Dallas — Aural comedy is something of a lost art in the United States, except perhaps in the form of podcasts. Radio comedies don’t exist on this side of the pond anymore, and comedy albums of any kind aren’t a big percentage of the market.
So what might you do for comedy if you’re blind or sight-impaired? Again, podcasts and comedy albums are an option, but surely live comedy, and doubly surely improv, are out of the question, right?
Wrong on both counts, thanks to the Dallas Comedy House troupes The Cult and Midnight Passion. They perform an improv format called the Bat. In the Bat, the theater lights are turned off, and the players convey their improvised scenes using only sound—primarily, their voices.
Midnight Passion troupester Camille Long saw an altruistic opportunity with the Bat. A couple years ago, she contacted the East Dallas location of Lighthouse for the Blind and asked if they would like a Bat show. Ever since, they have continued to perform at LftB on a trimonthly basis, and they have picked up an additional troupe to bookend an intermission with another Bat show: The Cult. They call the event Dark Improv.
“I have a friend who is blind. We were watching a movie together, and I realized just how much of the story he was missing,” says Long. “A few months later, I was in [Dallas Comedy House instructor] Tommy Brown's level 4 class at DCH and learned the Bat format. It occurred to me then that this format would be great for a non-sighted audience because everyone is on the same plane. When I spoke to Tommy about the idea he told me he’d love to support that show in any way her could!”
It’s been an evolutionary process for The Cult’s Christie Wallace. “In the beginning, we were very conscious of references we would make. We worried it would be insensitive to talk about things that required sight. However, we learned that the last thing the community wants is for those with sight to edit themselves in that way. Now we perform the shows exactly how we would for any audience and they're always a hit!”
Long notes that the audience is typically razor sharp: “Nothing gets past them. Their sense of hearing is keen. In one show, somebody called a character by a name, then later referred to the same character by a similar name. Someone caught the mistake and piped up. It was awesome!”
It can also be freeing playing in such a show. “I enjoy it for selfish reasons,” says Midnight Passion’s Jessica Roth. “I feel being in the dark where no one can see allows me to perform better. I am not so self aware of what I look like or how I may be perceived. It allows me to play with different concepts I may otherwise be in my head about.”
If you’re sighted, please have no compunction about coming out to a show; it’s open to all, free, and refreshments are provided. The most recent show was Sept. 14, and the next one is likely to be in January, but no date has yet been set. Keep an eye on the Lighthouse of the Blind’s website for particulars.
» The Bat happens at Lighthouse for the Blind, 4306 Capitol Ave., Dallas