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January 30, 2023

A Fistful of Fringe

By Michael Price

(In the fall of 2014, fifty-one year old bi-polar playwright and veritable recluse Emmett Spacey, much to the wonderment of the local theater scene, came out of seclusion long enough to deliver five performances of his own fifty minute, one-man, one-act play, "No Change," at The Fringe Theater Festival. Documented below are his general observations of his overall "Fringe" experience, chronicled exactly one week following the end of the Festival.)

One audience reviewer thought it was supposed to be a stand-up comedy routine.

Boy, was he surprised.

The Etch-A-Sketch guy (from the play) was my roommate three times at Hennepin General -- once on second and twice on fourth. He was an excellently diagnosed schizophrenic and a helluva nice guy, especially if you caught him on a Wednesday, the day the hospital always stocked the refrigerators with butterscotch pudding cups.

Might've been him. He got out occasionally, and had a nice smile.

I certainly didn't bill the show that way. A few cute lines sprinkled amid the weeds and thistles of depression, sure, but not exactly Henny Youngman, all medications aside. I don't believe I've ever seen a stand-up comic start openly weeping right before the big finishing punchline. I'm not sure that would work.

Had to be the Etch-A-Sketch guy.

Another reviewer thought it was "... disturbingly good," which, the more I think about it, was a disturbingly nice comment.

My uncle Don said it made him feel "... uncomfortable," that he thought there were a number of funny lines but he was afraid to laugh. Then he quickly added, "But I've never been to a psych-ward before," which explained a lot.

A friend of mine from the better old days, back when I was still health-clubbing it once or twice in a while, started rushing the stage immediately after the show, assumedly in pursuit of a big long-time-no-see bear hug -- or congratulations, I suppose -- even before I had taken my first bow.

Deliriously in shock, obviously.

But of course, prior to that night, Roger had never seen me without at least one barbell in my hands.

As much as I like Roger -- and I still do, really -- stereotypes suck, and I'm pretty sure they always will; pass it on. And don't pussy-foot around. Yell.

There were at least two anonymous reviews that I know of, which don't count, of course, because, for whatever lame-ass reason, they wished to remain anonymous.

Not a problem on this end. I hereby deem you and your silly no-name reviews utterly pointless. You do not exist. And if we shall ever meet, I'll be happy to tell you that in person.

I went up to the home to visit the folks a couple days before the run of the show -- first time in a long time. Gave 'em both Fringe postcards, told 'em a little about the show.

Mom was in too much pain to blink and rolled over.

Dad said he hoped to be there opening night and resumed his life on the rails in Kansas, as the lady-in-white, who just happened to be loitering nearby, failed miserably in a weak effort to smile, as was her wont in such matters.

Of course, dad lives -- and always will -- in a lock-down ward, for his and everyone else's safety, a prisoner trapped in his own mind, so I encouraged him in his endeavor to come to the show. He wasn't going anywhere, but he didn't need to know that. I hope he gets there some day, but he won't. He's not going anywhere, so I encouraged him to try.

Mom has no such restrictions, so no such encouragement was necessary.

An old friend from high school, someone with whom I didn't spend a whole lot of time back then, a gal who I hadn't even seen since high school, headlined her review of the show, "I laughed, I cried."

Now how the hell did she know? I wonder who else knew.

There was one mostly negative review from a lady who didn't much like the show, said it didn't really go anywhere, but that I did an excellent job of portraying a mentally ill patient.

Not sure which way to take that one.

First of all, the notion that it didn't really go anywhere seems apropos, for some reason, but I'm kinda stuck on why.

Secondly, I appreciate the acting accolade, but how did she know that? Which would seem to be a fairly pertinent question, under the circumstances. To whom was she comparing me? What lucky bastard served as her measuring tool? Maybe I know him.

And lastly, as Larry (my acting coach and theatrical agent of yore) used to preach at me, in approaching the portrayal of any new role, "Research, my boy, research."

With influence like that under my belt, I sure as hell should've been convincing, dammit.

When I first decided to do the show, I was excited (or as close to "excited" as I get anymore) about appearing on stage for the first time in thirty years. Back in the old college days, I remember eagerly looking forward to the prospect of making an ass out of myself in public as often as possible. As the line in the play asks, "Where do I sign? What do I gotta do?"

That was then.

This was a chore. Every performance had to be done. Same script, same chore. I have always hated that word. A chore is a chore. Just do it. Dad always said that; just do it. Mom had nothing to do with the execution of chores and, believe me, I did 'em anyway.

Of course, as any actor will leap down your throat to tell you, no performance is exactly like any other, and I tested and proved that theory with great originality and resourcefulness during the run of the show, starting opening night, first line.

Anybody that has ever appeared on stage knows that lines get changed or dropped completely once in a while; it happens, or at least it used to. But I feel comfortably safe in saying that I am the first person in the history of the theater that actually dropped the first line of his own play. And again, we're talking opening night.


After that, I was fine, the rest of that performance went okay. But I remember thinking at the time, sitting there on stage, after forgetting the first line of my own play: Where the hell are you? And what are you doing on stage in the first place?

I had no clue. At all.

I was surprised to discover how difficult it was to memorize my own script. Yes, I know it's fifty-plus long minutes of prating babbletory, but I wrote it, for Pete's sake. Uncle Don wondered how much of the show was improvised, and seemed a little distressed when I told him that not one word of it was improvised.

I wish he hadn't brought it up, because now that kinda distresses me a little, too.

I was also surprised at the number of positive responses that surfaced concerning my acting. Going in, I was pretty sure I had a solid, well written script. I hoped my words would be strong enough to carry my lack of recent acting experience through the run of the show. Frankly, I had my doubts.

Years ago, I was always amazed every time someone asked me to sing at their wedding.

Really? Me? At your wedding? Are you sure?

I never thought I was all that great an actor in college. Sure, I got cast, almost every show. But most of the time they weren't even the roles for which I auditioned.

Evidently, life experience really does count. I'm older; most of my favorite actors are old. And again, and I don't think this can possibly be overstated: research, research, research.

I was relentless, man. It's all there, in my medical file, signed by many psych-docs.

As for the production aspect of the show, the nuts and bolts of producing a play? Never again. And, for the most part, that wasn't even my department. And I still hated it.

My Aunt Ellie saw the show closing night, hadn't seen her in years. Smart lady, Ellie. Big I.Q., reads a lot. Used to teach lit-classes to smart people, as I recall. She didn't say much after the show. She just stared at me, big smile, minimal blinking.

At the time, I took that as a compliment. But now, thinking back, it might have been something else entirely.

A former high school teacher of mine that I have managed to keep in touch with over the years, who wasn't able to get to the show, asked me to rate -- on a one to ten basis -- my overall Fringe experience.

After very little thought, I gave it a six.

Mom just died.

Dad lives on.

The Etch-A- Sketch guy was right. Shoulda been a comedy.

Article © Michael Price. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-04-06
Image(s) are public domain.
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