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Wednesday, May 9,2012

'American Life' comes alive

You'll get to see what you've been missing when Ira Glass’ popular radio series makes its way to theaters Thursday

by Tracy Key
On Thursday night, over 500 movie theaters in the United States and Canada will be showing more than just current Hollywood hits. “This American Life,” the most popular podcast in the country, will perform an episode of its show live on stage in New York City, bursting onto the big screen via satellite to give viewers what host and executive producer Ira Glass describes as a “multimedia adventure.”

“It’s either going to be the most amazing thing we have ever put on as a program, or it’s going to be a complete train wreck, and there is no middle ground,” Glass explained, with a laugh during a telephone conference. 

“This American Life Live — You Can’t Do That on Radio” will be jam-packed with acts, videos and other material that would be impossible to present in a podcast, including a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, original works by Disney animators, stories by David Sedaris, David Rakoff and Glass, a live and interactive performance by the popular band OK Go and a dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company that captured Glass’ imagination back in June 2011, and ultimately provided the inspiration for creating the live show.

“There was something about the way that they did their performance that reminded me of our radio show,” he recalled. “The pieces seemed to be about moments of awkwardness and anxiety, and the thought flashed into my head: ‘This American Life’s’ audience would really be into this, they would really like this — it is just like our radio show.” 

But since dance is a completely visual medium, there was no way it could work on radio. So Glass got the idea to put together another show live on stage.

“I don’t know how to wave my arms around enough to say we’re pulling out all the stops here, including stops we didn’t even know existed,” Glass said.

“This American Life” has produced two other live versions of their popular podcast (in 2008 and in 2009) but Glass insists that this performance is different, both in its inspiration and content. “Last time we did a live show it was completely for business reasons,” he said. “We had a budget shortfall, and we thought, ‘We have to make a little money, what’s the way to do it?’

“This time we don’t need the money and no one was asking us to do it. We’re doing it for the purest of reasons: It seemed like it would be really fun.” 

Although he did not want to spoil all of the surprises that are lined up, Glass did elaborate about the element of interactivity that will be involved with OK Go’s performance. A custom downloadable application was created for the iPhone and Android that will allow audience members to play along during certain parts of the song — something that wasn’t available for “Life’s” previous live shows.

“We basically tried to invent things that you could never do on the radio,” Glass said.

‘This American Life Live — You Can’t Do That On Radio’

8 p.m. Thursday, May 10

Celebration Cinema Lansing, 200 E. Edgewood Blvd. 

Lansing

Lansing Mall Cinema, 921 Mall Drive West, Lansing

$20

www.thisamericanlife.org/cinema

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