Monica Bill Barnes & Company and Ira Glass, host of This American Life, have been working together to combine two art forms that – as Ira puts it – “have no business being together – dance and radio.” The result is a funny, lively and heartfelt evening of dance and stories that has brought down the house wherever it’s been performed, starting with its first test run at Carnegie Hall in 2013.
The show includes radio interviews restaged as dance pieces, plus stories from the lives of each of the three performers, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass. “What makes it work is a shared sensibility,” Glass says. “As dancers, Monica and Anna are these amazingly relatable and funny storytellers without words.” Bass notes, “I think it’s still blowing Ira’s mind to see some of the radio pieces remade this way, with props and costume changes and lighting cues.” Barnes adds, “combining these art forms has led to a show that’s unlike anything I’ve ever choreographed before.”
As the title indicates, the show is in three acts. Act one is about the job of being a performer. Act two: falling in love and what it means to stay in love. Act three: nothing lasts forever. “People who like This American Life will probably like this,” says Glass “because it’s just like the radio show, um, if you picture dancing during all the stories.”
Monica Bill Barnes (Director/Choreographer) is a choreographer, performer, and the Artistic Director of Monica Bill Barnes & Company, a New York City based contemporary dance company founded in 1997. Barnes creates full-length shows that tour the country’s biggest stages and tiniest rooms, bringing dance where it doesn’t belong: making site-specific dances in public places, mounting collaborations with radio hosts and bringing down the house at comedy shows. MBB&CO has performed in more than 75 cities throughout the United States, been commissioned and presented by The American Dance Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and performed all over New York City in venues ranging from Upright Citizen’s Brigade to The BAM Opera House. Barnes has been an invited guest artist at many universities and has choreographed for various theater productions. She began working with radio host Ira Glass in 2012 when she created a solo for David Rakoff for This American Life Live! In 2013 Barnes collaborated with Glass to create, choreograph and direct a new show that combines radio stories and dances: Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host. The show has since toured to over 60 US cities. Other current projects include a collaboration with author/visual artist Maira Kalman creating a guided museum workout, and Happy Hour, the world’s only karaoke office party dance show featuring Barnes and Bass.
Anna Bass began working with MBB&CO in 2003 and now serves as Associate Artistic Director. She has performed Barnes’ work all over the country, on stages ranging from public fountains and city parks to New York City Center and Carnegie Hall. Bass performed in Glass’s two most recent This American Life Live events – catching boxes while dancing as a part of TAL’s cinema event, and appearing as a roller-skating mouse alongside Mike Birbiglia in The Radio Drama Episode at the BAM opera house. She often assists Barnes with theater projects, and served as the Assistant Choreographer for productions at The Atlantic Theater, The Public Theater and Yale Repertory Theater. Bass is originally from a small town in Virginia where she studied almost every dance style, from classical ballet to country line dancing. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Ira Glass is the host and creator of the public radio program This American Life. The show is heard on more than 500 public radio stations in the U.S., and also on public radio in Canada and Australia. Most weeks it’s the most popular podcast in America. Under Glass’s editorial direction, This American Life has won the highest honors for broadcasting and journalistic excellence. A television adaptation of the program ran on the Showtime network for two years, winning three Emmys. The radio show has put out its own comic book, greatest hits compilations, live stage shows, two feature films, a “radio decoder” toy, temporary tattoos and a paint-by-numbers set. A spin-off program called Serial ran for twelve weeks in 2014 and quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, the most listened-to podcast ever created. This is Glass’s professional dance show debut.
Jane Cox (Lighting Designer) has designed with MBB&CO for more than a decade, and her collaboration with the company is central to her creative life. In 2014 Jane was nominated for both the TONY and the Drama Desk awards for her work on Machinal, and she also designed All The Way on Broadway. In 2013 Jane was awarded the Henry Hewes Design Award for her work on The Flick. Other recent designs in NYC include Picnic and Dinner with Friends for the Roundabout, Passion at CSC and The Whale at Playwrights Horizons. Opera designs include Sydney Opera House, Houston Grand Opera and New York City Opera. Jane has a long-standing relationship with The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and has been teaching about light and design at Princeton University since 2007.
Kelly Hanson (Costume/Set Designer) is an original company member of MBB&CO, and has been collaborating with Monica since 2001. She is also an Emmy-nominated Art Director for television. Kelly currently spends most days directing art for NBC’s Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. Kelly was born in Bryan, TX, earned her MFA in Set Design at University of California, San Diego, and joined the New York community in 2001. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two children and a big black dog.
Robert Saenz de Viteri (Creative Producing Director) has been working with MBB&CO and Ira Glass since 2013. He began working in theater as an audio script assistant to Anna Deavere Smith while she developed Let Me Down Easy. He went on to lead many productions and festivals at the Public Theater including the Public Lab Series and Mark Russell’s international festival, Under The Radar. He has created performances and toured productions throughout the world with the Obie Award winning Nature Theater of Oklahoma. As a director in New York he has worked at the Ensemble Studio Theater, The Flea, The Atlantic Theater, Office Ops, and Access Theater where he directed the NYTimes Critic’s Pick production of Michael & Edie. In 2014 he joined Ira Glass and This American Life producing Episode 528, “The Radio Drama Episode” live on stage at BAM. He recently created The Spiritual Life of Modern America, based on Knut Hamsun’s mostly unread book of the same title and the experiences of many people moving to America. The show premiered at the Brageteater in Norway.
Tess James (Lighting Director/Stage Manager) is a freelance Lighting Director and Designer. Throughout her career she has had the privilege of working with a wide range of amazing artists and companies including New York City Opera, BAM, New York City Center, Glimmerglass Opera, The American Repertory Theatre, Dallas Opera, Center Stage in Baltimore, The Public Theatre, Summer Scape at Bard College, and Den Nye Opera in the Netherlands. She currently resides in Brooklyn.
Monica Bill Barnes & Company is a contemporary American dance company that brings dance where it does not belong. We create and produce each work entirely from its own rulebook – dancing to radio interviews on the biggest stages in the world, hosting a weekly show in a crowded office party, or leading a choreographed exercise routine in an art museum. Within each of these new contexts and borrowed environments, we constantly find humor in our awkward, everyday triumphs and failures. The company consists of a team of collaborators: Artistic Director/Choreographer, Monica Bill Barnes; Associate Artistic Director/Performer, Anna Bass; designers Kelly Hanson (Set/Costume) and Jane Cox (Lighting); and Robbie Saenz de Viteri (Creative Producing Director). Together, this team creates the most unlikely experiences for every kind of audience. For more information go to www.monicabillbarnes.com.
“Think of Buster Keaton in Vegas. It’s also unapologetically human and refreshingly relatable, which is what captured Mr. Glass’s attention … he identified a shared DNA between Ms. Barnes’s work and his show: an unabashed desire to entertain paired with a drive to document the genuine feelings and awkward moments of life.”
“Despite the odd collage of artistic media, Glass says he and his collaborators will deliver ‘an incredibly fun, emotional, funny show.’ In fact, he promises the strange combination will grow, virally, into the next big phenomenon…”
“There was no pitch. If we had to pitch it to someone, how would the answer have been “yes”? It’s an utterly ridiculous idea for a show. My co-conspirators Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass and I just thought it would be fun, and we started making the show.”
“After ten years of collaboration, Barnes and Bass are masters of evoking character and emotion through dance, plastic facial expressions, physical comedy, and subtle body language — all silent art forms. Glass, of course, is a consummate deejay of the spoken word, mixing narration, quotation, music, and sound effects into stories. Together, these three produce a perfect — and perfectly unexpected — union.”
“Mr. Glass is a journalist but also a storyteller who filters his interviews and impressions through a distinctive literary imagination, an eccentric intelligence, and a sympathetic heart.”
- The New York Times
“The show’s a mix of two things that really have no business being on stage together at all. Dance is all visuals, no talking. Radio’s all talking, no visuals. But what the stories on our show have in common with dance is music.”
“Barnes was worried they would have a spectacular mess on their hands. ‘I feel we really took a leap of faith,’ she said, ‘and we were surprised and incredibly happy that the audience reaction was so enthusiastic.'”
“She [Monica Bill Barnes] pulls back the curtain on the drudgery of performance, offering a new view on the art of being an artist… Her work, the comedy and the existential pain is exceptionally clear, like fine short-story writing.”
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