Aspen’s Barry Smith stuffs it
December 11, 2008
ASPEN I was already rebuffed in my request to see the shed, out back of the West End house, where Barry Smith stores his stuff.Just a bunch of plastic boxes, said the stuffs owner. Boring.The No. 1 bit of stuff he has saved over the years The most bizarre for a 42-year-old man to still have, said Smith. And now that I think of it, for any age or any gender. he would not even disclose the identity of. (He did reveal No. 2 on that list: a lock of hair from his first haircut.)Smith told me that all his best material the oddest, most poignant, most I-cant-friggin-believe-you-saved-that items had been photographed and put in digital format but I wanted to see actual stuff, not pictures of stuff. Besides, there was no overhead projector, nor laptop computer, at hand in Smiths kitchen.Then, just as I was about to leave, my desire to see piles of old hall passes, newspaper clippings, moth-eaten Frank Zappa T-shirts unfulfilled, Smith suddenly hinted at the holy grail of his stuff.Want to see my giant scrapbook? he asked. He must have seen my eyes widen, because before I could answer Smith was clearing the table of teacups and notepads. Using all the capacity of his gym-toned muscles, he plopped down a yes, giant is the word black book, several feet in each dimension (depth excluded), with a clipping on the cover from a 2000 newspaper report: Hes a potato. Thats why hes brown. (The quote, from an artist who had made a Mr. Potato Head statue for a Rhode Island tourist campaign, was a response to claims that the statue was racist.) As I thumbed through the scrapbook volume one of four, so far to discover hand-drawn cartoons, set lists from Smiths first Zappa bootleg tape, a letter to Santa (written when Smith was 7), and an overdue notice from the library for Dr. Seuss One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish (checked out when Smith was 30), my intrigue turned to fascination.Apparently Im not alone in being dazzled by Smiths propensity to save stuff, and the stuff itself. In an award-winning and still-ascendant career, the Aspenite (and Aspen Times columnist) has presented two one-person, multimedia stage comedies that have addressed noteworthy episodes of Smiths past: the summer spent living with the messianic leader of a cult in Jesus In Montana; and the year in a grotesque, but rent-free, London flat in American Squatter. But mostly what people remember after the show is the stuff illustrating each chapter of Smiths life.When people would see my shows, theyd say, I dont believe you still have all that stuff! said Smith, who toured his first two shows through Canadas extensive fringe festival circuit the past two summers, along with appearances in Florida, Seattle, California and Colorado. But the shows werent about, Hey, look at my stuff. They were just things to move the story along.Smiths latest show is, likewise, not simply a run through the weird, worthless crap hes saved (and hauled from Mississippi, where he was born; southern California, where he spent his teenage years; and various residences in the Roaring Fork Valley, where he has lived since the early 90s). Barry Smiths Baby Book: A Grown Up Comedy About My Stuff is an effort at self-knowledge. Where American Squatter took the year living in squalor to discover something about his relationship with his neat-freak father, Baby Book aims to get to the bottom of an obsession with saving things.It wasnt until everyone started asking that I realized it was weird to have all this stuff, said Smith, who performs the show Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House. I just always thought there was something intriguing about the stuff, such that I would want to save it. Even in first grade Id come home with my papers and think, Somehow, this is related to me. I should hang onto it. Even at an early age, I had a sense of nostalgia even for things that were a week old.Its a show about finding out who you are. And I happened to look in a pile of stuff.The title refers to perhaps the ultimate implement of collecting stuff. In contemplating his own baby book which, of course, he has kept Smith came to realize that his life didnt fit neatly into the usual chapters: No college graduation, no kids, no grandkids. But he also saw the baby book concept as indicative of peoples desire to hang onto at least some of their stuff.Youre supposed to glue things in it: footprints and birth certificates and first photos and birthday party invitations, noted Smith. And in a way, my life has turned out to be a repository for all these things. My life is one giant baby book that needs to be stored in an outside barn.While Smith is heavily involved in the business side of his career searching for a booking agent, and booking dates for his shows he is in the early stages of writing his next show, tentatively titled Every Job Ive Ever Had. Among the items that fit into that title: photocopier, juggler, wedding videographer, engine scraper, crayon-factory worker, dark room technician and cub reporter.The show will premiere in a year or so. Smith will need some time to gather the juggling balls, photocopies, engine grease and crayons from his pile of stuff.
Barry Smith’s show starts Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. General admission tickets are $firstname.lastname@example.org