In a previous post, I exaggerated a bit about our family’s lack of media consumption. We do watch a little bit of television in Russia, but it is the kind of programming that we don’t find in America. After breakfast around 10:00am, we watch a 20 minute segment of cultural news on a whole channel appropriately named Kultura which also features documentaries, interviews, classic films, fine art reviews, opera, ballet… you name it. It’s a bit like PBS on steroids.
Similarly, the children’s theatre here is on a whole different level. I went today with my children to the Old Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard; it was the first time for me as well as for my children. Of course, we have the circus in America, but Russia takes the genre deeper into the human soul. The clown who provides interludes and directs the crowd is not there simply for comic relief. Like the Russian clown that I met in America, his mirth was of a different sort. Usually, the clowns I have seen in America at amusement parks or carnivals get their laughs from slapstick comedy or sometimes even slightly vulgar things like bodily discharges. While this circus clown performed his fair share of falling and silly clumsiness, there was a single act which completely typified his range and ability to touch not only human emotion, but the heart.
The ringmaster challenged the clown to a balancing contest in which the clown kept failing, while the ringmaster only tried one simple can and kept getting flowers for it. Of course, it was all staged, but the audience felt for the poor clown who, no matter how hard he tried, could not balance on the cans. Finally, at the egging on of the crowd, the clown accomplished the impossible and balanced on five cans all at once. But instead of a shower of flowers which he was expecting from somewhere, there was nothing. Silence. When he begged the ringmaster for a flower or two from his copious bunch, all he threw him was a tiny, pathetic leaf. All of us have felt this moment many times in our life, being unappreciated. So when this clown demonstrated his disappointment, it was believable. And I could not help but shed a sympathetic tear when a little girl from the audience brought him a little toy and then another, and another, as the temporary tragedy turned back again into comical farce.
It is a popular culture that is truly human and alive. Though it was clearly staged, it did not come off as canned. Glory to God for theatre and live performance that truly inspires the heart and does not merely distract the soul with amusement.