In Julie Orton’s case, it involved scraping frozen vomit off the side of a pick-up truck. For David Benjamin Tomlinson, it was an overly enthusiastic douching followed by a bout of apparent narcolepsy. With Evalyn Parry, it was a romantic though otherwise unremarkable evening, which ultimately led to her getting hitched.
Whether one of these scenarios will make it on stage during Buddies in Bad Times’ season opener on Sept 20, 2016, is anyone’s guess. But with Blind Date, literally everything is possible. Originally created by Calgary-born improv wizard Rebecca Northan, the interactive show sees an actor pull an unsuspecting volunteer from the audience on stage for 90 minutes of improvised romance. The show evolves from one moment to the next, with both performers pushing the story forward by drawing on their own tales of dating woe.
Blind Date opens with Mimi, a lonely Parisian clown, drowning her sorrows in a bar as the realization sinks in that she’s been stood up by her prospective escort for the evening. Rather than a depressing stroll home followed by escargot alone on the couch, she opts to snag a guy from the audience to stand in as her romantic saviour.
No two shows are ever the same, though the first time I saw it, Northan managed to convince her co-star (an unemployed and recent college grad named Graham) to engage in a prolonged make out session with her, before he strips down to his underwear and pretends to impregnate her on stage.
Since its premiere in 2009 at the Harbourfront Centre, the show has toured major cities across the country, sold out lengthy engagements in New York and London, and had two additional runs in Toronto — an unusual feat in a city where new theatrical works are rarely staged more than once.
For this new version, Buddies puts a queer twist on the project. Orton and Tomlinson will take the reins from Northan and perform on opposite nights. But instead of heterosexual pairings, it’s homo hook-ups they’ll be hunting for.
Parry, Buddies’ artist director, had been pondering the idea of a same-sex version since she caught the show’s most recent run at Tarragon Theatre last September.
“My feeling was that choosing to do these same-sex dates would change the show in ways you don’t really expect,” she says.
“Queerness is in a moment where it’s become nominally mainstream. But as soon as you start to pick it apart, you can see the lines that delineate queer culture and straight culture very clearly, and how homophobia plays out in the world.”
In other cases, it could ask us to rethink the gender politics of a given scenario, revealing power dynamics and forms of oppression. Often, the act of queering straight stories simply used by queers as a way to tell their own while simultaneously making them accessible by employing an existing form.
“Especially in cities without a gay theatre, you have a population that have spent the majority of their theatre-going lives watching heterosexual story lines, even though that doesn’t mesh with who they are,” Orton says. “With Blind Date, we have a form everyone will immediately recognize and queering the concept is an opportunity to take this thing we already know, view its boundaries and then transcend them.”
Northan’s original formula relies heavily on heteronormative rom-com tropes, which is a huge part of why it’s so successful. It’s improvised structure means no one knows exactly what will happen. But because it works with the culturally designated dating norms we’ve been seeing on big and small screens for decades, it offers an immense sense of satisfaction when the characters do exactly what we know they’re going to do.
The show is funny, often side-splittingly so. But despite its basic setup, a queer version has the potential to offer some serious food for thought.
“So much of what drives me as an artist is a frustration around the lack of characters on stage or on screen that I can connect with,” Tomlinson says. “Especially in the wake of the overwhelming conservative wave that’s happening in certain parts of the world right now.”
“It’s such an important time for us to sit together and share our stories.”