David Lawson, New York Theater Guy, Times Square Flyer Guy

Flyer Guy Picture

Update: Along with everybody else, David Lawson’s show got canceled because of the blizzard. It’s been rescheduled for Friday February 5th at 9pm.

David Lawson is a New York theater person, which is to say he makes his art for the stage, but, like thousands of others, he makes his living doing something else. He hands out flyers in Times Square, working alongside and getting to know The Painted Topless Ladies, and The Naked Cowboy (who says he makes $34,000 — a month) and Racist Elmo (who used to work for the Girl Scouts). Lawson also answers dopey questions from tourists:

“Where’s Times Square”

“You’re in Times Square”

“But where is THE ACTUAL SQUARE.”

Lawson has a B.A. in theater from Emerson College, and studied at the O’Neill National Theater Institute, and yet he stands all day long in the street like a talking billboard, while fathers pass by saying to their sons “You see that guy? That…is why you can’t drop out of school.”

Lawson tells funny stories from his life as a Times Square flyer guy in “Flyer Guy,” which he will be performing at Bunga’s Den in Chelsea on Saturday, January 23rd. This is just the most recent of his one-man shows, which he has performed in cool venues all over the city — The PIT, La MaMa, Dixon Place,The Brick Theater, The Brooklyn Launchpad, Alchemical Theatre Laboratory, Videology, the Secret Theater, Astoria Bookshop, etc. — and in which he makes art out of his personal life for fun and no profit.

Your latest solo show, “Flyer Guy,” delves into one of the hottest issues facing New York theater today — the Elmos in Times Square. What’s your take?
Times_Square_Elmo_The Elmos are indeed a part of the show! While working over the years I would see the man known as Racist Elmo. It took many normal, quiet sightings of him before I saw him deliver one of the rants he is famed for on YouTube — like the one where he gets told “Hey shut up!” by Shrek.  I’m obsessed with Racist Elmo. I know that he has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Oregon, and that he used to work for the Girl Scouts, before he got fired and then bought a $300 Elmo suit — which is furrier than the other Elmo suits in Times Square.
As for a personal opinion on the Elmos, I have no problem with them. I think the city has done enough to combat any bad behavior by the Elmos by putting up signs saying “taking pictures with costumed characters is free, tipping is optional.” The Times Square Alliance wants to make “designated activity zones” for all the many solicitors of Times Square, which I think is an awful idea. I hate the idea of treating something that is slightly annoying for a very limited amount of time like it’s a public menace.
How and why did you start doing solo shows based on your life?
I started doing solo shows about ten years ago. I was a freshman in college and got exposed to performers like Anna Deavere Smith, Tim Miller, and Spalding Gray. One person shows are my favorite thing to do and my favorite thing to see. I think a person alone onstage, talking directly to an audience, elevates the life experience of the people listening in a way no other medium quite can. In such a raw, direct way it stirs up great thoughts like “I never thought of it that way,” or “I think something like that too” or “Something like that happened to me once too.”
Give us a rundown on the shows you’ve done before Flyer Guy.
VCR Love (which is published through Original Works Publishing) is about how porn has changed in the digital age, Insomnia in Space is how I’ve gotten through being an insomniac by becoming obsessed with outer space, No Oddjob is made up of personal stories about video games and how the culture around them represents those in marginalized demographics, Floundering About is made up of stories of wild “orange alert” type of things I experienced post-9/11 but instead of the many New York stories we’ve heard it’s made up of stories from my hometown right outside DC.
Is what you’re doing performance art?
I like to call what I do “solo shows” and “one-man shows.” I love the word “show.” The best way I can answer the “performance art” question is with an example where I used the phrase. There was a part in Insomnia in Space where I did a lucid dream exercise in front of people. It was really abstract. It involved reciting three dreams I’ve had, counting my fingers, saying the time and what you are wearing and repeating “I will have a lucid dream tonight.” I always said that was “the performance arty part of the show.” As opposed to something like when I was making jokes about how former N’Sync member Lance Bass legitimately tried to become an astronaut but ended up just being in Hairspray on Broadway, which didn’t feel “performance arty.”
 So I take it you don’t make a living from these solo shows of yours. Is this why you spent three years hanging out flyers in Times Square?
I still work as a flyer guy! It’s a great job. I like my boss, the pay is good enough and most importantly…I make my own hours. If I have to leave work to take a performing or writing opportunity…I can leave work. That simple. I also work front of house at two theater venues in town (Theatre for a New Audience and Park Avenue Armory).
You’re an educated guy who could surely get a white collar job somewhere. Do you ever find what you’re doing humiliating?
I’ve tried having white collar jobs and they’ve always made me very unhappy. I like weird jobs. As for being humiliating – As I say in the show: When I was younger someone said to me “In showbiz, whoever gets humiliated the most and is still standing wins.” Being a flyer guy has taught me that more than any desk job ever could.
Aren’t people like you vital to the theater community — people who make their art through theater but also make their living by doing the odd jobs of theater?
Absolutely. Unless theater and comedy are going to entirely devolve into a rigged game for only the sons and daughters (mostly sons) of bankers and businesspeople. It’s a reality of life. I know people who have won Obie Awards, had huge New York Times profiles, and who are onstage all the time but they still need survival jobs that allow them the free headspace to write and perform shows.
Of all the theater artists I know, you seem especially plugged into what you can call the indie theater scene in New York. Which artists, companies or theaters in that scene most excite you? 
Thanks for that. I think it’s important to see other people’s shows. It makes you feel you’re a part of something, not just creating work in a vacuum. I’ll give you five recent shows I’ve loved and who did them: Toilet Fire written and performed by Eliza Bent, directed by Kevin Laibson. my lingerie play written and performed by Diana Oh, directed by Leta Tremblay. Hold on to Your Butts written and performed by Recent Cutbacks, directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker. Steve: A Docu-Musical written and performed by Colin Summers, directed by Nessa Norich.  Late with Lance written and performed by Peter Michael Marino.
my lingerie play will be at The Lark on January 26th at 7PM. Toilet Fire is at The Brick on January 16th (7PM). But the other three aren’t playing anytime soon.
Are there any theaters or theater companies that provide continual good theater throughout the year or is it catch as catch can?
 Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre is probably my favorite place that has continual good shows year round. They have great in house productions and happen to have productions by two great companies, The Amoralists and The Women’s Project, coming up very soon. They also make it easy on the pocketbook with ticket options starting at $10.
Will you be handing out flyers for your own show?
Nah, not flyering for my own show. Effective for a big corporate museum in Times Square, not so much for a small one man show in Chelsea.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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