Rebecca Northan’s Blind Date began as a 10-minute sketch and grew into a full-length show that has travelled across North America to critical acclaim and hundreds of performances, including a New York-run helmed by the Tony Award-winning proudcer Kevin McCollum. The improv and clown performance involves a daring premise: Mimi the Clown has been stood up on a blind date; looking for a replacement, she pulls an unsuspecting male audience member on stage and for the rest of the performance they enjoy a real date for the live audience to watch. There is no script and no rehearsal; Northan, a native Calgarian, is at the mercy of her improvisation skills and the reactions of her onstage partners. (In total, Northan has “dated” some 240 men since starting the show in 2007.)
The spectacle returns to Calgary for a three-week engagement at Loose Moose Theatre, and this time Northan and her troupe are seeking to answer a simple question — would Blind Date work with a male clown onstage and a woman from the audience?
For the first week of the three-week run, Northan and company will find out. Her brother, Jamie Northan, will don the clown nose and date a new woman each night in Blind Date for the Ladies.
“We’re really hoping Blind Date for the Ladies works just as well,” says Rebecca Northan. “We’ve heard from a lot of women who say they want to go onstage... that they’ll volunteer and they want to show a man how to woo her, and so on.”
It’s one thing to desire the spotlight before the fact, it’s quite another to actually step up on stage and experience the vulnerability that comes with live performance. Even with 25 years of improvisation behind her, Northan still feels it a little before each show.
“If I’m that nervous with all my experience, I can only imagine how nervous these men feel,” says Northan.
But the men Northan has dated have surprised her over and over again with their ingenuity, warmth and character. Northan says that Blind Date has embedded in her a new level of respect for them.
“You see these American sitcoms where the dad is this bumbling idiot and the wife is exasperated, and I think that’s such an unfair stereotype. I’ve performed this show all across North America, and I’ve met a great cross-section of men. You can see that they are really kind-hearted, and that they’re really just trying to get things right, onstage and in life.”
Participants need not be expert improvisers to succeed onstage in Blind Date. Indeed, Northan has invited numerous men to join her onstage and watched them transform from nervous and self-conscious to self-assured and fearless. She describes that as one of the most humbling and amazing parts of the show.
“It’s also fucking hilarious,” she says. Indeed, many “dates” go in wildly unpredictable directions. For a performance in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she pulled a “really nice and very charming” man onstage. Within 10 minutes, he revealed that he was a student at a local seminary. Before he would agree to join her for a “romantic rendezvous,” he said they needed to get married. As the improv went on, the story evolved to where the seminary-student-turned-date-turned-husband shot and killed a police officer, and the role-playing concluded with him landing on death row. Watching the story unfold, the audience bit their nails to the quick and laughed in hysterics.
Northan and the rest of the troupe are excited to create this same kind of magic with a female audience member during the first week of performances, then understudy Christy Bruce takes over before Northan herself takes the stage for the third and final week.
“If you’re single, it’s a great show to watch for dating tips,” she says. “If you’re a couple, it’s great to see your partner onstage and be reminded of why you fell in love.”