Best known as associate editor of The Stranger, David Schmader debuts a funny new solo play, A Short-Term Solution to a Long-Term Problem, about the pros and cons of living every day as if it were your last, and “narcotic distractions” such as cat videos and child beauty pageants.
Brangien Davis: What does the title mean?
David Schmader: It’s a spin on the antisuicide slogan decrying suicide as “a long-term solution to a short-term problem.” Inverting it seems to make it about life, positing all the things we do while we’re alive as the short-term solution to the long-term problem of mortality. This is a big theme of the show—which I should mention is a comedy. Or at least a serio-comedy.
BD: What’s wrong with living each day as if it were your last?
DS: It’s one of those aphorisms that’s tossed around so much it seems wise, or at least benign. But as I say in the show, it’s actually a Rorschach test designed to expose your psyche. How you respond says something fundamental about who you are. For some, “Live today like it’s your last” means calling your mom to tell her you love her and taking stock of your blessings. For the more literal-minded, it means blowing out your credit cards and doing all the things you were afraid to do when you had to worry about planning for the future. I fall somewhere in between those two options.
BD: How is this show different from your previous solo plays?
DS: All of my solo plays have been autobiographical, but this one’s different because the stories being shared aren’t necessarily flattering to my ego. All the shows have involved serious self-critique—when it’s time to attack, start with the man in the mirror, I say—but earlier shows wrapped up with some ego-stroking sense of “Look how perceptive I am in my ability to critique myself!” Large parts of the new show are about what an idiot I am, or can be, with no silver-lining ego strokes. I credit this to the wisdom of age.
BD: You are such a funny writer for the page. Do you find that your humor easily translates to a solo play format?
DS: The biggest difference is sentence structure. With written text, you can get away with more complicated and extended sentence structures, because readers can always cast their eyes back to remind themselves of the subject and basically revisit the information at will. Live, people are listening in real time, so you’ve got to lay out the information in a way that makes sense and is digestible the first time you hear it.
There are types of sentence structures that are so “literary” they feel out of place onstage (unless you’re making a joke about being “literary”). Writing a show, all of these types of structures get swapped out for more conversational approaches. And of course there’s the whole world of nonverbal communication in theater, where I can say something, then do something with my arm or eye or video projection that makes it land entirely different than it would isolated on the page.
BD: I’m told you discuss baby spray tans in your show. What other horrors of modernity should we be prepared for?
DS: The spray-tanned babies and other horrors of modernity are laced throughout the show as diversions. Another big theme of the show is the idea of “narcotic distrac-tion”—those meaningless entertainments on which we rest our eyes for a fleeting bit of pain-killing diversion: videos of cats falling in toilets, the whole “I Can Has Cheezburger?” empire, reality TV.
The spray-tanned babies are a reference to a genre of diversion I became semi-addicted to after 9/11: the great child beauty pageant documentaries of the late 1990s, when the world’s news journalists turned their cameras on the U.S. kiddie pageant tradition following the death of Jon-Benet Ramsey. This wasn’t reality fluff like Toddlers & Tiaras—it was serious filmmaking about the stupidest thing in the world, and it was amazing.
SEE IT: Through 2/4.
8 p.m. $15–$20. Richard Hugo House 1634 11th Ave.; 206.322.7030; hugohouse.org