“Hey, it’s Ira,” says one of the most recognizable voices in public radio, and the fact that Ira Glass is talking to one person – and not to “This American Life’s” audience of 2 million-plus listeners – casts a surreal haze over the first minute or two of this telephone interview.
But even weirder is the main topic of conversation: His nearly-impossible-to-categorize live show, “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” coming to Charlotte’s Belk Theater on Saturday night.
You can guess which of those roles Glass plays.
What you probably won’t be able to predict is what watching the show will be like – although, apparently, a familiarity with “This American Life” will make the transition a bit smoother.
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“I think when people hear that it’s a dance show, a lot of them worry, ‘Am I gonna like that?’ ” says Glass, 57, whose co-stars are choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and longtime artistic partner Anna Bass. “And (to reassure them) I would say that it has the feeling exactly of an episode of our radio show – except there’s dancing in it; that I’m working with these dancers because the work they do feels exactly like what we do on the radio.”
For the uninitiated, exactly what he and his “This American Life” cohorts do on the radio is produce an hour’s worth of sometimes-serious, sometimes-funny, often-surprising, always-engaging storytelling. And Glass’ voice – so nasal, yet so benevolent – is the anchor of each of those hours: 584 since the show’s inception in 1995.
So then “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” melds live talking by Glass with live dancing by Barnes and Bass with radio interviews re-staged as dance pieces and ... well, it’ll all make sense on Saturday night.
“There’s a specific moment in the show where the three of us feel the audience relax and trust us. It comes 18 minutes into the show, and I’ll just say it’s a moment that involves balloons,” Glass says.
Since their debut performance at Carnegie Hall in 2013, Glass & Co. have brought “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” to dozens of U.S. cities – roughly one per month – including to the Durham Performing Arts Center last July.
In fact, Glass is no stranger to the state, having done extensive reporting here in his 20s for NPR stories about poultry production. He also has vacationed in the Outer Banks. And with “This American Life” airing weekly on 14 N.C. stations – including WFAE (NPR, 90.7) in Charlotte – Glass is routinely pulled in our direction.
“North Carolina seems better than where I live,” says Glass, a Baltimore native who has lived in New York City for the past 10 years. “Though, I have to say, I feel that about almost anyplace I go. ... Anyplace I go, I feel like, ‘Oh, we would do so much better if we lived here.’ I love my wife, but we’d be happier if we lived in more than two rooms. It would be nice if our dog’s feet could touch the grass every now and then. It’s just sad. It’s so expensive here.
“If we lived in North Carolina,” he continues, “we could totally afford to get a house, like middle-class people have for the last 200 years in this country.”
(Glass and his wife, Anaheed Alani, have lived since 2012 in a 950-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, a neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. Yes, it cost $1.2 million, but the fact that the square footage is south of four figures indicates that it’s no sprawling estate.)
He continues on his roll:
“A friend of my goddaughter’s is moving to Brooklyn, and he found for $800 a month he could get a room in an apartment with other roommates, but the room had no windows. For $800,” Glass says. “So it seemed kind of like an Abu Ghraib situa... no, no, I take that back. Abu Ghraib was much, much worse than that. But it was sort of like an isolation-cell situation. That you’re paying for.”
It comes off as a slightly awkward quip, but a slightly awkward sense of humor has always been part of Glass’ charm. And you’ll see that familiar side of him if you attend the show on Saturday night, as well as a side of him that’s not quite as recognizable – if the rumors are true and he does a little bit of dancing. (He’s mum on the topic.)
Another thing you’ll get to witness at the Charlotte show? The end.
After Saturday night, “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” goes international, with four shows in Australia in July (two each at the State Theatre in Melbourne and the Sydney Opera House) and one in London in August.
Then, Glass says, they’ll retire the idea. Which means our city gets a special distinction: “You’ll be the last Americans to see this show,” he says.
“We want it to be all Americans, by the way. We’re gonna be checking passports, and IDs, and we’re gonna build a wall around the theater, and that’s how it’s gonna go. We want to be sure that it’s American,” Glass says. “All right, I’m sorry. I feel like I’m saying that in a sarcastic tone that might not translate in the newspaper, so let me just add: Please understand, this is a joke.”
‘Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host’
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.3acts2dancers1radiohost.com.