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By Alex Hochman
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I love me some Edinburgh Castle; not everybody knows my name, but they are always glad I came. I think.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin
It seemed the perfect place to meet up with a friend and go over our plans to write a play based on the life of Billy Barty, Don't Call Me Midget. Aspiring scribes, composers, poets, and drunks who scribble can wedge themselves into a weathered wooden corner of Edinburgh Castle and pretend to be tortured artists.
For Don't Call Me Midget, I was to bring the enthusiasm and knowledge for Barty, that groundbreaking "little person" actor. My friend, who I will call Hervé, was to bring the film school screenplay chops, which is the closest we can come to actually knowing how to write a play.
Hervé went up to order drinks and I shuffled through my notes. Barty was born William John Bertanzetti, an Italian Mormon. That right there is fodder for an entire Broadway show. He adamantly opposed the term "midget," and instead wanted to be referred to as a "little person." Though typecast as any character who was supposed to be tiny, he defied stereotypes as best he could by being an activist and a kick-ass performer. All we needed to do was throw in some sex and perhaps a soliloquy and we'd have ourselves a hit.
"Some guy asked me if I wanted to sniff his tobacco," said Hervé, returning to his seat with a grossed-out look on his face. "He wasn't holding a bag of Drum." We paused to ponder what this might mean. I pictured light brown strands of pubic hair. Hervé said he thought it meant that he wanted to sell him pot. He demurred before he could get a concrete answer.
"Okay, so," I said, slamming my palms down on the table in the manner and fashion of a playwright. "I say we open with his appearance on The Golden Girls." It was one of his last performances, plus I love that show. We would span his career by starting at the end, moving backward, and finally returning to his deathbed. Hervé disagreed. He explained to me how a play needs an arc and some sort of tension, and that this was the 21st century, so something supernatural and ironic needed to happen as well.
"You mean like a Flowers for Algernon-type thing? Where Billy suddenly becomes 6 feet tall and has to deal with that?" "No," said Hervé, "More like he's really a child who keeps getting dressed up like Billy Barty, replaced over the years like a character in Menudo or the lead in Annie." That didn't seem respectful to little people. I didn't want to emphasize that a small person could be childlike. No, this Billy Barty play would celebrate his difference.
Just then a horrible realization began to seep in, which was that we were at the Edinburgh Castle on a Tuesday, which is trivia night. It was already beginning to fill up with nerds. Don't get me wrong, this nerd loves Tuesdays at the Edinburgh, but we were trying to make art here. We figured we had one more hour left.
The Edinburgh Castle has a Globe Theater vibe, with its two levels and wooden beams and Macbeth shtick. Okay, maybe I'm stretching a bit. That got me thinking of The Scottish Play, and how Barty is the antithesis of a tragic character. He is a hero for the disabled; he didn't deny his difference, but he also didn't apologize for it. There is no doubt in my mind that Peter Dinklage will cream all over our text and beg us to be a part of the project.
As soon as we come up with a plot.
"Why don't we do an Adaptation sort of approach, with a play within a play of the playwrights trying to figure out what to say, while at the same time outlining various aspects of Barty's life," suggested Hervé.
"But with monsters and shit thrown in for ironic supernatural elements, right?"
Fifteen minutes until trivia. I looked back down at my notes, and Hervé hadn't even bothered to bring a pen and paper. We both knew that nothing was ever really going to get written; we just thought the idea was kinda rad.
Groups of people scurried to claim spots for the game. They all looked like iPhone cheaters to me. Some trivia players are hardcore, you can just tell. They have spent years amassing a dream team complete with sports experts, pop culture geeks, historians, and someone with Asperger's to fill in the gaps. The trivia nerd in me starts to feel very uncomfortable with all that competition. I choke.
It was obvious that we weren't going to take part, since our table was filled with Barty info and my notebooks. We were sitting on hot real estate, and folks began to hover over us like zombies in search of a feeding ground.
Without words, we both got up to leave. Before my crotch was even parallel with the table some dude put his pint down in front of me to hold the spot. Get me outta here.
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