Just clowning around
“Humor is a way of getting closer to the truth of things,” he said. “And it’s something that’s been used throughout history within communities, and as a political tool. I think it’s a very intriguing thing. I generally deal with little truth – I leave the big truth for people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”
His “little truths” involve human foibles and behavior. A flawless mimic, he’s able to portray people in recognizable fashion with his body signals and moments. According to him, recognizing that figure on stage makes the audience realize we’re not so different than others.
“Humor is universal,” he said. “People in China laugh just like people in Holland – and even Holland, Michigan.”
Berky performed in the Vilar Center last summer, and was so popular he’s been asked back. Though he is also a playwright, “What’s in a Box?” has no dialogue. A developing piece, it has specific holiday ties. Eventually it will be a year-round production. He was inspired by the Greek myth of Pandora’s box, which is supposedly responsible for many problems of the world.
“What’s in the box isn’t a holiday question, but a philosophical question,” he said. “Boxes are defined things, so I think it’s pretty interesting. Some people like big boxes, some a tiny box. Think of human beings – we define people by their shapes. And we don’t even know what’s inside.”
What sort of box does Berky prefer?
“I don’t need a box; I’m not sure a box is really necessary.”
He does need humor. He sees himself and his art as part of a long tradition. Almost every culture has a history of performing clowns – even the Native Americans. He doesn’t focus on makeup and red noses, which some children find frightening; he’s looking for people to empathize.
If he walks across the stage and trips, kids laugh. Why?
“Well, you laugh for two reasons,” he said. “Because I’m tripping, and because you’re not. You know how it feels to trip. That’s empathy.”
The performance is for both adults and children.
“I never perform down,” he said. “It’s the same thing when I teach. I never talk down to people. First of all, who am I to assume they weren’t going to understand in the first place? And we both know people understand more than we give them credit for. So I do what I do, and everybody gets it on their own level.”
Berky lives in Wyoming with his cat and dog who, like Abbot and Costello, would never hurt each other, but sure enjoy beating upon one another. When he’s not helping them negotiate their relationship with each other, he writes plays and works at the performing arts center in Jackson.
Bob Berky performs “What’s in a Box?” at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Friday at 6:30 p.m. For more information visit http://www.vilarcenter.org or call 845-TIXS.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.