Barry Smith turns the page to ‘Baby Book’
Barry Smith won’t refer to “Click!” as a failure. A learning experience, sure. An interesting experiment, no doubt. Something considerably short of an artistic success, OK.
Mostly, Smith is pleased that he was able to call “Click!” a work-in-progress. When he presented the show, his third one-man, multi-media creation, in March, at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, he billed it with the warning that it was not a finished product, that he expected to do some tinkering and fine-tuning.
“It was a work-in-progress. I just didn’t realize it needed as much progress as it did,” said the 42-year-old Aspenite, who writes the Irrelativity column for The Aspen Times. “It was an extreme learning experience.”
“Click!” has progressed to the point where it is not longer even “Click!” Smith stripped his creation down to the bones, and came up with an entirely new show. “Barry Smith’s Baby Book: A Grown Up Comedy About Stuff” has its premiere tonight at Steve’s Guitars. And this time, the “w-i-p” phrase is not attached to the production.
The earliest phase of Smith’s career as a one-man, multi-media show-putting-on guy didn’t require much of that sort of trial by fire. His first show, “Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult,” premiered to a great reception in Aspen, was accepted into the New York International Fringe Festival, won an award there, and then a few more on a tour of festivals in Canada. His second show, “American Squatter,” followed a similar path: acclaim in Aspen, which he has called home for nearly 20 years, and a handful of awards. And in both cases, the original concept ” tell a funny story drawn from his own life, and punctuate it with some incredibly illustrative photographs ” didn’t need much fiddling with.
With “Click!” Smith tried a new maneuver. The show about photographs ” how people use them, and how our relationship to them has changed in this era of 24/7 camera-pointing ” was intended as a comedy. But Smith, who at one time wanted to be a professional photographer, and did, in fact, work for a spell as the dark-room technician at the Snowmass Sun, fell too heavily into the academic realm of his subject.
“‘Click!’ was philosophical. I might have even lectured a bit. I was thinking, ‘it’ll be thoughtful and clever,'” he said. “And it became clear, while I was onstage, that these aren’t things I do well, or even want to do. I was trying to say things that other people have said before. And better. I’m a community college drop-out; I have no business giving a professorial lecture.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. ‘I’ll have parts that aren’t funny: That’ll be great!'”
The onstage realization that Smith had gone off-track was powerful. He saw quickly that he had to junk most of the content of “Click!” along with the very concept of it as well.
“I took the parts that worked ” OK, the part that worked ” and made a new show,” he says. “I felt I had to do that. I might have gone on, sat in front of my computer for another two months, and gone with this great new thing: The lecture!
“Humiliation is a powerful learning tool.”
What the new show and the work-that-didn’t-progress have in common is pictures. But where “Click!” focused only on photos, “Barry Smith’s Baby Book” focuses on both photos and all the other stuff that Smith has inexplicably hung onto over the years, as though he knew he would become a one-man, multi-media-show guy. “Basically, it’s me and my obsession with saving stuff, and trying to find myself through it,” he said.
At the center of “Baby Book” is Smith’s own baby book. Or, more precisely, his late mother’s baby book about little Barry. When I informed Smith that a baby book is something typically kept by the parents of said baby, he seemed to understand that concept. But stuff usually flows Smith’s way, and so it is with the baby book, which has been in his possession for decades.
Smith finds his own baby book fascinating. For one thing, his is uncommonly sparse. While it notes his first molar eruption, and contains several pictures, the space for his first words is left blank. “So this is me filling in my own baby book on my own terms. And funny. No lecturing,” he said.
He also finds the very idea of the baby book frighteningly unrealistic. Such books have spaces for grade school and high school graduations ” and college, first job, first house, grandchildren.
“It’s an unattainable fairy tale,” said Smith. “I address the fact that my life didn’t fit into the baby book. But I’m determined to fill it in, despite my extreme deviations. Leaving that section on postgraduate degrees empty ” that’s painful.”
Smith will spend his summer once again on the Canadian fringe festival circuit, performing “American Squatter,” a comedy about his time living in a squalid London flat. Coming on the success of last year’s “Jesus in Montana,” Smith expects to be treated as a returning hero in places like Saskatoon, Edmonton, Toronto and Winnipeg.
“The fringe circuit, the culture is very specific,” he said. “So to come back as the guy who did ‘Jesus in Montana’ will mean something. Because ‘Jesus’ did really well.”
As for “Click!” ” like they say, what happens in Carbondale, stays in Carbondale.
Barry Smith presents “Barry Smith’s Baby Book: A Grown Up Comedy About Stuff” at 8:30 p.m. tonight at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
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