By Amy J. Parrent
Avner Eisenberg’s biography lists his childhood interests as juggling and snakes.
When asked if he ever juggled snakes, he replies, “I stopped at kittens.”
When asked how he got into performing he expands: “I juggled since about age 12, sort of recreationally. When I was a freshman in college I went into a building to get out of the rain. It was the theater building.
“I was studying chemistry and biology, then switched to theater,” he said. According to his website bio, he wanted to be a doctor but his parents pushed him into show business.
Eisenberg, who performs his one-man show “Avner the Eccentric: Exceptions to Gravity” at Oakland University on Jan. 16, said, “My real interest at the time was tech theater: set construction, design, lighting.”
And how did he transition into what he does now with his one-man show?
“It stopped raining, I went back outside.”
And that’s how it goes with this witty man with the accomplished resume: A sailing buff who lives on an island in Maine, has starred on Broadway, taken his show around the world, and was the scene-stealing title role (really) in “The Jewel of the Nile” opposite Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.
But back to what he’ll be doing at Oakland University:
“Around my sophomore year I saw Marcel Marceau,” Eisenberg said. “I was fascinated with gestural theater.”
The Atlanta native attended four universities as an undergrad, traveling counter-clockwise around the U.S. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, he followed the miming muse to Paris. “More than any artistic pursuit, I was looking for an excuse to go to Europe,” he said.
“I couldn’t get Marceu’s number in the phone book, so I studied with Jacques Lecoq for two years,” he joked, before adding, “No, I’m glad I did.”
On returning to the United States, Avner taught at Carlo Mazzone Clementi’s Dell’Arte School of Physical Comedy in California.
On his website he pays tribute to his mentors, “Lecoq, who taught me everything I know, and Carlo who taught me the rest.”
In Paris he was once arrested for buffoonery in public. Yes, that’s a thing. But what would he call what he does?
“I wouldn’t use either ‘clown’ or ‘mime’,” he said. “That’s a four-letter word. They are both code words for ‘bring little kids’ (to the show).
“Years ago, I used to wear a red nose in my act. Broadway reviewers would talk about (how it was for) children, even if there weren’t any kids in the audience,” he said. “I took the nose off: Immediately they talked about existentialism.”
One Irish reviewer called his show “‘Waiting for Godot’ with tricks.”
Eisenberg also teaches workshops (including one scheduled at Oakland University) which he’s titled “Freeze, Flight, Fight or Fidget: A Physical Approach to Acting.”
“I deal with finding humor in ordinary things,” he said. “The first thing is taking simple movement and unlocking all communication with it. I tell students to look at the time on stage as series of problems to solve.”
Eisenberg, who is also a certified trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, does “quite a bit of work in stage fright, or anticipatory anxiety.
There seems to be little stage fright in his life. “When I’m touring, being onstage is the calmest time of my day,” he said. “There’s a predictability of audiences.”
He’s also a part-time practitioner in Portland, Maine, seeing people for wide variety of issues, often working in concert with therapists.
“Avner the Eccentric” appeared on Broadway in the mid-1980s. Although he said, “I make changes (to the show) as I go, I’m playing essentially the same character. It’s a distillation of myself, a lifetime of me dropping things.
“One time before a show I twisted my ankle, and was limping,” Eisenberg said. “The director asked, ‘How’s your foot, can you go on?’ I said fine, I can do the show. Humor is based on misfortune. They usually see an old bald guy. Now they’ll see an old bald guy who’s limping – that’s even better.”
But he said, “There’s an optimism in this kind of comedy – it’s like making ice cream out of dog food.”
‘Avner the Eccentric: Exceptions to Gravity’
Varner Hall on the campus of Oakland University, 2200 N. Squirrel Road, Rochester. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16. $20 general admission; $10 for students. A special two-for-one ticket is available through Living Social at http://www.tinyurl.com/OULivingSocial