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How an interactive comedy about the drama of online dating is bringing people together
According to the most recent census, there are approximately 110.6 million single people over the age of 18 in the U.S. and reportedly almost 50 million of them have tried online dating. So how's an unattached lady looking for love supposed to stand out? Robyn Lynne Norris, a Los Angeles-based comedian and performer, decided find out by launching an online dating experiment. Now she's transformed the results into #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment, an interactive romp that's equal parts sketch comedy, improv and matchmaking game show with some punchy songs.
Norris created the first iteration of the show pre-Tinder. Then titled Undateable, it premiered at Second City Hollywood in 2013, where it ran for three years before transferring to Chicago's Second City for another three, evolving along the way. Norris starred as herself in both of those productions, but Kaitlyn Black portrays her character in the new two-act version at the Westside Theatre, which features more audience interaction and a stronger narrative chronicling how the show was born.
It all started when a friend asked Norris to look at her OKCupid dating profile and offer feedback. "I didn't have a profile myself, and you need to have one to be able to look at other people's accounts," recalls Norris, who was also single at the time. "So I was like, fine, I'll make up a crazy cat lady." Thus TraceyLovesCats was born -- and, unexpectedly, the feline fan received hundreds of messages. "I was like, hold on a second, this cat lady is way more popular than I am!"
Sensing a goldmine of comedic material, Norris and her funnyman friend Bob Ladewig crafted 37 other "wackadoo" dating profiles of different genders, ages and orientations to see what kinds of responses they would get. "We made these personalities that we thought were undateable and posted them across the country and tracked them," she says. "I became obsessed with it. I was screen grabbing the messages and noticing patterns. It just became this whole thing."
The cheesy pickup lines and absurd sexual requests these fictional lonely hearts received from users such as HotDoggieStyle and TheHornyMexican were better suited for a sitcom -- or perhaps a horror film -- than a real-life romance. "I have a ghost in my pants that needs busting. Who am I gonna call?" read one. "We thought, this is just too good," says Norris. "We have to turn it into something."
The messages were compiled verbatim to create a script, and Frank Caeti, Julie Nichols and Dan Wessels came on board to pen additional material, including some songs about the hilarious drama of online dating. To give the evening a how-to aspect, two of OkCupid's cofounders offered up insider information about the platform's algorithm and hints about creating a successful profile. "OkCupid takes finding love seriously and they also have a sense of humor," says Norris with a laugh.
The cast doles out these tips throughout the show. (Did you know that profiles that include the word "guacamole" receive the highest response rate?) They also bring some of Norris and Ladewig's fabricated singles to life -- including TraceyLovesCats -- and perform on-the-spot reenactments of bad dates shared by audience members. There's even a #DateMe app theatregoers are encouraged to download so they can create profiles. Throughout the show, the app pings with witty messages and match notifications from made-up personas.
But Norris says #DateMe, which is directed and choreographed by Broadway vet Lorin Latarro, is more than just a fun night out -- it's an opportunity for singles to commiserate and connect in real life. "I've always wanted this to be an immersive experience," she says. "I really want people to meet at the show."
In one segment, volunteers reveal the six things they can't live without, what they're looking for in a partner and even paint a portrait of their ideal Friday night. Ultimately, two are matched and the ensemble improvises a scene about their imagined love affair. In another bit, two attendees act out a dinner date on stage and are rewarded with a gift card to Pinkberry across the street so they can get dessert -- and perhaps each other's phone numbers -- after the show.
To further encourage romantics, the show spotlights the success stories of couples who met through dating apps. "I love real people and real stories," says Norris. "We're always going to hear from a different person or couple. It's never going to get old. I hope that New Yorkers connect with the show -- and I truly hope that some people find love."
Top image: The cast of #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment. Photos by Jeremy Daniel.