Improvising a lifetime with a stranger

By Ryan Pike

In the quest for companionship, occasionally people resort to drastic measures. One of the most commonly-used ways of looking for love is the blind date. University of Calgary alumna Rebecca Northan has returned to her roots at Loose Moose Theatre to present a show dedicated to the pleasantries and pratfalls of courtship with Blind Date.

Originally performed at the Spiegeltent’ntavern at Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Blind Date featured Northan selecting gentlemen from the audience and improvising a date based on their interactions. Northan recalls that she came up with the idea for the show on the fly.

“My friend Tina Rasmussen, who’s also a U of C grad, runs the performing arts division of Harbourfront Centre [where the Spiegeltent is located] so she booked me in there and said, ‘come up with something’,” says Northan. “I went and watched the show and thought, ‘there are pretty girls taking their clothes off and circus performers and singers. It kind feels like a sexy circus environment, but there are no clowns. So maybe I’ll do a sexy clown with some burlesque thrown in there’.”

The initial version of Blind Date was only 10 minutes long and, due to its location in the cabaret-like Spiegeltent, Northan was able to inject a certain amount of sauciness into the proceedings. As such, a typical installment featured complete strangers being fed chocolates by her, slow dancing with her or perhaps escalating into more physicality.

“Night after night, total strangers would come out of the audience and make out with me and let me take their shirts off and they would hump me on a table while 400 people screamed, applauded, whistled and went crazy,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘This is really weird. I can’t believe people are agreeing to this.’ It was really fun and became the one of the highlight acts of the tent. Then I got to wondering if I could go longer, if I could spread out all the burlesquey, naughty stuff and put in some life stuff as well.”

The expansion of Blind Date from a 10-minute show spanning a single evening to a 75-minute experience spanning a lifetime is obviously a large undertaking. Northan aims to take events of her own life and an audience member’s to make the show different every night.

“My thought was, everyone’s been on a blind date so we all know how to act on a blind date,” she says. “Everybody’s met your significant other’s parents for the first time or you’ve moved in for the first time or you’ve had your first fight as a couple. Can I bring somebody up on stage and get them to play with me. Can I access their personal script?”

Despite the on-the-fly nature of Blind Date, the circus act does operate with a small net. In this case, Northan has a set of guidelines she maintains to ensure that everyone has fun.

“I have two rules, maybe three,” says Northan. “[They’re] kind of like the rules for being a good date: make sure they’re having a good time, don’t humiliate them and be willing to adapt to what they say or do.”

The nature of Blind Date may raise a few eyebrows, but there’s one person that doesn’t seem bothered by Northan going on dates every night–her husband. Northan’s beau, also an actor, was originally the centrepiece of the second part of the original Blind Date as a blind man intended to be her original date that didn’t show up.

“He was in on it from the beginning and then we decided it doesn’t really need the second half because in a way, it’s kind of a repeat,” she notes. “So we cut the second half and he went on and did his own thing and I kept doing Blind Date. I don’t know if I’ve ever asked him how he felt about it. He’s never said anything and he knows I’m doing a long version of it now. It’s work. I have a very, very weird job.”

Since relocating from Calgary to Toronto seven years ago, Northan has been busy–appearing on This Hour is 22 Minutes, the CTV series Alice, I Think and films like Mr. Margorium’s Wonder Emporium, in addition to a few plays. She credits her diverse skillset with allowing her to stay busy.

“I’m very lucky in that I’ve never, knock on wood, had a regular job,” she says. “I’ve always worked in the arts. Part of what helps me get through, though, is that my umbrella of the arts is really big and wide. If I’m teaching improv, I am working at my craft. If I’m teaching a corporate workshop or writing a script for a corporate client, I’m still scriptwriting, which is still taking what I know and applying it to someone else’s world. I’m just charging way more money for it.”

Following Blind Date, Northan heads to Montreal to film four episodes of a new series for Showcase called The Selkirk Foundation, directed by NUTV alumnus Mike Dowse. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to returning to her improv roots at Loose Moose and the challenge of Blind Date.

“It could be absolutely amazing and it could be a total car accident,” admits Northan. “But people kind of like that as humans. We like the huge, nasty failures just as much as we like the successes.”

Blind Date runs each Fri. and Sat. at Loose Moose’s theatre at Crossroads Market from Mar. 14-29 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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