Max Rykov: An event organizer who combines art and education with his passion for the city

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Max Rykov (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham News)
Max Rykov (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

If life were more like a summer camp it would be wonderful, if you ask Max Rykov.

Rykov, an event organizer in Birmingham, has arranged more 30 events in the city over the past three years. Currently he is working on two: a comedy show, “Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Abridged),” which will be held at Saturn Birmingham on Friday, Sept. 9, and “Birmingham’s Got Potential,” which is an effort to raise money for Special Session at Camp McDowell in Nauvoo, Alabama.

Special Session is a camp for people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities. The camp costs $350 for individuals to attend. Rykov is putting together a fundraiser to provide scholarships so that no one is turned away.

“Unfortunately, having a disability like many of the campers have, that usually means living in poverty as well,” Rykov said. “Most of the campers can’t afford to go.”

Rykov saw the impact of Special Session on the last day of the weeklong camp, which wrapped up on June 26. The camp has a talent show that everyone must perform in. However, this talent show isn’t like other shows.

“They do whatever they can do to the best of their ability,” Rykov said. “One camper showed how to make a bed properly, and one year someone who was in a wheelchair did extreme sitting. Whatever they can find that’s unique and special about them, they perform.”

The best part about it was the audience, Rykov said.

“The cool part though was that everyone else in the camp, the staff and campers, was yelling and cheering nonstop and the campers feel so loved and adored by this,” Rykov said. “I almost burst into tears within 10 minutes of the show. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room that loving and supportive.”

Rykov wants to recreate that on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Good People Brewing Company with “Birmingham’s Got Potential,” which is a play on the common refrain that Birmingham as a city has potential, Rykov said.

“Everyone has something that’s special and unique to them,” Rykov said. “My thing is I can throw a football really well, someone else might be able to belch the National Anthem. The point is celebrating what anyone has to offer.”

The show will be set up like America’s Got Talent, complete with judges.

“Instead of people like Simon Cowell, who always finds something negative, [the judges] will find something positive. There’s something everyone can do.”

The show has a submission form where people can sign up to participate. 

The event on Friday, Sept. 9, “Abridged”, is a show that Rykov will host, joined by a panel of comedians for dramatic readings, analysis and trivia and games for the audience.

“These are tales that have become children’s stories and Disney movies like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White,” Rykov said. “But originally they are these incredibly dark tales of cannibalism, incest and rape. When the Grimm brothers realized parents were reading them to their children, they would edit them and add moral lessons.”

The event, which he is hoping to hold monthly, will be $10.

Originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Rykov, 27, and his family came to Birmingham in 1993 as Soviet refugees. While he’s known for his quirkiness and sarcasm, many find his sense of humor and passion for the city refreshing.

Rykov is hoping that the fun events that he creates aren’t only occasional. He is currently working on starting a nonprofit, City Playground. It will be a way to learn about different topics through play and games-type events.

“They’re fun to watch, but in the process of creating it, it’s also incredibly educational,” Rykov said.

City Playground will be for schools, colleges and organizations.

“The means by which government entities and nonprofits try to engage the community are relatively boring,” Rykov said. “Play isn’t something thought of as a vehicle to educate people on civic issues.”

Using play to educate is not just for children, Rykov said.

“It’s about making it silly and fun, but you’re also learning, and it’s healthy,” Rykov said. “People need to play more often.”