BWW Interview: Robyn Lynne Norris & Lorin Latarro Make the Perfect Match for #DATEME
48 million Americans have tried online dating. #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment is the outrageous, true story of one. Robyn Lynne Norris (the show's creator and writer) is unlucky in love but determined to understand it better, so she logs on to the world's most popular dating site: OKCupid. Creating 38 "undateable" profiles as an interactive scientific investigation into online dating, Robyn unwittingly sets in motion the social experiment of our generation. Part improv, part sketch comedy and entirely hilarious, Robyn makes one conclusive result: there's no algorithm for love.
BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of talking with both Robyn and the show's Director/Choreographer, Lorin Latarro, to find out more about how the #DateMe evolved into a hilarious blend of improv and musical theatre, what audiences can expect and what's in store for the show.
Robyn for our readers who haven't seen the show, how did the experiment originally come about with OkCupid?
R: Oh great, because it's actually a little different in the show. The real story is a little bit more organic in that it was a total accident. I had just moved from Los Angeles. It was one of those moves that I love LA more than anything now, but it was very lonely, and I had just suffered a personal loss. I was just having a hard time.
Very randomly, my friend Lauri called and asked me for advice on her OkCupid profile. She just wanted to know if she wrote anything weird. At the time, this is even before Tinder. I was kind of like, "Ah, no, I don't online date." I was a little defensive about it, not because of judging online dating, but because I had had such a horrible time, romantically, like I was at the lowest of the lows at that point and had basically given up.
I was like, "I'm not putting myself out there." I logged on, and you have to have a profile to look at other people's profiles. In order to help her, I had to make something up! You know, I'm a writer and performer, and so I was just feeling goofy. I just took five minutes and filled out the bio on OkCupid as a crazy cat lady. I called her Tracy Loves Cats.
OkCupid is unique in the online dating world in that you get to write your own bio. I just had fun answering the questions. I wrote in all-caps, which I know is a no-no, and on purpose. I was like, I LOVE KITTIES ... IF YOU DON'T LOVE KITTIES, YOU WON'T LOVE ME! Beep Boop, Beep Bop." It was stupid and ridiculous.
I checked out Laurie's profile and forgot all about mine. Then I went out to dinner with Laurie and a couple of girlfriends a few nights later and got on the app and there were hundreds of messages from men. They were like talking in all meows and cat noises. I was just kind of like, "What is this world?" It was hilarious, and that's what sparked the original idea, it was funny, but there was a deeper reason in that I was so lonely at the time.
This cat lady was more popular online than I was in real life. And, like I said, it was a total accident. I went to my friend Bob Ladewig. We were working on some stuff. I said, "Hey, this weird thing happened. I have an idea to do this experiment."
We called it Un-dateable and the idea is like let's post what we think are un-dateable or extremely ridiculous personalities online and see if anybody reacts to them, and kind of test the limits, like is anyone un-dateable online? Is this something that I should do so I'll be more popular? That's where the idea began.
I love that! And I can't believe that your Tracy Loves Cats was the first one you came up with; that's amazing. Lorin, to jump to you am I correct that you met your husband online?
Was it OkCupid?
It was! How was your experience different than the show or similar, and what's it been like working on a show that's kind of mirroring your life, in a sense?
L: Well, I went online, and I was really clear about wanting to meet somebody nice right from the beginning. You have to sift through the crazies. You have to sift through the people who are overtly sexual, who are offensive, who want to play games, all of those things. I mean, the real life, in real life. And then so I just sort of really tried to sift quickly and just meet people who were really in a place that really wanted to meet. But that was my real-life experience, but I went on lots of dates.
Did you have any complete horror stories like Robyn, or like Robyn's characters?
L: Oh, yeah! I had so many - I did not have any catfishing. But I had so many bad dates that the improv in Act II came about because I was like, oh, we should put this on stage. Like, "I could fill up an entire evening of stories of bad dates, why don't we make the second improv about bad dates?" That really came from a place of truth.
More on that later please! Right now let's talk about how you came to this project and how you and Robyn connected.
L: Yeah. I got asked to come on by the producer, Elizabeth Williams. She said, "I've seen some of your work, I think maybe you might the person to direct this." We watched a video. We actually watched a video of a few different iterations of the show. It was like, "How do we make this show that was a deliciously funny show in a comedy at Second City, and then turn it into a narrative in the theater?"
That was the task. We tried to really build Robyn's story up and make it an evening where you can really see the beginning, middle and end of the story and have people follow along. That was our directive, and that's what we did.
R: Yes, Elizabeth Williams told Diane (Alexander) and I that she had bumped into Lorin and that Lorin met her husband on OkCupid and the story in #DateMe resonated with her. I was thrilled at the possibility of a female director! And I love her story about meeting Brian.
So, Frank (Caeti) and I flew to New York for a quick meeting. I immediately bought a ticket to Waitress. And when I was in LA I even drove to San Diego to see Heart of Rock and Roll at The Old Globe. I really love collaborating with people and I wanted to check out Lorin's work and bond with her as a person. She's a brilliant choreographer. And that excited me, as a director, because I always viewed this entire piece as a dance between the actors and the internet -- from the movement, to the timing of the sound cues, and the visuals on screen.
I also remember at our staged reading in October, Lorin pulled me aside and commented on the care and love I had for the people on the Internet and how she wanted to make sure we kept that heart and authenticity in the show when we moved it to New York. And that has always been so important to me. I never wanted this show to just be a wacky comedy. There are plenty of laughs! But there are so many comedies about online dating that make fun of people -- the story and the vulnerability and care for the real people on the internet -- that's what sets #DateMe apart. And I didn't want to lose that. So, Lorin's comment brought me a great sense of peace going into the process.
That is a perfect segue back to the process which Lorin revealed earlier that her own dating experiences contributed to the second act's improv. Audiences coming in every night don't know that the show changes nightly. How did you rehearse that?
L: Yes, that was definitely inspired by my own bad dates. I could fill an evening of comedy just with bad date stories! When we would rehearse it, I would just throw them one true story after the next.
R: Yeah, that is exactly how it came about. My goal from the beginning was always Robyn's narrative in the story, and I just want to be clear in terms of the horror stories. I've actually been in the experiment and I don't have horror stories. I have a great love for everybody I've met online, even the ones that were overtly sexual and everything like that.
I just want to, I know that that comes across in the show, I hope, but I just want to be clear that that was part of the intent. In terms of the bad dates, as Lorin and I were talking, she was like, "You know, you don't really represent this part," and I thought, "Oh, that's true," because I never went on dates, in person, in the experiment and so it was really fun. Because when people saw the Chicago show they wanted to build that out for NYC and they said," More improv, more improv..." and I was like, "I'm writing a narrative; it's actually hard to weave improv into the story," but we found a way to make it work in Robyn's narrative because she was so anti the internet in the narrative. So, I thought that was really something, and I'm really glad that Lorin had that idea.
As an audience member, I had the best time! Knowing that it changes nightly did the cast bring in their own crazy dating stories for rehearsal purposes?
R: Yeah, we have Frank Caeti, who is the creative consultant on the show, and he was with us from the beginning in LA and Chicago. He is an improvisor as well. So, the very first iteration of the show, I really wanted a tightly, tightly scripted comedy narrative. He was like, "Let's put improv in," and it worked. And so, then we built it out even more in New York, based off Lorin's idea of wanting more.
You absolutely do rehearse improv. It's an art form that people study for many, many years, and it's not something that you can just hop on stage and be like, "Be funny!" We were lucky. That first week we had intense, very fun improv rehearsals for several hours a day with Frank, and myself, and the actors. It's more about the audience and the suggestions that they give than your personal online dating stories in the context of the show.
But I think we have such an incredible cast and online dating and dating is so relatable to everybody, so they bring their own unique perspective to the characters they play, I'm sure.
I loved the distinct characters that everyone created, even if they just walk on stage for a split second, you know exactly who they are. It is this wonderful melding of musical theater and improv. It's truly an experience unlike any other shows I've seen. What's the weirdest, craziest dating story you've gotten so far from the show?
L: They've managed everything from a guy being much shorter than they said they were, like really much shorter. We've done one guy was bragging that he was interested in Agent Orange. What other ones have we had?
R: We want to celebrate them and honor their bad date stories. We get several suggestions until we land on one that's so absurd or so relatable, like the two inches shorter, that kind of thing.
Or, like my favorite ones are things like men who are just ridiculous. Like there was a guy that they went on the date and then he wouldn't speak, or he kept making awkward eye contact and wouldn't blink. Or, that they got a big "to go" container and at the end of the night he was like, "Do you want to come back to my place," and she was like, "No," and then he says, "Can I take that to-go container?" Just ridiculous.
Those are my favorite stories because we've all been there and they're just so, so absurd.
Has anyone that you've matched up during the show become a success story?
L: Well, there was a couple that got matched up on stage. That was the other thing that we added was that real-life two single people we brought in from New York City. We had two couples actually meet and really go out on a date.
Oh, I love that!
L: That's been very exciting. Yeah, we should actually check in with those couples to see how it's going!
R: Yeah, we should! And we have, in Chicago, also in the improv at the end of Act I, where we have the people do the full, longer interviews when we get to know them, we definitely have had people hang out at the bar after or go out on a date. And, yeah, there is that cool part, or that part in the show where we match people on the app. We do try to encourage them to go on a date, so it sounds like a few people have gone on a date, which is amazing.
Our goal is that lots of people in New York City meet each other here and that this becomes the place where single New Yorkers can actually come see the show with the hopes of maybe meeting somebody. It's very exciting for them.
Yeah and put an end to their bad dating experiences!
L: Well, the truth is, one of the exciting things about trying to do this show here in New York City and creating these moments where real single people get to meet people is that 20 years ago, people did go out and meet people, and now everybody is just meeting online. We don't go to bars anymore, so we really got excited about the idea that our show could actually turn into a place where people could come alone and walk away dating somebody.
In fact, at our show, at intermission, if you go up to the bar, you find people, strangers talking to each other in a way that I never see in other places because the way that it's formatted, the way the show is formatted people feel comfortable talking to each other. We're really excited by this idea of it actually becoming a safe space where people can really meet.
R: I agree with that, and that has been such a cool thing. It's like people don't want to leave the theater. I always go up during intermission and go and try to listen to people. They're connecting. That's also always been a dream of mine is eventually I would love if it could be a place where people meet. Maybe there are events afterwards and things like that. I think that's a very unique aspect of the show.
The interaction and the social aspect of the show is really unique. How can you, or do you have any plans to harness that and do future events, maybe special dating nights?
L: One hundred percent
R: Yes, ever since the show opened, and before, I've been pitching ideas for events and how can follow people on social more if they go on a date [from our show], how can we find out the audience stories. Because, to me, this show is fantastic on the stage, but it's also about the audience beyond the stage and after the show.
And with the improv aspect you really invite the audience to participate with you from the second they walk into the theater which is so fun. I think going in as an audience member it's great to be aware that you're not only going to laugh for two hours and have a great time, but you're also a part of the show but not in a scary way, nothing bad is going to happen!
L: That's right, we take very good care, and also the audience is in control of how much they want to be on stage, or not. They raise their hands, to participate. They are in control.
Yes. I saw the show with my husband, who is terrified of audience participation - it's his worst nightmare! So knowing that he was able to sit and watch and participate just by viewing was wonderful.
R: That's so, so important. In comedy and improv people always think - especially because the improv and sketch they get confused with stand-up where you do pick on the audience, and you kind of go after them, and that's not what we do. And we want every improv moment to be voluntary, right? I'm glad you said that because I don't want people to be scared to come to the show and think they're going to have to jump on stage because we would never want to make something be like, "Surprise, you're on stage." So, I'm glad to hear that.
I loved it. People were so excited to raise their hand. There were so many people who were like, "No, pick my bad story. No, no, you have to call on me!
R: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's so fun. My favorite part is hearing the audience every night, and I love that!
Robyn, I know in Chicago that the cofounder of OkCupid, Sam Yagan, actually saw the show and did a QA panel. Any chance that something like that's going to happen in New York?
R: Absolutely. We hope so. A little bit on that is, yes, Sam Yagan has been a big champion of this show. We've been so lucky that the show even exists because originally in Los Angeles, it was like I said an accident, and I just kind of did it on my own. There was no way that we could build a show about a company like OkCupid without Sam coming on early on. He saw it in Los Angeles, and I've never been so nervous in my entire life, to be honest. The great thing is the cofounders of OkCupid, and OkCupid as a company itself, have such a great sense of humor.
I did this experiment, but I am actually a huge fan of OkCupid for the opportunities they provide and the bios and how they let you express yourself. But Sam is really funny. He saw the show in LA. When we came to Chicago he came and did two Q&As. I also did a Facebook Live with him. I absolutely adore him. We are in talks and I'm really hoping that he'll come back to the New York show.
I don't want to say officially, but I'm pretty sure that something like that could be happening in the near future.
Now let's talk about the cast a bit.
R: They're amazing
L: We really looked high and low and it's a real hybrid of people who come from improv who have to really learn how to dance and sing at the same time, and then other people who came from musical theater and Broadway to train intensely during the improv. We have a beautiful hybrid on stage, and I think everybody's strengths and weaknesses work so beautifully with each other, and everybody walked out of rehearsal doing each better. It turns into this wonderful support of each other on stage.
I just was so in awe of how you featured everyone so brilliantly Lorin. You really highlighted their strengths. It was just so exciting to see everybody do everything. For example, Megan Sikora who has been in a ton of Broadway shows is dancing and singing and then does all this brilliant improv too!
L: Yeah, she got really good at it. And then Kaitlyn Black, the woman who plays Robyn, was messing around early on rehearsal and started tap dancing. And then Megan was like, "Oh, girl, you can tap, tap with me," and then the two of them started tapping. And then Eric started tap dancing. I was like, "Wait a second, you three can tap dance?" That's how that little tap dance and dance break got put into the song because I was like, "Oh, my gosh, we have to do this."
R: It was wonderful, and honestly that was my favorite moment in rehearsal because it was that organic like, "Oh, you can do this ... you can do this ... let's take this," and then they made it into magic and I echo that. I think the cast is brilliant. I think they have so many strengths. What I love is that they all get along so well. I think it's so important in this show that you can tell it's a group of friends.
It's one of the most kind-hearted, genuine casts I've ever seen. That, to me, is really important in putting up a show and casting. It's that element, and specifically for this show, but any show. I just seek people like that out. I think they're wonderful. I think they support each other so well, and so they're always lifting each other up and it's beautiful to watch.
You can see the trust and the love on stage, for one another. They're with each other 100 percent. Robyn, how is it for you to now step out of the show and have Kaitlyn play you?
R: I think Kaitlyn is an amazing actress. I love her so much. I love the vulnerability she brings to the role. I'm glad that we found Kaitlyn. I think that this story lives in my bones. My brain is crazy. When I was on stage, I could see every screen behind me. I'm looking forward to telling my story, as me, again. I'm very grateful that we have Kaitlyn because I feel she shares an empathy like I do, and she's a kind person.
I have only one last question for both of you. What are your six things that you can't live without?
L: Oh, gosh, I don't know. I would say my comforter, my family. I would say music and my dance shoes and how many is that?
L: Music, theater, and chocolate chip cookies.
R: Mine change because I do get some - and I love this question, and over the years they have changed, so I'll just go off the cuff. It will be a little different from what I said before, but number one is my husband. Number two, family and friends. Everybody says that. It's very important. Number three, Coca-Cola Classic, not Pepsi. Number four, Twin Peaks, my favorite TV show. Number five, transcendental meditation. Yeah, I'm a high-stress person and it helps me kind of connect into a place of calm and being able to collaborate with people in a healthy way. I think it brings an inner peace that I absolutely love. And number six is laughter. Yeah, laughter. I think it's so important, what we do in comedy, especially in today's world. I really take it seriously to be kindhearted in our comedy. And I think that laughter is extremely important right now.
More about #DateMe currently running at The Westside Theater. Tickets can be purchased here
#DateMe was created by Robyn Lynne Norris who wrote the show along with Bob Ladewig and Frank Caeti. Developed by Diane Alexander and directed by Lorin Latarro #DateMe features song lyrics by Robyn Lynne Norris, Frank Caeti, Amanda Blake Davis, Bob Ladewig,original music by Julie Nichols and Dan Wessels.
The creative team for #DateMe features David Arsenault (scenic design), Vanessa Leuck (costume design), Travis McHale (lighting design), Sam Hains (projections and interconnectivity). Tara Rubin Casting CSA serves as casting director and DTE Management is the general manager. #DateMe is produced by Elizabeth Williams and Diane Alexander with Remmel Dickinson, Benjamin Lowy, Adrian Salpeter, Robert Dragotta.
Robyn Lynne Norris is the Creator & Playwright of #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment, which she starred in during its Los Angeles (as Undateable) & Chicago runs. Robyn has written, taught, and performed sketch & improvisational comedy (and free-style rap!) for theatres and Fortune 500 Companies around the world (Chicago, Las Vegas, Kuwait, Singapore, Malaysia, Norwegian Cruise Lines, LA, & more).Regional Theatre: Kirk Douglas Theatre, The Alliance Theatre, The UP Comedy Club. Comedy/Improv: The Second City (Las Vegas Mainstage, National Touring Company), iO, ComedySportz, & M.i.'s Westside Comedy Theatre. Follow Robyn online at: www.robynlynnenorris.com Twitter: @robynlnorris IG: @robynlynnenorris.
Lorin Latarro: Broadway: Waitress, Les Dangereuse Liasons, Waiting for Godot. Curious Incident... and American Idiot (Associate). Additional choreography: Waitress (West End), Superhero (Second Stage), Merrily We Roll Along(Roundabout), La Traviata (The Met), Chess (Kennedy Center), Twelfth Night (Delacorte), Lin-Manuel Miranda's 21 Chump Street(BAM), Heart of Rock and Roll (Old Globe), Assassins, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Encores!), Between The Lines (KC Rep), Queen of The Night (Drama Desk Award), Kiss Me, Kate (Barrington), The Best Is Yet To Come (59E59, Drama Desk Award). Director: Taste of Things to Come (Chicago). Lorin performed in 12 Broadway shows and danced for Tharp, Momix, and Graham. Juilliard graduate.
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