Theater / Performance

Ira Glass (McCarter Theater, Princeton NJ, 29Apr12)

What they say it is:
Join WHYY at the historic McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ as Ira Glass, the creator of the acclaimed public radio show This American Life, talks about his program and how it’s put together: what makes a compelling story, where they find the amazing stories for their show, how he and his staff are trying to push broadcast journalism to do things it doesn’t usually do. As part of this exciting event, Glass will mix stories from the show live onstage, combining his narration with pre-taped quotes and music, recreating the sound of the show as the audience watches. He’ll also play funny and memorable moments from the show, and talk about what was behind their creation.

CLAY SAYS.... As all our friends know, we’re enormous fans of everything NPR, with This American Life ranking among our absolute favorite shows.  Indeed, I’d pay for a subscription if it were required–and I can’t think of many things in my life that garner such easy access to my wallet.  For Tara’s birthday, along with a gift-trip to her favorite local spa, I snapped up two front-section tickets to Ira Glass’ appearance in Princeton.  (Yes, for the record, this remains a “Philly” art blog–and we’re from Philly.  Get it?)

The show was not intended to be a TAL episode; rather, framed as a discussion of radio journalism, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  Our seats were excellent (5th row, far right) and when Ira took the stage in pitch-black darkness, the laughs began instantly.  Even though Ira had already launched into monolog, the theater stayed dark for over a minute, invoking the sensation of listening to TAL via radio–no visuals required.  In a one-two opening punch, he continued to nail the humor by raising the lights, remarking that he’s well aware that, as a radio personality, the audience will miss anything he says during the first few few minutes of a live show (due to the amazing impact of his physical, real-life appearance)–and then took advantage of our distraction to endorse a Republican for president.
I’d give the first half of the show better marks than the later portions; I was extremely pleased with the general gist, pacing and humor for about the first hour, though things sort of trailed off into a mismash of varied subjects in the second half.  The strongest parts of the show included a bullet-point-style presentation of the factors found in good (radio) journalism–the story must take you somewhere (like a train on a journey) and the story must be (or made to be) ‘relatable’ to the audience’s own lives.  I seem to recall a few more points of discussion, but they’re escaping my recollection right now . . . perhaps Tara can offer a few more?  In any case, this section of the show had a tighter focus and therefore entertainment value for me as an amateur blogger and trained writer–if only because his descriptions of storytelling arts conform to my own intuition and technique, and remind me of those basic tricks that are most effective for mesmerizing writing.


Unfortunately, somewhere around the second hour, the show seemed to deteriorate into a more general (and slightly disjointed) revue of show clips, technical analysis, and Ira’s recollections of high/low points from recent TAL episodes.  He also spent some time previewing an upcoming TAL event (a live movie theater show)–a generally interesting moment, though not particularly informative or mindblowing.  Don’t get me wrong–I liked almost everything about Ira’s talk (he’s simply an entertaining and genuinely comedic person), but I walked away with the sensation that I’d sat down at an inspiring college lecture, but finished up at a latenight cocktail party, listening to a dear old friend rifle through through a grab-bag of their favorite old stories.   Perhaps that’s too harsh, and maybe I was exhausted from a night spent sleeping on the floor of my grandparents’ house (long story), but in final analysis, I’d prefer my next Ira Glass experience to be more like his TAL-style shows, or simply to include a more unified sense of presentation.  Still super fun, and glad I went.

I meant to write this sooner, so I am pulling from memory.

I was really exicted to see Ira in person after hearing his amazing radio voice for years on This American Life. It was witty and funny that he began the show in darkness with only his voice- just like the radio. He carried an iPad during the performance- funny, I know, he made a joke about it too–alluding to the iPad/Apple ‘expose’ recently broadcast on TAL–which he used for musical cues (similar to an episode of TAL).

I was really pulled into the performance when he began to outline that, during this live show, he was going to give us the secret of how to tell a great story. This was golden information to me- I am a terrible story teller- and was psyched to learn some ‘tricks of the trade’ to better my story capabilities. He started strong with this theme, using some of his early radio moments to show us were he went wrong in the telling of the story. But as the show progressed he seemed to loose this tread and never really completed the “how to tell a great story” idea. However, in summary, I really enjoyed the show- but I would have liked him to wrap up the story telling theme of the show.

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