Sunday 13 January 2019

Blind Date is crowd-sourced comic titillation
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Rebecca Northan is an award-winning improv actor, writer, producer.  She tells how the conceit for Blind Date arrived in her head with a Thunk! one night a decade back. How real-life blind dates are awkward & tricky. So why not fake one on stage in front of an audience?

Canvass the show-goers ahead-of-time. Find someone willing to be pulled out of the audience and "do" a blind date with you -- what she calls "spontaneous theatre" -- without rehearsal or any pre-show clues about how it will all play out. (A few stage directions are provided behind-the-scenes to Volunteer to ensure some intentional humorous bits scripted by Northan aren't overlooked, but not many.)

Tess Degenstein is one of three improv artists to play Mimi, a clown who's been stood up from a pre-arranged blind date at a French cafe. Solution? Commandeer another cafe patron and thus have your blind date, spontaneously, just with them instead of goof-who-stood-you-up. A new blind date up close and personal. On stage before a live audience. 
Photo credit : Little Blue Lemon Productions

Northan won TO's version of a Jessie for her doing her own Mimi in 2016. She insists the stage actor opposite is not a "plant", just a volunteer. "There is only truth, breathing, profound listening coupled with open-heartedness and a playful spirit." Toronto's NOW called it a "...single clown act [that] is the perfect marriage of theatre and comedy", while the NY Daily News chortled "Couples therapy should be so much fun."

The key to making it work theatrically is for Mimi to take charge and tease out of her stage-date real and honest answers but control the timing and the drift of the subject matter and the characters'  crescendos. The goal is laughing-with not laughing-at to accompany even any serious, intimate bits of her date's life story that might come out. 

Mimi's challenge is how to creatively mingle anything / everything she hears with her own improv'd comic strip of life, too. Volunteer's challenge is to not try to be an actor and completely fake his presence on stage by being too artsy or cute. Meanwhile to also suppress some of his real self and just play along as if he's a 20-something single on the hustle. (N.B. Asked on Saturday in the lobby if I would consider being the day's Volunteer, I hid behind my critic's notepad and told Lili Beaudoin "Not if my life depended on it...!")

To emphasize how the show must remain just make believe badinage, Northan includes three reminders. 

(1) The fake clown nose. No aging lothario is going to get horny gazing at this protuberance.  

(2) The faux French accent of "Mimi from Avignon" : this persona lets Mimi be forgiven instantly because "bullshit" and "asshole" are cute coming from her lips. Or even any tongue-in-cheek put-downs that may spring forth : "Surrey has a lot of men -- a lot of bright ones in bulk!" Ali Froggatt ad-lib'd Saturday. 

(3) A downstage time-out box with a barstool : if anything happening on stage has Volunteer confused or if they have a question or if they're uncomfortable or just at a loss for words, off they go to the time-out box to sort it out by breaking out-of-character. And an imaginary time-out box in the audience for Volunteer's wife to pipe in when she wants to.

Neither "Robert" on Saturday afternoon (50-ish looking) or "Bob" on Sunday afternoon (more 65-ish) revealed any tricky info that their Mimi had to masque over or manoeuvre around. But no worry. Repeatedly they were told how Mimi-&-Co's primary objective is to "take very good care of you and make sure you have a good time and to make sure you have a pleasant ride home". A lot of pumping up their tires with the audience encouraged to cheer them on. 

Two alternative endings are provided by playwright Northan depending on the style and personality of any show's Volunteer. Mimi told Robert there's "a peephole in your eye, a lot of wit, a little sarcasm", and with that she propelled the story forward five years to after they're married. The scene that then pushed forth erupted with hilarity.  

Comments overheard from each day included "I've never laughed so hard in my life!" -and- "This is nothing like I've ever seen before anywhere!" When Centaur Theatre performed it they described it as a "fast and funny fusion of clown, improvisation and social experiment". 

And that it is. In spades. As in Ace-of-spades in the game of hearts. Perfectly controlled spontaneous nonsense that charms. For all ages of folk who either remember -- or can imagine -- the fraught panic a blind date can bring forth and want to laugh their pants wet watching one play out spontaneously in front of them. 

Particulars :  Spontaneous Theatre's creation by Rebecca Northan.   Produced by Arts Club Theatre for its Winter, 2019 On Tour chatauqua through February 3rd. 

Venues, dates & phone ticket office contact numbers :

Surrey, Surrey Arts Centre, January 9-19.  604.501.5566

Coquitlam, Evergreen Cultural Centre, January 22-26.  604.927.6555

New Westminster, Anvil Centre, January 29.  604.521.5050

Chilliwack, Chilliwack Cultural Centre, January 30.  604.391.7469.

Maple Ridge, The ACT Arts Centre,  January 31 & February 1.  604.476.2787

Burnaby, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, February 2-3.  604.205.3000 

Creative team :  Producer Rebecca Northan.  Associate Producer Marcie Januska. Associate Producer Christopher Oldfield. Stage Manager & Sound Improviser Meredith Johnson. 

Performers :  Lili Beaudoin (Scenographer/Mimi)  Tess Degenstein (Scenographer/Mimi).  Ali Froggatt (Scenographer/Mimi).  Jeff Gladstone (Scenographer). 


No comments:

Post a Comment