Five Questions For Rebecca Northan

As reported here and, well, all over New York, Rebecca Northan’s December date with the Big Apple was love at first sight. In the midst of it all, Esther caught up with Rebecca to learn a little more about how it all came to pass:

Bridge: Congrats on the New York premiere of Blind Date! The show was a sold-out audience critic favourite during it’s last run in Toronto – but this isn’t the first appearance of Mimi. Can you tell us a bit about the character, and the show’s history?

RN: Mimi was born in the Spiegeltent as part of a variety show in 2007. Blind Date started out as a 10 minute clown turn that was a crowd favourite. At some point I got to wondering , “If I can do 10 minutes with an audience member, I wonder what I can do in 90 minutes?” I returned to my home theatre, The Loose Moose Theatre Company, and developed the show there in consultation with Artistic Director, Dennis Cahill. Blind Date had its first run in Calgary at Loose Moose. The first night, we had 30 people in the audience. We were selling out by the end of the run. It was totally overwhelming!

Bridge: Richard Ouzonian wrote a preview article in the Toronto Star for the New York run of Blind Date and the “weird twists of fate” that brought the production south of the border. You mention in the article that you weren’t that familiar with New York City – can you tell us one or two moments that stand out about the process of bringing the show to Off-Broadway and working with producer Kevin McCollum?

RN: Meeting Kevin McCollum is a stand out, for sure! He is incredibly passionate about theatre and telling stories. He’s also, I think, a bit of a genius when it comes to the business side of theatre. It’s very inspiring to watch him in action and I’m learning so much! The other stand-out in this whole experience is the production team at Davenport Theatrical. I’m used to self-producing, so to suddenly be in New York with a dedicated team working at such a high skill level is so far beyond my experience as a self-producer that I often stand back and marvel at how they make magic happen. It’s all very humbling. Oh – and I also got to meet Mike Nichols. I’m still in shock about that one.

Bridge: Is there anything about the show and your work that you consider distinctly Canadian? Have you noticed anything differences between Canadian and New York audiences?

RN: Hmmmm. Well, I’m distinctly Canadian, as is the rest of my crew. We’ve taped a Loonie centre stage for good luck. I’m not sensing a huge difference in the audience. I was worried about differences in humour, but, I think since we live so close to each other, and share movies and television that the gaps aren’t too wide to bridge.

Bridge: Blind Date is almost entirely improvised. Have you always worked in this form? Do you have any techniques or tricks to keep the process fresh?

RN: There is a structure to the show so that the audience and the date get a beginning, middle and end. It’s our aim to deliver a solid narrative – however, we’re always ready to throw that out and go with suggestions that come from the Date. Every show is different because the Date is a different person. For me Blind Date is all about the guy. All I want is to get to know him, and I do that but putting us into a variety of situations that are familiar to everyone because it’s interesting to see how an individual reacts. We often hear audience members leaving the theatre having discussions about what THEY would have done differently. In terms of techniques that I use to keep the show fresh? I listen. I really, really, really LISTEN to the human being who is sitting across from me. They are what is fresh, and I have a genuine interest in them. It’s worth trying in your life: really listen. Everything is fresh then. I’ve been improvising since I was 16 years old when I started at the Loose Moose Theatre, studying with Keith Johnstone. Everything I learned with Keith continues to inform my work, whether I’m writing, directing or doing other people’s scripted work, both comedic and dramatic.

Bridge: What’s next for Mimi? What’s next for Rebecca?

RN: What’s next for Mimi is in the hands of Kevin McCollum. They are good hands to be in. I look forward to the next chapter in her adventures. Next for Rebecca – I am heading off to Calgary. I’ve written a play called Kung Fu Panties and it’s being produced by Ground Zero Theatre and Hit and Myth Productions in the spring. Yes – we’re going to attempt to put an all-girl block buster-style action movie on the stage. There will be kung fu, there will be car chases, there will be comedy.

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