Literal Translation from the French: The Flying Karamazov Brothers

The Karamazov Brothers in action. (Photo courtesy of SRO Artists, Inc.)

The Flying Karamazov Brothers features the four self-proclaimed eccentric lunatics spicing things up with a zany showcase filled with laugh-out-loud comedy, wild theatrics, arcane errata, and astonishing juggling feats. Formed at UC Santa Cruz in 1973, The Flying Karamazov Brothers have been seen around the world, on Broadway, on television, and on the big screen. The troupe, which takes its name from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, will fly onto the stage live at The Paramount on Thanksgiving weekend. Almost as excited for their upcoming show as we are, the troupe members were kind enough to sit down with The Paramount to answer a few questions.

Paul Magid, aka Dmitri Karamazov, the troupe’s last original member, has been with the Flying Karamazov Brothers since he co-founded it almost 47 years ago.

Roderick Kimball, aka Pavel Karamazov, is from a town in Maine called Presque Isle—literal translation from the French: “Almost an island.” Pavel was shocked to realize he’s been with the troupe for just over 20 years. Time must fly when you’re—well, flying.

Andy Sapora, aka Nikita Karamazov, is from Westminster, Maryland. Literal translation from the French: “Almost worth growing up there.” Nikita has been with the troupe for almost 20 years; “I think I might be becoming one of those guys who has ear hairs,” he admits.

Steven Horstmann, aka Vanka Karamazov, is from “the inhospitable snowdrifts of the vast and desolate frozen tundra.” Literal translation from the French: “Minnesota.” Vanka has been with the troupe for just over 10 years; “So there’s still hope for me yet!” he proclaims.

Dmitri Karamazov (Paul Magid) juggles a few of the safer objects that appear in the show. (Photo courtesy of SRO Artists, Inc.)

Why did you join the Flying Karamazov Brothers?

Pavel (Roderick): I had been a fan of the group for ten years before I started working with them. For a solo performer in the trenches of variety entertainment, that’s a pretty good break.

Nikita (Andy): I thought it was the bus to Poughkeepsie.

Vanka (Steven): It was the top result in my high school aptitude test. #3: Doctor, #2: Lawyer, #1: Juggler/musician/comedian. I thought it was strange, but you just don’t argue with standardized testing.

What was the most challenging skill or trick for you to learn?

Dmitri (Paul): One of the most challenging tricks is playing a marimba while juggling, tap dancing, singing in harmony, and playing harmonica, all while keeping the beat with belled stupid hats, and, of course, chewing gum! Doing this means doing six different things at once. It fits perfectly into stupid and absurdly hard all at once!

Pavel: I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s a piece toward the end of the show where I juggle a frying pan, a block of dry ice, and a saltshaker while Dmitri is throwing stuff at me and I’m throwing stuff at Vanka. That’s a pretty tough one.

Nikita: You know, Pavel, I’m just now finally understanding why your throws on that trick are so hard to catch. You’re supposed to be throwing them to me. Vanka is usually backstage with the extra eggs and the champagne glass tray at that point. If you’re aiming for him back there, that definitely explains a lot.

Vanka: So that’s where those flying eggs are coming from!

The brothers strike a pose. (Photo courtesy of SRO Artists, Inc.)

What is your favorite trick to perform?

Pavel: That would be the piece we call “Jazz.” It’s improvisational interactive juggling. The piece has a basic structure, but mostly, it’s just us playing. If the audience likes it half as much as I do, they’re having a pretty good time.

Dmitri: I agree with Pavel. Jazz juggling is incredible, fun, always new for us and the audience. It’s also funny while we riff and juggle and play with the very meaning of improvisation!

Nikita: “4 x 4.” We play and sing a beautiful love song for two voices, guitar, euphonium, sopranino recorder, all while juggling three balls. However…no one person plays more than half of any instrument. As we stand shoulder to shoulder, Pavel and Dmitri share the juggle of three balls with their two outside hands. Pavel uses his inside hand to play half the buttons on the recorder and he also blows into the recorder (with his mouth). I use my right hand to play the other three buttons on the recorder, and I hold the euphonium with my left hand and blow into the euphonium (with my mouth). Vanka plays the fingerings on the euphonium (backwards!) while he frets the chords on the guitar. Dmitri (remember Dmitri?) strums the guitar with his inside hand (the one he’s not using to juggle with Pavel from way back at the other end of the line). Meanwhile, Dmitri and Vanka, since they’re not blowing into any instruments (with their mouths) are able to sing the beautiful lyrics in harmony (with their mouths). I like this trick because it looks exactly as hard as it was to learn. And because, if I were in the audience, it is exactly what I would want to see.

Vanka: My favorite is the “Gamble,” where audience members bring random objects for one of us to try to juggle. People have brought the craziest things over the years, from octopuses (octopi?) to a frozen gallon of milk covered in coconut oil. My favorite part about it? It’s Dimitri that has to do the juggling! Yikes!

Paul, why did you co-found the Flying Karamazov Brothers, and why have you stuck with the troupe for so long?

Dmitri (Paul): I invented it to have fun, do theatre I was interested in, and to be with my family of friends. I have loved doing this job from the day I conceived of it. It’s been my passion and life’s work. I hope that it continues past my brief time in this particular juggling pattern.