It’s been a while since I last posted. My bad. You all probably thought I was dead. Hardly – I’ve just been Fringe-ing for the past two weeks. I’m going to write about my overall FringeNYC experience this year within the next couple of days. Today, however, I’d like to talk about an event that, for me, exemplifies the wild, unpredictable energy that gleefully permeates FringeNYC every year.
The event in question came during the first performance of Adam Szymkowicz’s delightful comedy, Susan Gets Some Play, when I got called on stage by its two stars, Susan Louise O’Connor and Kevin R. Free. The wacky premise involves the heroine, Susan (played wonderfully by O’Connor), trying to find a new boyfriend by holding fake auditions for a non-existent show. During the play, she and her best friend, Jay (the hilarious Free) try out several potential candidates – all of whom are played by other cast members.
All except one, that is. Susan Gets Some Play throws a wild card into the mix by hauling one lucky audience member on stage for a shot at the title character’s affections. On the day I attended, that audience member was me.
Here’s what happened. I was randomly (and unexpectedly) approached by Free and fellow cast member Scott Ebersold in the theatre lobby beforehand. Our conversation went something like this:
(Free and Ebersold approach. They are smiling, and they have a Polaroid instant camera.)
Free: Hi. Excuse me: are you single?
Me: (Hesitant, not knowing what this is about.) Yes.
Me: (Beginning to see where this is going.) Yes.
Free: Great. Would you like to meet a friend of ours?
Me: (Throwing caution to the wind.) Sure.
Free: Great! Can we take your picture?
(They take a Polaroid of me.)
Ebersold: Great. Can you just write your first name and last initial on the bottom? There may be more than one Michael here.
(I write my first name and last initial on the bottom of the Polaroid.)
Ebersold: Okay, great! Thanks!
And off they went to recruit some more unsuspecting audience members. There was a near-capacity crowd mulling in the lobby, so I figured there was no way I would be chosen to partake in whatever they had planned.
Little did I know. A mere fifteen minutes later, I found myself trodding the boards with one of New York’s best indie theater actresses. Hearing my name called, and then rising from my seat to take the stage, was an experience similar to the one I imagine studio audience members must have when they find out they’re the next contestant on The Price is Right.
Once on stage, I immediately fell victim to Free’s “pencil trick” (read my review of the show for a full explanation of what I’m talking about), then we got down to business. O’Connor and I read some intentionally ridiculous sides that placed us in the middle of a sci-fi/space botpoiler (complete with moody lighting and the theme music from Alien playing in the background). After reading a few lines, Free pulled me aside and gave me an adjustment:
Free: (Whispering conspiratorially in my ear.) Okay, that was good. I want you to try it again, and this time I want you to yell at her. Just throw a tantrum. Start at 10, and build from there.
Never mind that such a reading would be appropos of nothing in the script. That, of course, was the joke. Right. So, I did my best to follow Free’s direction, bellowing crudely at O’Connor (and generally making a total fool of myself) for about a page before co-star Jorge Cordova (playing Ted, the upstairs neighbor) came in and broke things up. Needless to say, I did not pass the audition.
Now, I definitely would’ve liked Susan Gets Some Play even if I hadn’t momentarily become a part of the action. The fact that I did, though, just enhanced my enjoyment of it, and punctuated the go-for-broke attitude that FringeNYC is all about: anything can happen at this festival and often does.
(By the way, it’s a good thing I wrote my last initial on that Polaroid: I later found out that Free and Ebersold had, indeed, pre-screened another Michael from the audience!)