My Blind Date On Stage

We are introduced in the courtyard. From her blonde locks and blue eyes, past her red dress, down to her fishnets and heels, Mimi is absurdly beautiful. She is also sporting a clown nose and a boldly caricatured French accent. Mimi is sizing me up too. When I see her again, in the theatre, we lock eyes and I sense I’m her man. Together, onstage, and unrehearsed, we will have a romantic encounter over 90 minutes. In front of an audience.19143059_10155482249718760_6982489486736430354_o

Since its inception, there have been over 600 performances of “Blind Date”, which plays at the Tarragon Theatre from May 30 to June 25. Poor Mimi has been stood up, and each night she chooses an audience member as her date. I allow myself to be a potential “prospect” and embrace the tension and butterflies this brings. Then Mimi calls my name and I emerge from the dark anonymity of the back row into the hot spotlight, front and centre.

Tess Degenstein, who plays Mimi, tells me I have one job – “Be yourself”. I’ve got this! One over-thinking, recently-broken-up, considerate-and-inclusive Patrick coming right up! That means connecting with Mimi, the sexily enthusiastic persona; partnering with Tess, the engaging and talented performer; and pleasing the audience (which includes my sister, who convinced me to go with her).

In the bistro, over wine, Mimi and I learn about our respective day and families and talk about finding connection in a big city. Soft jazz pipes in and I ask her to dance. We end up at her place, on the living room love seat. My date is….sending unambiguous signals. It’s fun that she’s forward and the next move is up to me.

And so I call “time out”. (It’s within the Blind Date rules, but I’m sure I was booed by some audience members). I’ve only ever kissed someone when I meant it, and alluring though Mimi is, a stage-makeout session isn’t for me. But supporting, anticipating and responding to actor Tess is fun and real, and this comes out during a sobering values-check mid-performance over which we bond. Backstage, during a set change, Tess is a great cheerleader – it’s good for a stage improv newbie to get that boost! Back in character, there’s a lot more time looking directly in Mimi/Tess’s eyes. The lines start to blur.

Then there is the audience, whose (hopefully amused) reactions I can hear but cannot really see. How to make it fun for them? How to be physically and emotionally intimate and vulnerable in public while maintaining your boundaries and those of your stage partner? In the last scene, as my clothes come off (mostly off-stage) Mimi and I share intense and tender moments in the bedroom, it feels way more natural than I ever imagined it could.

Post-performance, the banter with Tess, the Tarragon crew, my sister and audience members is an easy rush of freedom, openness, gratitude, recognition and relief. I will return, as a proud alumnus, to see the next guy initiated to Blind Date improv.


Moments with Coach Fred

Some memories from time with a remarkable man. Miss you already, pal.

“WHY didn’t you do the chase-me-charlie?!” A coaching legend is yelling at sixteen-year-old me for not taking part in a rowing training session on the Credit River. For all I knew, Fred Loek worked with national-calibre athletes, and took no notice of awkward 130-pound teenage boys who had shown zero speed yet. Wrong.

Years later, on the Credit, I’m the starter as Fred lines up to race his single 200m against his son Jonathan – an accomplished sculler. Papa Loek smirks and takes an egregious flying false start which I don’t bother calling back. I know Fred loves breaking rules.

“WHY would you DO THAT?!” Fred is clad in lycra, covered in chocolate milk, and pissed off. We’re on a cycling ride and one guy rolls over a container lying randomly on a country road. The thing explodes into Fred’s path. The hapless fellow who caused the eruption bears the full brunt of Fritsie fury all the way back to Port Credit.

In the grandstand, a Royal Canadian Henley champion gets told after today’s win that he really has to go for it in tomorrow’s race. In effect, not to settle even for first place so that no one thinks it’s a fluke.

Fred is crouched over an ex rower’s bike, fixing some problem. The rest of us stand around, waiting. “Geez you guys – here I thought I was done rigging your equipment after you stopped rowing….”

An infant grabs Fred’s outstretched finger in her tiny hand. He nods with approval “Yep. Gonna be a sculler.”