BY TOM LAVIS
Gregory Popovich likes to say that animals are people, too.
Popovich will prove his theory when he brings his menagerie of 15 house cats, 10 dogs, four geese, eight white doves and two parrots to the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center for a show at 7:30 p.m. March 31.
Popovich and his cast of jugglers, clowns and animals will make an infrequent appearance outside of his Comedy Pet Theater in Las Vegas to bring his show to the arts center, located at 450 Schoolhouse Road.
The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater has performed in more than 20 countries, and is currently in its fifth season at the Planet Hollywood Resort/Casino in Las Vegas.
“We only started to travel the show about five years ago, and we do about 60 dates a year away from Las Vegas, where I live,” Popovich said.
The renowned Russian juggler developed his love for animals early in life as he grew up in an unusual environment.
As the child of Russian circus performers Alex and Tamara Popovich, he not only inherited his parents’ juggling and performing skills, he also formed a special bond with his family’s group of performing dogs.
Eventually, the connection he formed with the show dogs led to his participation on the stage, assisting his mother with the dog act.
At the age of 6, Popovich began to learn the art of juggling.
“About eight years later, I did my first solo act of juggling on a freestanding ladder,” he said.
“I became a member of the Moscow Circus at the age of 17.”
Popovich said his late parents had an opportunity to see his success in the United States during a performance in New York.
“I was proud when they saw me as the first Russian performer to appear at Madison Square Garden when I was with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus,” he said.
He was able to juggle an astounding nine rings at one time during the performance.
It may surprise people to learn that Popovich’s cats and dogs have been saved from animal shelters.
“Years ago, when I came up with the idea to create a show with many animals, I began looking for furry performers for my show,” he said.
“At the suggestion of a friend, I visited an animal shelter to see if I could find a talented animal to adopt.”
He said that in Russia, animal shelters, like the ones in the United States, don’t exist.
“I was sad to see so many wonderful cats and dogs without homes,” he said.
The sight motivated him to create his animal show.
Popovich learned that the animals love to show off onstage – performing a variety of stunts and skits.
He insists that he doesn’t train the animals like most people think.
Instead, Popovich teaches the animals to perform onstage by allowing them to show off their individual personalities and talents.
“I adjust the tricks to the animals,” he said.
“If a cat likes to walk between a person’s legs, loves to jump or play with balls, I come up with a trick to use their talents.”
By allowing his pets to perform the skills and stunts they naturally love to do, Popovich said the animals enjoy performing as much as the audience loves watching.
What: Gregory Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theater.
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 31.
Tickets: Available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the box office or by calling 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or visit www.upjarts.org.
Cost: $25, $23, $12.