Call Answered: Robyn Lynne Norris: "#DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment"
A few weeks ago I saw the new Off-Broadway musical #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment, written by Robyn Lynne Norris. This show was so relatable and the audience interaction was fantastic. This show, if you want it, can be an immersive experience, but if you prefer to just sit and watch the show, you can. There is no pressure to interact if you don’t want to.
#DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment is very well written, acted, and directed. Robyn has written a show for anyone who has dated, whether it’s online or in person. #DateMe tells the story of “Robyn, who’s about to dive headfirst into the world of online dating, but she’s not looking for love. Oh no, she is purely interested in “the scientific,” and her dating experiment is conducted in the search of human truth! At least, that’s what she says…Find out what Robyn discovers at #DateMe. Take the fun to the next level and interact with the show (and other audience members) with the app designed specifically for #DateMe. Look for download instructions at the theater!
1. I just saw your hilarious fun new Off-Broadway show #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment. I had a great time and could relate to so much of the show. So, how long did it take you to create the show - from idea to inception? Adam! Thank you so much for coming to the show. And for your kind words. 😊 I’m so glad you found it relatable. That was the goal!
This show has been a 7-year journey at this point. The entire experiment was born out of a happy accident. I had just moved to Los Angeles and it was a particularly lonely and overwhelming time in my life.
My friend Lauri called me one day and told me she had just set up her first OkCupid profile. She asked if I could log on and see if she “wrote anything weird.” So I attempted to log on but you have to have a profile to even view other people’s profiles. And I was NOT in a place to put my real self out there. So I took five minutes and created what I thought was a crazy, insane person nobody would take seriously – TracyLovesCats.
I laughed when I did it, checked out Lauri’s profile, and then forgot about it. A few days later I logged back on to find HUNDREDS of messages from men speaking in “Meows.” It was Hilarious.
And I realized this crazy cat lady was more popular online than I was in real life. So that prompted the experiment – “Is anyone truly Undateable?”
I took the idea to my friend Bob Ladewig. We set up rules so we wouldn’t hurt people. We got some friends to do a photo shoot. We created 38 “Undateable” personalities and posted them across the country tracking the results. And then we turned it into a show.
Bob and I gathered some of our most talented friends. We brought our director onboard (the incredible Frank Caeti) and we put up the show with a very limited number of rehearsals and only four previews. The timeline from when I got the original call from Lauri, to conducting the experiment, and the opening of the original Second City Hollywood show was one year.
We were supposed to run once a week for three months…that three-month run turned into a three-year run in LA.
Diane Alexander (our tireless producer!) saw the show early on and came onboard to build it out. She really inspired me to flesh out my personal narrative and dream big. We took the show to the UP Comedy Club in Chicago where it ran for three years. And then Elizabeth Williams came on to produce and here we are in NYC.
2. Did you try any of the other dating sites besides OkCupid in your journey? If so, why did you choose to focus the show on OkCupid as opposed to one of the other dating apps out there? I did not try any other dating sites. My friend Lauri was on OkCupid. So that’s the platform I used for the entire experiment.
OkCupid is one of the free dating sites, which is helpful. But it is also unique in that you get to create a mini bio for yourself and choose how you present yourself. As a writer and performer, I had fun getting into character to answer the questions. For Tracy it was things like: My Self-Summary: “I love KITTIES! If you don’t love KITTIES then you won’t love me. Beep, Boop, Beep, Bop.”
As the Experiment progressed I got more and more detailed with my answers. And I also really dove in and read REAL people’s profiles. I found it fascinating what people chose to put out there to represent themselves. It was hilarious, beautiful, and so, so human.
3. In creating/writing this show, when in the process did you come up with idea to make it interactive between the cast and audience? The interactive aspects began when we did the show at Second City Hollywood. The show was tightly scripted, but because our cast were all improv veterans, our director, Frank Caeti, had the idea for an improv portion at the end of the show where we match two audience members up.
It worked incredibly well so we continued that portion when we moved the show to Chicago. When Diane Alexander approached me early on, during the LA show, and asked what my dream vision of the show would be, I told her I wanted it to be an immersive experience that focuses on the audience. A place people can go to laugh, but also to share experiences and meet people.
I believe the show should be tightly scripted down to every technical moment, but with protected improv segments where we really get to know the audience. From the show to the social media, I WANT to hear everyone’s stories. They should see themselves reflected in the show and be able to get a chance to tell their stories, too. We added even more improv and interactivity to the New York version of the show.
This is also the reason I started DateMe Diaries (www.DateMeDiaries.com) a blog where I talk about the backstage experience, the original Experiment, and feature audience members from each week’s show.
I created social media campaigns based on the show like:
“Tweet YOUR 6 Things You Can’t Live Without. #6Things”
“Share YOUR awkward dating stories. #dontbemine”
“Meet Online? Share your story. #DateMeLove”
4. Did any part of creating this show make you nervous, since as they say at the beginning, no names or circumstances have been changed to protect the identity of those involved? I am actually a very sensitive and empathetic person. So I really did take this seriously.
The show is truthful in that we take verbatim dialogue from my interactions during the experiment. And we don’t change the names. However, this was a time when OkCupid used silly profile names. So it’s not people’s actual real names. And we don’t show anyone’s real pictures.
That being said, Bob and I were very careful right from the start to lay out some ground rules so we didn’t hurt anyone. And we didn’t want to treat this experiment or show like a joke (i.e. making fun of people). We share laughs with them, but we don’t want to mock anyone.
5. Have you heard from any of the profiles you present in the show or do you know if any of them have come to see it? That’s a terrific question. I have not heard from any of the profiles we present in the show. And if any of them have come to see it, they have never told me. We posted profiles all across the country and very few were in Chicago (where the show has run the longest so far). But now that we’re in NYC, who knows?
If they do, my hope is that they are happy to see themselves up there. I spent so much time choosing the best of the best lines for the show. And people were REALLY funny in real life. So if they’re in the show it’s because they have a sense of humor. Or because they said something really beautiful and heartfelt and I wanted to reflect that onstage.
6. One of my favorite parts of the show is that every audience member has the opportunity to create a profile before the show starts. Out of all the profiles that have been created, what's the wildest audience-made profile you have seen? I’m so glad you like this part of the show! I loved that you took a screenshot and posted a photo of your profile from the #DateMe app on social media. “illeatyoulast” haha! I am hopeful more audience members do the same. The profile names and descriptions are so uniquely funny.
We probably can’t print some of the wildest audience-made profiles I’ve seen. And I wish I could remember all of them.
Some fun ones are:
Anyone with a sense of humor about themselves is great.
7. Like OkCupid and in the show, what are the six things you can't live without? Love this question!
Atul (my husband)
Family & Friends
Coca-Cola Classic (not Pepsi, not diet, not caffeine free. The Original!)
Twin Peaks/David Lynch (my favorite TV show of all time)
Laughter & Kindness (yes, I am a stereotype but those things are important!)
8. What did you learn about yourself from writing this show? I learned so, so much about myself from writing this show. I didn’t expect the journey I would go on. I’ve always been an overly emotional, empathetic person. And I found myself attached to all these strangers and worrying that they would never find love.
Let’s be real – I was probably projecting my own loneliness on them. And I was going through a really difficult time, personally. The ability to be playful and connect with all of these strangers, while being a bit outside of myself, helped to heal me. There were so many beautiful, kind, hilarious, and unique people.
Only after doing this experiment was I able to open myself up again. And that’s when I met my husband.
9. What is the best dating advice you would give someone based upon your experience with using OkCupid? My best dating tip is be yourself — your unique, specific, freaky self! I learned from this experiment that people really water down their profiles because they want to be “normal” or “attractive.” But the more specific you are, the more responses you get. I think that’s why my characters were so popular.
In my own life, I was always trying to be perfect and to guess what other people would want. When I started just saying what I truly love and geek out on, that’s when I found the perfect person.
10. If you could create your own dating site, what would you call it? This is an AMAZING question.
I tend to mock my own overemotional personality. So I want to say “CountDownToTears,” which is one of my nicknames after I’ve had a few chocolate martinis. 😊 And was more true back in the day when I really was desperately searching.
But that seems too negative. I want everyone to have happy endings.
Honestly, I might call it #DateMe. Because with the hashtag you can go both ways – genuine and jokey.
#DateMe – Because I’m amazing and seriously want a date!
#DateMe – I have a sense of humor. Here are my weird qualities, so #DateMe or #DateMePlease!!
More on Robyn:
Robyn 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.