“Apnea” opens Friday and runs through June 1 in the Top Shelf space at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, 280 Elizabeth St. N.E., in Inman Park. This is the last show in the space before Dad’s relocates temporarily — and then permanently.
IF MIKE SCHATZ has lost any sleep over his new one-man show, it seems only fair. Apnea, his world premiere at Dad’s Garage’s Top Shelf space, uses his tussle with the sleep disorder to juxtapose his waking life with his personal dreamscape.
A member of the Dad’s Garage ensemble for nearly a decade, Schatz played central roles in such shows as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Chief) and Two Gentlemen of Lebowski (the Knave). As a voice actor, he found even more notoriety on Atlanta Braves commercials and with a recurring role on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” a surreal comedy from the Carton Network’s Adult Swim block of shows. A married father of two daughters, ages 11 and 15, he spends considerable time juggling work, art and family, which provided the raw material for Apnea’s predecessor, the dramedy V.I.P. Room.
Schatz first pitched V.I.P. Room as part of Dad’s 2010-11 season out of a wish to tell funny stories in the vein of stand-up comedy. “As it went into script, it got more personal. I was terrified to show my wife,” Schatz says, as the play increasingly touched on his patronage of Atlanta strip clubs. “I had three parts of my life. I work, I’m a father and I have this nightlife world, and when they collide, I’m a mess.”
One of the most effective and deeply personal plays ever developed for the Top Shelf, V.I.P. Room featured Schatz as himself and Dad’s regular Alison Hastings in several roles, including his wife and an exotic dancer. Although the play was semi-autobiographical, Schatz emphasizes, he was happy with how audiences embraced its confessional nature.
“The audiences at the first shows were just guys expecting to see naked women,” he says. “By the end of the run, couples were coming on date night. People were crying while watching the show.”
V.I.P. Room did not address Schatz’s longtime hate affair with obstructive sleep apnea, which disrupts his slumber and that of everyone around him. “Your air passages get blocked, so you wake yourself up. There’s no cadence to it, like snoring. It’s like you’re sleeping with someone gasping for air,” he says. “For my last test, I found I was waking up once a minute. The doctor said, ‘You should be a zombie by now. You’re a mess.’ ”
After V.I.P. Room, Dad’s artistic director Kevin Gillese suggested Schatz develop a one-man show he could tour. About the same time, Schatz was taking a sleep lab test and his daughter was sending him a YouTube clip of Pilobolus, the modern dance troupe whose dancers are known for arranging themselves in striking, sculpture-like poses. Schatz hit on the idea of his show, set at a sleep lab, that would address his workaday stresses through his subconscious dream state.
“The set is like one of those sleep labs that looks like a cheap hotel room,” he says. “It’s supposed to make you feel at home, but there are wires everywhere. You’re inside my head, and one way or another, all of these things tie together.”
Apnea reportedly includes such surreal flourishes as a spirit moose and an outspoken Winnie the Pooh but focuses more closely on personal matters. “Apnea is not so much a sequel [to V.I.P. Room] as a way of showing how I’m coping with everything. Just in case crowds from the last show were wondering, here’s an update.”
Although he’s the only performer in Apnea, the show includes extensive video material to visualize his subconscious. “We’ve been setting up shoots since January or February. This has been a longer process than any show I’ve been involved with. One night I’ll be rehearsing with director Dan Triandiflou, the next I’ll be setting up a shoot out in the field.”
Offstage, Schatz was eventually able to control his sleep with a CPAP machine. “I call it ‘the sex machine’ because it’s the most unsexy thing in the world. It’s like a fighter pilot mask that shoots a constant flow of air. I tried to be the last one who goes to sleep at night and the first one who gets up, so none of my family has to see it.” Thanks to a recent “fitness/nutrition/meditation course,” Schatz lost 50 pounds, ending his apnea and the need to wear the CPAP, which he’ll use as a prop in the show.
He admits to being nervous about doing a one-man show. “With Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, there was this whole cast around me. With V.I.P. Room, there was Alison. Now it’s just me.” At least he should have an easier time getting a good night’s sleep.
Atlanta-based film and theater writer Curt Holman has won awards for his critical writing from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2005, he was a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in theater and musical theater.