This month, at Surrey Arts Centre and other theatres across the Lower Mainland, Tess Degenstein is out to find a number of “dates” willing to be on stage with her.
As Mimi, the Regina-raised actor stars in Blind Date, a play that includes elements of clown, improv comedy and, in an interactive twist, social experiment.
At the start of the semi-scripted show, each and every time it’s staged, Degenstein sets out in search of a partner among audience members.
“Essentially there is a mingle in the lobby, so half an hour before the show, people are coming in and grabbing a drink, giving their coats away,” Degenstein explains in a video posted to the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Youtube channel.
“We are mingling around me, Mimi, and the scenographers are all out mingling around, chatting with people, getting to know them. It’s kind of like we wanted to have a cocktail-party atmosphere, so it’s just a bunch of people, they are welcoming you to the theatre and and saying hello, getting to know each other.
“So while we are doing that, while we are mingling in the lobby, we’re also just looking for that person, those few people that we might feel a bit of a spark, a bit of a connection – kind of like if you were at a dinner party or a cocktail party, who would be the person that you would strike up a conversation with and then think, you know, get some chips or whatever and then think, ‘Oh, who I want to go back and talk to that person, they were really interesting, they were fascinating, there’s something there.’”
Once inside the theatre, Mimi doesn’t reveal who her date will be until the show begins. What happens for the next 90 minutes is anyone’s guess.
“There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of in terms of us selecting our date, selecting the gentleman that we will have come up on stage with us during the show,” Degenstein noted. “It is, for us, very important that we get, first of all, their consent, and if they have a partner, their partner’s consent, so no one is going to be surprised by being asked to be on stage. It will always be something that we have asked beforehand.”
Since Rebecca Northan created the show in 2009, Blind Date has been staged more than 700 times in Canada, the U.S. and England.
“The thesis of Blind Date has always been, ‘Everyone is loveable,’” Northan states in an Arts Club release. “There is great joy in leaning forward in your seat and watching two strangers attempt to connect. It’s what being human is all about.”
There are now four women trained to play Mimi in the original Blind Date, as well as two other actors who star in Queer Blind Date.
“There is so much I love about doing the show,” Degenstein says. “I think that it’s just so much about empathy, and it’s about the audience having this elevated sense of empathy because they are seeing one of them up on stage. You can really feel their hearts just open and with the gentleman who’s up on stage with us.”
At Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage, Blind Date opens Wednesday, Jan. 9 and closes Jan. 19, as part of a month-long regional tour. “Value-added performances” in Surrey include a First Friday date (Jan. 11), Paint at the Play (Jan. 12), Talkback Thursday (Jan. 17) and VocalEye audio description for those with vision loss (Jan. 19, 4 p.m. show). For tickets, call 604-501-5566 or visit tickets.surrey.ca.
The show’s regional tour, which kicked off in West Vancouver on Wednesday (Jan. 2), includes dates in Mission (Jan. 6), North Vancouver (Jan. 8), Coquitlam (Jan. 22-26), New Westminster (Jan. 29), Chilliwack (Jan. 30), Maple Ridge (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1) and Burnaby (Feb. 2-3). Tour details are posted at artsclub.com.
The Arts Club production involves Degenstein along with Lili Beaudoin (scenographer/Mimi), Ali Froggatt (scenographer/Mimi) and Jeff Gladstone (scenographer). The creative team includes Marcie Januska (sssociate producer), Meredith Johnson (stage manager and sound improviser), Northan (producer) and Christopher Oldfield (associate producer).