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Air Play, Pas De Deux. Photo Florence Montmare

Air Play: Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone Interview

24 July 2016 Tom Faber

Airplay are circus duo Seth and Christina, who have delighted audiences across the world with their innovative, hilarious physical performances. The pair often bring their shows to countries riven by conflict, where entertainment is in short supply and powerful messages can be communicated in a fun way that transcends language barriers. Ahead of their new show 'Air Play' at the Royal Festival Hall we chatted about their new show, humour across the world and whether they really did meet at a circus in Aghanistan.

The story goes that you both met at a circus in Afghanistan. What brought you both to such an unusual spot?

It’s true! It sounds like a pub joke, “Two clowns meet in Afghanistan…” Seth happened to be creating shows with Afghan performers to teach children about land mines and malaria. Meanwhile, Christina was stilt-walking and juggling with another Afghan troupe in schools and orphanages. Later, we became clown partners in Japan, dated in the States, got engaged in Scotland, and then married in China.

What do you think physical comedy can provide to people in war-torn countries?

An Afghan once said to us, “Today you made the children laugh, and that was worth everything to us, seeing our children smile again.” Kids are the same everywhere, and they all deserve to laugh.

Where has been the most unusual place you’ve performed?

Christina: Outdoors next to the largest waterfall in Asia, alongside a brilliant troupe of acrobatic puppeteers, Russian dancers, a Chinese strong lady, and lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys on the same stage.

Seth: I had a massive heat rash and would have to bathe in ice after every show. Christina: We also accidentally crashed a wedding party there…

Where would be your dream country to perform (where you haven’t already been)?

Seth: Iran. Almost 20 years ago I fell in love with Iranian cinema. I’ve wanted to travel there ever since.

Christina: Russia. They have such a rich circus history and legendary respect for clowns. Both: In Spain! We’d love to bring Air Play to Spain. Any chance to see the paintings of Joan Miro in person. His paintings, especially his huge blue canvasses, influenced Air Play tremendously.

You’ve both performed in so many different countries – does humour differ from place to place?

Everywhere we go, the big laughs in Air Play are the same. But the smaller laughs throughout the show change from country to country. It’s our job to figure out what those laughs are. If we perform a week in one place we get even funnier since we have time to tailor our comedy to the culture. Honestly, the humor is different even between New York and New Jersey and they are only 10 minutes apart connected by a bridge!

Have you ever met resistance to your shows anywhere you’ve travelled?

Not really. Stand up comedians talk about breaking a room —the same is true for physical comedy. Sometimes a crowd can be tough, “Show us what you got!” or “Make us laugh, clown!” We have loads of tricks to crack up a tough crowd and get them laughing. We were street performers first, so we’ve had plenty of practice.

Why do you think clowning, mime and other wordless performance continue to draw crowds in this age of digital entertainment?

Performing without words has a magnetic pull in any culture. The audience uses their own imagination to enjoy the show. Plus, we both love circus and clowning because it’s real people doing real things. Nothing is fake. In the case of Air Play, there is no ‘fourth wall.’ If people sneeze we notice. Our balloons misbehave and a huge swath of white fabric flies 10 meters high. Our props move differently every day. Even the body heat of the audience can change the show. It is all real — akin to juggling and taming lions at the same time. Everyone feels included in the show, and by the end we’ve all experienced something unique together.

Can new technology add to circus entertainment? Are people already doing this?

People love Air Play’s simplicity, but that’s a ruse. We collaborated with Air Sculptor (yes, there is such a thing) Daniel Wurtzel to fuse his sculptural air art with our comedy. Technology makes it all possible. Wireless signals synchronize our fans to sound cues. Since Air Play is a three dimensional experience, an innovative light design was developed to accommodate the extreme height and depth required for our show. We’ve even had to create our own recipe of gasses to control the buoyancy of the balloons on stage. Even with all of our preparation, each theater has its own unique natural air systems, giving us new variables of height and currents to counterbalance. We spend hours with our crew, running dozens of tests, changing each fan’s capacity to make sure every sculpture flies effortlessly.

Do you see yourselves settling in one place more permanently in the future?

No way! Our favorite thing is to be in a new city, discover something tasty to eat, and hang out with new people. We both love living in New York City where the whole world is smashed together, but nothing beats getting out of a plane, train, or ferry and bringing people together with laughter.

Air Play will run at the Royal Festival Hall from 9-14 August as part of Southbank Centre's Festival of Love. Book tickets online.

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