The Man Behind the Voice: This American Life's Ira Glass on Dance, Taylor Swift and Pro Wrestling
Photo by David Bazenmore
"We know it's a weird premise," says Ira Glass, the radio host of the very literally titled Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host, hitting the stage at the Wortham Theater Center on Saturday night. Best known for his day job as the host of the Peabody Award winning radio program This American Life, Glass is aware that mixing the very visual medium of dance and the very un-visual medium of radio is a strange one.
It's even weirder for Glass, who before this production had no relationship with dance.
"Occasionally I would go to a dance show because I would think, 'I should try dance, maybe,'" says Glass. "But I knew nothing about it, knew nothing about the history of it."
It was seeing the work of choreographer Monica Bill Barnes that sparked the idea that became the show.
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"When I saw Monica Bill Barnes' choreography I thought, 'this is what we do on the radio show, just a little different. People who love us would love this,'" says Glass.
As a storyteller, Glass spends a lot of time talking about other people, sharing what has happened to them. While he is a presence on This American Life, he's not the focus.
Things are somewhat different in Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host.
"Over time the show has became more about us. That's partly what the show is about, it's about them getting to know us.
"When we're making episodes of the radio show or we're taking the show on the road, I never think about it that way, that the audience needs to get to know me better," says Glass.
In the spirit of getting to know Glass better, here are a few things Art Attack learned about him over the course of our interview:
The dance show is a real collaboration between Glass, Barnes and dancer Anna Bass.
Although the stories used in the show will be familiar to listeners of This American Life, this isn't a show where Glass stands in the middle of the stage and the dancers act those stories out.
"We thought that would be corny," says Glass. "Why even have dancers at that point?"
Instead, the dancers tell stories that parallel and brush up against the stories that Glass is telling. The vocabularies are different, but the spirit of telling a story is the same.
"But we know this is weird. We think it's weird too," Glass admits.
He doesn't mind if you want to ask him about his dog.
If you've ever heard This American Life episode 480, "Animal Sacrifice," then you're familiar with the issues of Piney, Ira's dog. Almost two years later, Piney is still a subject that comes up when Glass does Q&As. And that's OK.
"I'm not tired of talking about the dog. There's always news with the dog. The dog is always a source of funny anecdotes."
His iPod may not be all that different from your own.
When he's not catching up on listening to podcasts or auditioning pieces for This American Life, Glass, like many of us, needs high energy music to keep himself moving on a treadmill. The music he does listen to may surprise you.
"I have an inordinate amount of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift for a man over 50 on my iPod," he says. "My wife helps run a website for teenage girls called Rookie, and really most of the reading I do about music is on their website. Most of the time if I've heard of a band it's because teenage girls are in to it.
There's a lot of girl-power music on my iPhone."
Given the chance, he knows what his pro-wrestling gimmick would be.
"I feel like if I could get into the professional wrestling circuit, I think it would be really fun to play a character that's a bookworm. The character would be a glasses wearing, not-in-shape person who would come on to stage always with a big book full of wrestling moves so that during the match we would be flipping through it and finding a move and then trying it out. And then that character would always get his ass kicked.
"Which is enjoyable. I say this as a glasses-wearing, unathletic person. It can be enjoyable to see someone like that get their ass kicked. I think it would be very popular."
Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host takes the stage 8 p.m. Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit spahouston.org. $38 to $78.
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