‘Nobody listens to my radio show thinking, you know what this needs? Some dancers’. So says radio host, Ira Glass, who went on to create ‘Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Show Host’, which is quite literally his radio show with two dancers, combining two mediums which ‘have no business being together’, Glass tells his all-too-concurring audience early on in the show. However, since bringing down the roof at its Carnegie Hall debut three years ago, the show has continued to receive positive responses to the unconventional pairing, seemingly proving true that famous adage from Steve Jobs: people really don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
Running since 1995, albeit with a name change, ‘This American Life’ is a weekly non-fiction, journalistic programme that explores a series of themes in each episode via a series of ‘acts’. Themes range from the topical to universal questions of human nature, often examined via first person narratives but sometimes using essays, field recordings and short fiction. Once you’ve got to grips with the radio show, you’re all set to dive into the stage production; as Glass says, ‘people who like This American Life will probably like this’.
The storytelling prowess that has made Glass and his show so renowned is also the central facet of ‘Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Show Host’. Dancer Monica Bill Barnes directed and choreographed the show, while Anna Bass joins her to make up the titular ‘two dancers’. Using playful, vaudeville-esque choreography and plenty of wardrobe changes, the pair personify the stories narrated by Glass — a mix of recreated radio interviews and personal tales from the lives of the three performers, utilising technology, voiceovers and pre-recorded inserts to mimic This American Life’s winning format. It works, according to Glass, because of a shared sensibility, ‘as dancers, Monica and Anna are these amazingly relatable and funny storytellers without words’.
Performed in a series of three acts, the show explores themes of love, mortality and dedication, featuring as part of the Southbank Centre’s ongoing Festival of Love. The first act revolves around the nature of a performer, the second covers falling in love and what it means to stay in love, and the third simply examines how nothing lasts forever— in love and, poignantly, in the typically short careers of dancers. It may sound like heavy duty stuff but both Glass’ theatrical narration and Barnes’ choreography bring a touch of charm and frequent laughs.
This production may be a European first but with three years already under its belt, and an unclear future, who knows when you’ll get another chance to see this much-endeared and thoroughly unique show.