By Michelle Foster
On a suburban corner in Plano, across from a llama farm, Celebration Event Center and Ballroom is home to a bunch of oddballs called Circus Freaks who run Open Stage, a weekly romp of weirdness guaranteed to make you feel things.
Tonight's event is speakeasy-themed. Performers and guests alike are dressed to the nines in their fedoras and suits, shawls and silk gowns. At the box office, a treasure box sports a sign that encourages its readers to write down a word of inspiration for someone in need and to leave it in the box. Of course, if you happen to be a person in need of inspiration, the box is yours to peruse. The vibe is relaxed but buzzy, and I get the feeling that the slightly thrown-together nature of the event is intentional. All these people are friends who like to hang out and share their fun on Monday nights.
"Oh! I'm supposed to say stuff now!" says a man with a megaphone after I read the positive note a stranger left me. He goes over the first two of the Ten Commandments of Open Stage: (1) Thou Shalt Not Sue if you disapprove, and (2) Thou Shalt Sayeth Cheese to the many cameras surrounding the event. "If all of that is good with you, please follow me!"
As we enter a gorgeous ballroom, he stops and yells into the megaphone, "Oi!" The guests stop what they're doing and call back, "Oi!" "FIRST TIMER!!!!" he belts at the guests, and I am welcomed with cheers and applause and sent on my way.
The first hour of Open Stage is all about mingling. The doors open at 7 p.m. but the show doesn't start until 8. There's a one-person band by the stage, Bret Crow, who tonight is in drag as "Brittany Pigeon," making great use of a funky bass and a loop pedal. Several people introduce themselves to me, the first-timer, including Alicia Holston, the one who keeps it all going, and Russ Sharek, the creative heart behind all this nonsense.
Sharek, boss clown and emcee, is in character tonight as Doug Graves, a mob leader who tells me he got the scar across his face after being thrown out of a window, but if I think that's the worst thing that's happened in his life, I'm a putz. Another mingler pipes in to let me know that Alicia only lies and Doug only tells the truth. I'm directed that I can sit wherever I'd like, at a table or in the "Cuddle Pit," an appropriately named bunch of pillows in front of the stage. Someone has brought a bag of Ring Pops and a couple of boxes of Cracker Jacks for the community table. A small group to my right is playing Magic the Gathering. There's an artisan booth set up on the side selling handmade leather hats and wallets from BeastmanCaravan.com.
Open Stage runs like this: Anyone can sign up in advance to perform in any capacity that they want, within "reason," or as long as they follow the rules. Tickets are $10 whether you are performing or not. BYOB. Wear a costume if you'd like, but no pressure. The Ten Commandments are taken pretty seriously -- a few of them being "Thou Shall Be High in Spirits Alone," "Thou Shalt Clap, Dammit," and "Thou Shalt Not Keep Score."
The performance -- which I watch from the Cuddle Pit, obviously -- is composed of five short acts. A magician called Rob D comes first with a well-thought-out trick, showing us how to hide booze from the cops, and then a less-thought-out handcuff trick.
Between the acts we meet Doug Graves and a mute, drunken techie. Then comes Mack Blackjack, a Frank Sinatra impersonator who dedicates his generously granted encore to his lovely lady. He is followed by a group of improvisors, the Stagefalls, who do a tandem-story sketch about how they maybe-obviously-accidentally threw a body onto a frozen lake. Next was Wayne Green, a jolly folk singer with a couple of catchy, snap-along tunes. We are finally graced by Molly Macabre in evening wear, who slowly strips to her well-filled pasties as she croons a slow Cure cover.
Now, listen. The thing is: Open Stage isn't about unbelievable performances. Between every act, the audience hoots and hollers and gives standing ovations to performers who feel comfortable taking risks in front of like-minded, proud, Positivity Pill-taking, self-proclaimed weirdos. Open Stage is about lovers coming together to have a good time amongst themselves, solemnly swearing to leave their judgment in the car.
After the performance, the lights turn low and the fluorescent hula hoopers start doing their thing. Another five or six people introduce themselves to me in earnest and start conversations about their upcoming whereabouts. Several people talk excitedly about the upcoming Burning Man event in East Texas. Many swap stories about their mutual friends in the Renaissance Faire. They check in with me on a personal level, hoping I have enjoyed the show and urging me to return and to bring my friends.
So, friends. Let me be clear about what you will find at Open Stage: a lot of hippie nerds who want you to be their friends, too. If that's what you're looking for, head up to Plano on a Monday night, and I guarantee, you will find it.
Open Stage takes place at 7 p.m. every Monday. More info is at circusfreaks.org/openstage. Admission is $10; attendees must be 21+up
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