’t,” Berky said. “That is something that families share together, and they’re able to discover things differently.”