Preparing to act out unsuspecting couples’ lives are Date Night cast members (from left): front row-Vicki Andronis, Erik Sternberger, Josh Kessler; back row- Peter Graybeal, Nikki Smith, Stephen Woosley and Erin Prosser (photo by Andy Batt)
There’s nothing like a little Full Frontal Nudity to put folks in the mood for Valentine’s Day. That’s the hope, anyway, as MadLab’s resident improv troupe gets ready to open its third annual production of Date Night. The show contains no actual nudity, of course, as the group’s name is a come-on. Instead, FFN’s players plan to engage in off-the-cuff storytelling based on what little they know about couples from the audience. Josh Kessler, an actor who’s been with the show since the beginning, explained how it works. “We try to get two or three couples out of the audience, one couple at a time, and we bring them up onstage,” he said. There, the lovebirds are given a seat on a couch, offered snacks and asked a series of questions about themselves: how they met, what they like about each other, what they do for a living and so forth. “Then,” said Kessler, “we go out and do our rendition of that.” “Rendition,” in this case, means an improvised story that may have little to do with the couple’s actual lives but still contains a kernel of truth about their relationship. It’s also, if all goes well, funny. “We certainly pride ourselves in finding truth in the situation,” Kessler said. “But at the end of the day, we want folks to come out and laugh and have a good time.” Andy Batt, who directs the show and also serves as the couples’ interviewer, explained that the concept came from a “short-form improv game” he’d once observed. In it, couples were interviewed, after which the troupe acted out its version of their first date. “I really liked that format for getting a deeper level of audience participation rather than just the typical way of asking for one-or two-word suggestions,” he said in an email. Since FFN had been specializing in longer improvisations, Batt said, it stretched out the format and created Date Night. Despite the show’s name, its pieces go far beyond dramatizing a single date. “There’ve been some couples who’d been together for 50 or 60 years,” Kessler said. “So, over the course of 25 minutes, we’ve gone through their entire lives.” Erik Sternberger, a new Date Night cast member, said he’s seen the show a couple of times and was impressed by the players’ ability to ferret out something essential about each couple’s relationship. “I always thought it was fun how, no matter how over-the-top and crazy everyone onstage was, they always found a bare truth that the couple we interviewed never (revealed). And afterward, they said they were really like that.” The key, Sternberger said, is careful observation of the couple during their two-minute interview: “seeing how they interact, who will answer a question, who will evade a question.” One of the most challenging things about the show, according to Kessler, is persuading that first couple to come onstage and open up about themselves.“While sometimes it can be hard to get that first couple, once everyone in the audience sees how fun it was, that second couple is a lot easier to get to come down and talk to us,” he said. Full Frontal Nudity will present Date Night Jan. 30-Feb. 15 at MadLab, 227 N. Third St. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 30 only), Friday and Saturday.

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