It looks a bit like the gift table at a hillbilly wedding: sock monkeys sit atop a boar's head, a Jerry Falwell audiobook stares corpulently across at a genuine Flowbee.
But Lou Harry and John Thomas aren't celebrating their nuptials (they're strictly creative partners). Rather, they've invited friends and family to a early August pitch-in with the notion of collecting strange and unwanted knickknacks as props for their 2012 Fringe show Going, Going, Gone.
More about that pile in the sidebar; for now, we'll tell you more about the show, an interactive, improvised affair that will begin when audience members are handed a cache of Monopoly money — which has real purchase value in the world of Going, Going, Gone.
“Ed, who owned Ed’s Auction House for 40 years, has died,“ Harry says of the minimal plot of the show. “As the audience comes in, they are hearing the last auction of the stuff he was supposed to sell. When the show starts, two actors set up to the audience that they found these boxes of stuff in his office, his personal stuff, [and] everything has to go.”
The six Fringe performances will star two different actors each time, each with a different relationship to Ed. “In some performances,” Harry says, “it might be his first ex-wife and third ex-wife. [The actors] know as much about each other and their relationship to Ed as their characters would know. So if they’re playing the business manager and the son who hasn’t been home for 30 years, they have a limited amount of information.”
In addition, the actors have no script and no previous knowledge of the items to be auctioned. “Lou and I both like the quick comeback,” Thomas says, “So, we thought it would be fun to do a play about reacting to things. We also both like things that are very well organized and edited. This isn’t going to be that. It’s kind of like two guys working without a net.”
But with ten actors for six performances and two actors slated per show, the math simply doesn’t add up. “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do for the last night,” Thomas says. “Everything else is up in the air, why not make this up in the air? It might be that we tell all the actors if you want to show up come on, and it might be that Lou and I do it.”
Harry and Thomas have assembled some of the best talent in the city for the cast: Diane Kondrat and Matt Roland, Rob and Jen Johansen, Scot Greenwell and Paul Hansen, Karen Irwin and Ed Wank, and Claire Wilcher and John Patrick Cohen.
“We wanted to do a show that took advantage of the acting pool here,” Harry says. “I love the idea of using the talent that is here. Four of the people in our show are in other Fringe shows, but because they were only doing one, we were able to work around their schedule.”
Harry refers to the rehearsal process for this improv piece as a “workshop” that centered on conversations about each artist’s relationship to their stuff. “We tend to put a lot of significance on our stuff,” Thomas says, “and especially on things that belonged to someone else. When you first find something, it’s just a thing. Then when it connects to someone that matters to you, suddenly there’s a lot of life to that item.”
“Objects somehow stick around,” Harry says. “But there’s only so many objects we can have in our life. There are only so many things that fit into our apartment and our houses. And there is next to nothing that we take along with us afterward. [This play] has altered my awareness of the objects in my life.”
For Harry dealing with the belongings of a loved one who has passed is an especially raw issue. Around the time he and Thomas met for lunch and decided to pursue this piece last winter, Harry’s teenage daughter died.
“Part of what we had to figure out was what to do with her stuff,” Harry explains. “What we ended up doing in that case, we had an open house for all of her friends to come in and go through her clothes and take shoes ... to take something personal. That turned out to be one of the most satisfying things that happened over the last couple of months. Just knowing that that stuff has gone out into the world with different people.”
Working on a piece about death placed a big elephant in the room when it came to the actors. Because they knew of Harry's loss, they were sensitive to his perspective in rehearsal. But Harry insisted they look beyond his own bereavement process.
“I tell them don’t let any of that keep you from going wherever this goes,” Harry says. “In a way this is my opportunity to stare death in the face. So don’t be shy if it goes dark, if it goes funny, if it goes silly, if it goes really moving and nostalgic. What we found is, in any pair of actors, all of that happened.”
Harry and Thomas hope to take Going, Going, Gone to other Fringe festivals, in addition to less traditional venues. “We are open to the idea of working out some way that it might be useful to nonprofits who are doing auctions as part of their fundraisers,” Harry says.
This will be Thomas’s first fringe in Indy, though he did experience the largest fringe festival in the world at Edinburgh, Scotland. As for Harry, he’s an old pro when it comes to the IndyFringe scene, whether reviewing shows as a critic for the Indianapolis Business Journal or seeing his own work mounted on stage.
“I’m always curious to see what gets buzz,” Harry says in anticipation of this year’s festival. “What are the shows that people are talking about? What are the shows that the performers, who get free passes, are lining up for?”
Five things you might bid on at Going, Going, Gone
A wild boar’s head: Donated by artist Emma Overman; shot down by her husband’s sister's ex-boyfriend.
A family of sock monkeys: A mostly matching set, but for one adopted sock monkey with colors wildly different from the rest.
Jerry Falwell Explains Creationism (eight cassette collection): Darwin turns in his grave as Jerry's ancestor rides a stegosaurus.
Chairman Mao collectibles: A slightly creepy selection of Mao-obilia.
A FlowBee: “One day I was in my garage — and being a carpenter, you get sawdust in your hair. And I was cleaning the sawdust out of my hair and needing a haircut desperately — I'd go about three months back then without getting a haircut — and I was going, 'What if I could have blades up there and set the length?' And that was about seven years ago, and since then we've sold hundreds of thousands of FlowBees.”