Summer with Barry in the Great White North
October 18, 2007
ASPEN How did Aspenite Barry Smith spend his summer? Four months of van troubles, sleeping on the couches of strangers, and long drives (when the van troubles ceased) to unfamiliar cities, as he brought his one-man, multimedia shows to fringe festivals across Canada. The 70-plus performances were worth the schlep; Smith’s 2005 show, “Jesus in Montana,” took Best of Fest honors at the Winnipeg Fringe, while his new piece, “American Squatter,” earned a Critics Choice award in Vancouver and was a nominee for best play at the Montreal Fringe.Smith is bringing “American Squatter” – an examination of his years as a squatter in a grungy London flat and as an inept Southern California skateboard punk, all in service of defying his neat-freak father – back home. Tonight, the show is at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, where it had its world premiere last spring, and tomorrow Smith returns to the Wheeler Opera House, where he has previously appeared onstage as a blues-singing tree and in the audience as a seat-filler.I asked Smith, who writes the weekly column “Irrelativity” for The Aspen Times, some questions. He answered them, or at least responded with words of his own.Q: What’s the oddest thing about Canada?A: The friendliness can be off-putting. Which might be the oddest thing about being an American – that an American can find friendliness off-putting. The differences are really subtle – and I was looking hard. But it’s not like they butter their bread on the bottom.Q: Did the show translate well into Canadian?A: Yeah. Part of it has to do with the American Dream. And the cheesiness with which that was executed. Canadians can see that, and they appreciated the humor in it.
Q: So the American Dream is about cleaning things?A: My dad did really well for himself, for a poor boy from Mississippi. He got a good job and he bought himself some cool stuff. He got a swimming pool.Q: Has your dad seen the new show?A: No. Nor will he. But I don’t think it’s mean. I’ve worked very hard not to make it mean. But I think it would make him uncomfortable.Q: What was his reaction to “Jesus in Montana”?A: Dead silence. Followed by, “Pass the salt.” Like it never happened. He may have a hard time expressing himself, I’m starting to think.Q: Were there complaints about the skateboard park you built behind your house in Alta Loma, Calif.?A: Constantly. I know I would complain about such a thing right now. It never occurred to us to inquire about whether such a thing was legal. We just started stealing wood.
Q: It’s funny that you had the world’s greatest home skateboard park, and you’re the world’s worst skateboarder.A: Yeah, I had no excuse. It’s not like it was closed and I couldn’t practice. In fact, I did practice. There was just an inherent suckiness to my skateboarding.Q: You ever hear from your old squatmates?A: I’ve kept in touch with them, especially since e-mail was invented. I’ve sent them reviews and updates, and they seem less than impressed. They’ve sent legal threats, but I imagine they’re not going to follow through on them.Q: I bet someone who couldn’t be bothered to pay rent for the flat he’s living in isn’t going to go to the trouble of suing you.A: I make them look good. Or better than me, anyway.Q: Before this weekend, what’s the most excited you’d been about going to the Wheeler?A: Being the harmonica-playing tree in “Umbrella Man.” I got to go onstage and say, “Lord have mercy” in front of a sold-out audience. Which is everybody’s idea of a dream come true.
Q: What’s your upcoming plan?A: Write a new show this winter. Book more shows, do more tours.Q: Has anyone come up, put his arm around you and said, “Kid, I’m going to make you a star?”A: The guy with the cigar, you mean? No. But I’m looking for that guy. Or woman. Someone who knows what to do with someone who does what I’m doing.Barry Smith will perform “American Squatter” at 8:30 p.m. tonight at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale and tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org