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The New York couple who took their circus comedy to Afghanistan

Acrobuffos: Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom.

The Acrobuffos have brought laughter to some of the world’s hellholes are now they're bringing their circus of visual wonders to New Zealand.

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone have raised smiles with their acrobatics, clowning, juggling and mime in some of the most troubled places on Earth. The New York couple met amongst the ruins of Kabul in 2003. Bloom was teaching circus skills to Afghan children and using physical comedy to raise awareness about landmines and malaria, and Gelsone was teaching Afghan adults to juggle and stilt-walk.

Since meeting, they have juggled – literally – married life with their professional clowning partnership as the Acrobuffos, and performed in more than 40 countries. In some places, says Bloom, they’ve often been the only Americans who aren’t carrying guns.

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We’ve collectively taught and performed to audiences around the world, and have found that regardless of language and culture, laughter connects us all,” he says.

They are touring New Zealand this month and next, having previously visited in 2010 for Christchurch’s World Buskers Festival. This time, they’re headed indoors with the show Air Play, a performance requiring an on-stage vertical wind tunnel created by a battery of electric fans.

The show is about two siblings on a journey, with stop-offs to juggle umbrellas, become enveloped in balloons and create visual wonders with swathes of silk.

“We needed a story to run through it, and we found that childhood is a story that is universal,” says Gelsone. “But we find that people bring their own life experiences to what they see.’’

There is no dialogue, and without it the audience has to imagine what is going on, says Gelsone. “The show is less passive. I want an active audience, someone to engage with.”

From a practical point of view, it means the Acrobuffos can tour anywhere as there are no language barriers to the show. “We love to eat. So it’s a sneaky way to eat our way around the world, too,’’ says Gelsone.

Meanwhile, the Afghan artists Bloom taught in Kabul (he last went in 2007) have also used comic theatre to inform and heal.

“Once they learned the craft, my job was done and I didn’t need to go back. Last year, they went to Bangladesh after the floods to do workshops for children, to provide positive and fun experiences for kids in a terrible situation.’’

Air Play is at the Arts Festival Dunedin on September 28-29; TSB Showplace, New Plymouth, on October 4-5; Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga, on October 9-10 and Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland, on October 13-14.

This article was first published in the September 29, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.