Though Ira Glass has had numerous solo shows throughout the years and has taken his radio hour This American Life into theaters twice, his latest live performance may not seem an obvious choice to his fans.
Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, in which Glass stars along with dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, unites two unlikely artistic bedfellows - radio and dance - in a show that embraces the verbal and visual, the literal and abstract, the poignant and ridiculous. The show comes to Los Angeles for two performances on June 28 at Royce Hall. (Proceeds support KCRW.)
"It's way more fun than being on the radio, [where] I sit in a soundproof room pretending I'm talking to someone even though I'm alone," Glass says. "Onstage at Royce Hall, it's an actual human exchange. ... People laugh at funny lines, which is way more satisfying than saying something you hope is funny and thinking, 'Um, I guess that one went OK. I guess.'?"
According to Barnes, from the show's "real shticky" opening number onward, its framework is designed to echo vaudeville. "It embraces the fact that we just got into town yesterday and that we're headed off tomorrow," the dancer says. "That is the reality because, really, Ira has quite an important day job. He can't just go tour the country with a dance show."
The pair first crossed paths in 2011, when Barnes was a judge for a tribute spoof of Dancing With the Stars in New York. Glass later saw her company perform, and the two started talking. Glass suggested a collaboration; Barnes countered with a live show - mostly, she says, because the sensibility that drives Glass' radio work parallels her own.
She, too, likes to present thematically linked pieces, but she prefers to let the audience grasp the connections themselves. "I feel like, in the back of my mind, I've been trying to figure out how to make a show with Ira Glass for 10 years," Barnes says.
In this production, there's visual humor - Glass stands around 6 feet tall, while Barnes and Bass come in a little over 5 feet - plus lavish (if temporary) set pieces, and nuggets from the This American Life archives, including a story from Glass' first show in 1995. There are moments that incorporate both narration and dance, and others where a statement resonates most strongly when it stands alone.
And with Glass, anything can happen. "He can read an audience and he's making edits on his feet, following tangents and responding in a way that's incredibly skilled," Barnes says. "He's such a brilliant interviewer. Interviewing is essentially performing for one person.
"Every once in a while, we're like, 'OK, you just edited that 30 seconds that was crucial to us getting into that costume,'?" Barnes adds. "But it always ends up working out."
For a figure like Glass, whose entire career is archived, catalogued and searchable online, the project offers a refreshing change of pace, a playful, ephemeral joy. And Glass believes the unusual pairing accomplishes something neither medium can do alone. "It feels like our radio show but it looks like dance," he says. "And the dancing gives it feeling in the same way the music that underscores the radio stories adds feeling. Your brain tries to connect the visuals to the words in this show, and a lot of the pleasure of it is [in] that process, the connections you end up making.
"Saying it this way makes it sound way artier than it is. But it's true. That's part of the fun of it."
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Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host comes to L.A. on Saturday, June 28, at 7 and 10 p.m., at Royce Hall. For info visit kcrw.com/events/three-acts-two-dancers-one-radio-host.
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