The Flying Karamazov Brothers did their best a few years ago when somebody in the audience gave them an octopus to juggle.
The troupe didn’t succeed that time — a rare occurrence — and the juggler got a pie in his face instead of a standing ovation.
Who knows? Maybe that will happen again when the zany music and comedy act visits the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick on Saturday.
Part of the show is the four performers attempting to juggle objects brought by the audience to challenge them. The objects must weigh more than an ounce but less than 10 pounds, and they can be no bigger than breadboxes.
“And there can’t be any live animals – we have to draw the line somewhere,” laughed Stephen Bent of Seattle, who has traveled with the troupe for five years.
“It’s music and juggling and theater and comedy and improvisation and dance,” he said about the mix. “It’s us having fun and sharing it with the audience.”
Named after Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” the eight members of the Flying Karamazovs (who aren’t really brothers) adopt Russian names for their stage characters.
Bent’s stage name is Zossima. Performing with him in Frederick will be Steven Horstmann (Vanka), Roderick Kimball (Pavel) and Andy Sapora (Nikita).
Bent said it’s the audience participation that makes the most demands on the cast’s improvisational skills.
“It’s the chaos,” he said. “We practice a lot, and we’re prepared for anything that can happen.”
But it’s the inevitably unexpected turn of events that’s the most fun for them and the audience.
“We enjoy what curveballs that come our way,” Bent said.
Founded at a Renaissance fair in California in 1973, the Karamazov Brothers also have appeared in movies and on television over the years, managing to keep its “aesthetic of fun and exuberance,” Bent said.
The slapstick and pratfalls appeal to kids, and there are some humorous insights into the news of the day for adults.
“We try to incorporate what’s going on in the world,” said Bent, adding that members regularly update the show with new verbal and physical material.
Bent, 25, got hooked as a teenager on the Karamazov Brothers through an interesting connection. His parents went to a show on their first date, and when Bent was 13, they took him to see one.
“It was the most fun thing I’d ever seen,” said Bent, who a year later emailed the troupe asking what skills were needed to become a member.
That led to juggling competitions and researching the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and Shakespeare’s comedies.
But it wasn’t until 2009 during his senior year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he was studying the trombone, that he got the call — one of the founders was retiring.
“I was one of the lucky ones, getting a job out of college,” said Bent, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., and works with choral groups when he’s not on the road.
Because of the unique set of skills needed for the job, the troupe has included some “very interesting, very weird” people over time, he said.
At some point, most move on, including one performer who went to work for Dream Works and Pixar, another who became a theater director, and another, a marine biologist. Bent said he himself plans to leave soon and attend graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he plans to pursue choral conducting.
No doubt he will not soon forget the fun unleashed by the Karamazov Brothers and their challenge to audiences. Bent said as a teenager he presented them with a balloon full of orange juice, wrapped in sticky, two-sided duct tape.
And then there are the people who present them with dead fish.
“People bring in horrible objects to juggle,” he said with a laugh.