My 10-15 minutes of fame, times 16 shows

Published 10:59 am Friday, August 30, 2013

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

“Make way peasants! Make way for Arthur, King of the Britons!”

Obnoxious voices, very British, proclaim these words every few minutes. The people scattered about the fairgrounds — the peasants — look up, startled, then clutch their Pronto Pups and cheese curds and scatter as the knights, the king and the Lady of the Lake march down Dan Patch Avenue.

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“All for one,” the knights sing, “One for all, from high to low, from big to small!”

The men with the obnoxious, very British voices? One is a man from Austin playing Lancelot and the other is me garbed as Sir Robin.

Last Thursday through last Sunday, a group of actors from southern Minnesota performed songs for fairgoers from Summerset Theatre of Austin’s recent production of Spamalot. The performances were sponsored by Arts-A-Fair, a new program that brought community-based theater groups, dancers, singers and musicians to the Minnesota State Fair.

For those readers who know the wacky Monty Python film and musical about King Arthur (as well as the importance of coconuts, swallows and carnivorous rabbits), a bullying Lancelot is to be expected, but a bellowing, bossy Sir Robin ordering peasants to clear the road? That is very much out of character. But … it was the Minnesota State Fair. Perhaps all the food on sticks brought out his courage!

I was last at the Minnesota State Fair 15 years ago, with two small children strapped into a double stroller and a third held firmly by the hand. We got there right away in the morning only to find the grounds already swarming with people.

I hated it. The crowds. The heat. The greasy, expensive food. I was ready to leave barely an hour after arriving, but getting us all into the fair had cost a lot of money, and we hadn’t seen all the free exhibits or picked up enough free vendor booty to justify the money we’d spent.

So we walked around, stopped for lemonade refills, second and third corn dogs and bags of mini-doughnuts. And then we walked around some more, until we crossed paths with a parade, and I had barely enough energy to find a bench under a tree and collapse, keeping firm hold of all three kids as we watched the bands and floats go by.

This year, marching down the street, some things were very much the same. The heat — especially in the Food and Education buildings — was still intense, crowds of people still swarmed every possible nook and cranny, the odors still permeated the air, the vendors were still selling greasy, expensive food.

Some things were different, however. Although there were lots of children in sight, my own are mostly all grown up. They also weren’t there. In fact, no one in my immediate family drove up to see Sir Robin dance and sing (at the same time) at the state fair.

This set of shows was the hardest I’ve ever worked as a cast member in a musical. Sixteen outdoor performances over four days, each show lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, not counting the bossy ordering about of peasants and the singing as we marched the half mile to the stage and the half mile back to the green room.

This appearance at the Minnesota State Fair may also end up being the most fun I will ever have as a cast member in a musical. The people with me were amazing: talented, supportive, serious about the stage, but also gracious. Well, mostly gracious. There was that unpleasant incident involving Lancelot, a Spam can and Sammy Hagar’s band doing their sound checks during our 4 p.m. show. But they didn’t press charges, and nobody suffered any permanent disfigurement.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I feel like I’m now part of a pretty select group: Those who have performed at one of the biggest fairs in the country. Our Spamalot performers may have been amateurs performing at a pop up stage instead of the grandstand, unlike Sammy Hagar and Sheryl Crow, but people followed us down the street, sat down on hot pavement or stood under trees, and listened, laughed and applauded.

So it was worth the heat and the sweat. It was my 10 minutes of fame (times 16), and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.