Thanks to my wife for getting us out last night to see a live screening of This American Life. Well, it was sort of a live screening — a “live” screening, as it were. I mean — it was happening live as we were watching it, but we were watching it in a movie theater, so we were watching the movie of it. I confess I spent much of the time being confused about what it is we were doing last night at all.
But it ended up being a great show, whatever it was.
I guess Ira Glass, host of public radio staple This American Life, is trying new ways to air the show. Originally just a radio-only show, you can also watch it on TV (but who knew that?), but what we did last night transcended the isolation of at-home viewing – almost like a stage play (even though we were watching the movie version), it was a good way to feel social at movie theater, while also feeling connected across the country with viewers in hundreds of different cities.
If that’s really confusing, let me let them explain what it was:
Ira Glass will host an actual episode of the radio program, performed onstage by some of our favorite contributors. Dan Savage, Starlee Kine, and Mike Birbiglia will tell stories. David Rakoff and Dave Hill will conduct a ‘special investigation.’ Plus a new cartoon by Chris Ware, additional visuals by Arthur Jones, and a very special appearance by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! The performance will last around two hours. We’re going to capture the whole thing with a bunch of HD cameras, and send it live* to movie theatres all over the country.
“Return to the scene of the crime,” they called it, with a recurring theme of people wrestling in various ways with letting go, such as of a grave wrongdoing (Birbiglia), or via beating to death your “mother and father” (pillows) with a whiffle bat (Kine), or of a parent and the letting-go/coming-back tango of the Church (Savage). There was even a musical performance thrown in for good measure, and the pre-show anagrams and hangmans were super fun.
We went into the movie theater in the Bloomingfields’ shopping center in San Francisco to see it, which even added to my confusion about where we were going and what we were seeing.
We really enjoyed Ira Glass’s way of telling stories even if we didn’t always like the specific stories. He both leads us to simple profundities and seems to facilitate telling of such profundities.
Somehow appropriately, we got lost on the way out of the theater and went down a funky service stairwell, brightly lit and decorated with different sorts of servicable graffiti. I have no idea what it means to “attach to a wall,” but while the crowd merrily followed us along down the strange stairwell, I felt community.