For public radio fans in the Hudson Valley, it’s almost that time again: a time that many of us dread, while others tune in with a perverse, obsessive fascination as our favorite on-air hosts get progressively weirder with fatigue. I’m talking about the WAMC Fund Drive, of course. If you’re among those stalwart souls who actually listen to large chunks of it, you will have noted that a high proportion of the folks who call in with their pledges cite This American Life (TAL) as one of their favorite programs.
There are good reasons for this. The one-hour weekly program, hosted by Ira Glass, produced by WBEZ and distributed by Public Radio International, has consistently provided high-quality, outside-the-box entertainment since its inception in 1995. This manifests as journalism, memoirs and essays in monologue form – mostly non-fictional, but occasionally blurring the line between literal truths and storytelling that resonates with our inner sense of truth.
Many will have heard of the brouhaha that erupted just this January, when TAL presented excerpts from a one-man theatre show by Mike Daisey as an exposé of conditions at a Foxconn factory manufacturing Apple computer components in China. In March, TAL officially retracted the episode after learning that several events recounted both in the radio story and the monologue were fabrications. But generally speaking, the program’s many fans know what to expect and have no complaints. This is the show, after all, that kick-started the career of best-selling author and monologist David Sedaris by airing his Santaland Diaries. TAL is consistently rated as the first or second most-downloaded podcast on iTunes for each week, and has won scads of broadcasting awards, including three Peabodies.
Each TAL program consists of several “Acts” organized around a central theme, and “The Invisible Made Visible” is the theme for This American Life – Live! a special live performance taped on Thursday, May 10 that will visit movie screens nationwide within the next week or two. It comes to our region this Sunday, May 27 with a 7:30 p.m. showing at the Rosendale Theatre – a perfect match, considering that venue’s commitment in recent years to performances of short plays and improv performances that reflect TAL’s modern, edgy aesthetic.
Broadcasting from the Skirball Center at New York University, Glass will present stories by writer David Rakoff, comedian Tig Notaro and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington. Together they will perform a live stage version of the radio show, which will also feature a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, live music by the rock band OK Go, a dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, original animation and illustration and “special surprise guests.”
“I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes’ company, and I thought, ‘That is totally in the style of our radio show,’” said Glass. “But obviously you can’t have dance on the radio. Then I realized, ‘We have to do another cinema event!’ We’ve built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things – including the dancers I saw that night – so it’s going to feel like the radio show, but also totally unlike anything we’ve done before. I really can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
Tickets to this special rebroadcast of This American Life – Live! cost $12 general admission, $10 for Rosendale Theatre Collective members. The Rosendale Theatre is located at 408 Main Street in Rosendale, and there’s plenty of parking both on-street and behind the building. For more information visit https://rosendaletheatre.org/#.