Contributed photo Tess Degenstein is one of the performers playing ‘Mimi’ in Blind Date – a show that mixes improv, clowning and social experiment – coming to Surrey Arts Centre Jan. 9-19.

‘Blind Date’ blends improv, participation

Live theatre adventure cushioned by empathy and humour

Surrey Civic Theatres and the Arts Club Theatre Company are inviting you on a blind date with ‘Mimi.’

And you can either be the participating ‘willing gentleman’ – or a vicarious observer of the “exhilaration and excitement of new love.”

Indeed, the appeal of Blind Date, coming to Surrey Arts Centre (13750 88 Ave.) from Jan. 9-19 in the Arts Club’s touring production, has been described as taking people watching to a whole new level.

Billed by presenters as a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fusion of clown, improv, theatre and social experiment,” it was created by Calgary-raised actor, director, writer and producer Rebecca Northan in 2009, and has toured around the world, including sold-out runs in New York, London and Toronto.

The concept is simple enough. ‘Mimi’ – originally Northan, but now played in the Arts Club’s run by Tess Degenstein, Lili Beaudoin or Ali Froggatt – selects a man in the audience to be her blind date (for the record, Northan has also created several Queer Blind Date versions, although these are not a part of the current tour).

The dates are not selected randomly, but chosen on the basis of pre-show lobby mingling by cast members and assisting ‘scenographers.’ There is still an element of surprise, however – nobody knows who the date will be until Mimi reveals it, once the show has begun.

For the next 90 minutes or so, Mimi and her date navigate one of the most riskiest adventures known to humankind – the simple act of two people getting to know one another.

“The thesis of Blind Date has always been ‘everyone is loveable,’” Northan said, in a release promoting the tour.

The relationship of Mimi with her romantic hero of the evening, she said, is based in “truth, breathing and profound listening, coupled with open-heartedness and a playful spirit.”

For everyone else, she said, “there is great joy in leaning forward in your seat and watching two strangers attempt to connect.”

Degenstein said clinical descriptions of the show don’t capture “how entertaining it is.” The success of the show is that it is rooted in empathy and the humour to be found in societal expectations of the ‘blind date’ and how it may play out.

“It’s always amazing to have a non-performer stepping up on stage with us and we want to celebrate that,” Degenstein said.

While the New York Post has described Blind Date as a “high-wire act of improvised theatre,” would-be participants can be assured there is a safety net, Degenstein said – adding that she can’t think of an instance where a show has not worked.

Degenstein gives full credit to Northan.

“She’s the one who figured out how to make this work, and she was on a real tightrope in the beginning. But she has a huge sense of bravery and a huge, open heart.

“It’s such a joyful job – I feel so lucky.”

Blind Date is presented with a warning of mature themes and possibility of ‘strong language.’

Shows are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4 p.m.

Tickets ($29 to $49) are available online at tickets.surrey.ca or by calling 604-501-5566.

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