Americans fear clowns more than terrorism, climate change and death, according to a 2016 Vox survey. Performers Aga-Boom are coming to the grounds this evening for the Family Entertainment Series to try to remedy this.
Chautauquans should be expecting a lot of balloons, paper, audience participation and physical action comedy from the show at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, according to Dimitri Bogatirev, director of Aga-Boom.
Bogatirev is also “Aga,” one of the three Aga-Boom characters, and a prop maker.
“We wear a lot of hats,” said Iryna Ivanytska, the troupe’s booking agent, travel agent, secretary and titular “Boom.”
While people in Europe and Latin America think of clowns with admiration, in the United States, clowns belong to circuses and are often considered childish or scary, Bogatirev said. That’s why for a long time, he said, Aga-Boom tried to avoid the word “clown.” Now, the troupe is set on reclaiming clown’s reputation and changing the narrative.
“We are not circus clowns; we are theatrical clowns,” Bogatirev said.
Usually, he said, it takes about six hours for the troupe to set the stage for the performance. Because there are only three performers who do not utter a word throughout the show, there are no microphones. Therefore, Aga-Boom tries to make the stage look smaller with props.
Absence of dialogue, Ivanytska said, is what helps the show succeed across borders. Aga-Boom has traveled to countries around the globe, including Japan, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland, and when touring internationally, she and Bogatirev adapt the show to the country and culture where they’re performing. The change, she said, might involve adding or removing a joke or even replacing props.
One thing that never changes, however, is paper. Aga-Boom always incorporates paper in their performance, which is recycled after the show, Ivanytska said.
“We want to ask everybody to (recycle) too, if they take paper out of (the Amp) after they are done playing with it. Whatever is left we will recycle,” she said.
A tune, composed by Bogatirev’s brother Vasiliy Bogatirev, chants the name of the troupe and is another staple of the show, Ivanytska said. On the other hand, audience participation, which is integral, makes every show different.
“We never know how audience members will behave on stage, so of course, we have to improvise,” she said.
Bogatirev said the troupe has been rehearsing their routines every day since the beginning of Aga-Boom’s journey, which he and Ivanytska embarked on around 20 years ago.
“We finished work with Cirque du Soleil … in 2000,” he said. “We got our Green Cards, … and decided to build our own show, so we collected all our ideas, what we learned and our experience.”
Before joining Cirque du Soleil, Bogatirev worked for a theater in Odesa, Ukraine, while Ivanytska was studying pantomime at the Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Arts in the country’s capital.
Aga-Boom, which last performed at Chautauqua seven years ago, is excited to return to showcase the passion they have for performing.
Getting to experience different lives as multiple characters is one of Ivanytska’s two favorite aspects of her job.
“Everybody gets to live one life, and when you are in character, you become somebody else. People don’t recognize me. … I can be completely different from what I am in normal life,” she said.
Ivanytska said her other favorite aspect is having the opportunity to travel places she would never otherwise visit.
Bogatirev said he had always wanted to “run away from the USSR with (the) circus,” perform and travel. Hearing audiences scream, laugh and clap, he said, gives him chills and goosebumps.
“It’s called adrenaline in your blood,” Bogatirev said. “I give them my energy, my experience, all my life, and they (return the) energy, they say: ‘We respect you, you’re funny, you’re good.’ This is what’s keeping me alive.”