Local Arts

Blumenthal’s ‘Nerdy Nights Out’ mixes some learning with your drinks and entertainment

“Dark Matter,” an examination of one man’s psyche and the entire universe, kicked off the Nerdy NIghts Out series.
“Dark Matter,” an examination of one man’s psyche and the entire universe, kicked off the Nerdy NIghts Out series. Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

If you look at things the right way, dysentery can be a hilarious disease. And how about centuries of history where women’s accomplishments got submerged and forgotten? There’s the basis for a laugh-filled evening, especially when accompanied by cocktails.

Such is the wisdom at Caveat, a Lower East Side lounge in New York City whose tagline is “making entertainment smarter.” Blumenthal Performing Arts has imported this concept for a fall series titled “Nerdy Nights Out,” and, if things go according to plan, will mount a spring version that’s locally produced and performed. If “Nerdy” had a Latin motto, it would be “Dum bibo, cogito” — “While I drink, I think.” Or maybe the other way around.

The series started in late October with “Dark Matter,” an examination of one man’s psyche and the entire universe. It moves on Nov. 16 to “Versus,” which we’ll discuss in a minute, then back-to-back nights on Dec. 13 and 14. “Nevertheless She Existed” will reveal the accomplishments of women hardly anyone knows; “Ride or Die: Oregon Trail Live” adapts the beloved 1980s video game where players tried to cross America as 19th-century pioneers (and yes, frequently succumbed to dysentery).

Any explanation of this wonky concept — and you are about to get one — might not do it justice. To understand it fully, you probably have to visit the club founded by physicist Ben Lillie and performer Kate Downey.

Joe Hunsaker, programming and event manager for Blumenthal Performing Arts, went to Caveat a year ago and immediately wanted to introduce the idea to Charlotte, in what he thinks is the first “season” outside Manhattan. Shows last 60 to 90 minutes and will take place in the Knight Gallery at Spirit Square and QC Social Lounge in the next block, venues similar to Caveat in size.

“They don’t like the word ‘infotainment,’ but that’s probably the best description of what Caveat does,” he said. “I saw, among other things, a biography of Harry Truman, a show about the history of potatoes and an analysis of the history and meaning of every song on a Liz Phair album. They were presented by people who were experts in a funny or entertaining way.

Versus_1600x600.jpg
“Versus” is a game that pits two experts (and teams of audience members who side with each) in an argument that can never be settled, such as whether roller coasters are cooler than rocket ships. Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

“Sometimes they were scientists, sometimes comedians who had researched their material thoroughly. The comedians were working up smart jokes for their acts, and the intellectuals were working on their speaking skills and learning how to get past stage fright.”

Take “Versus,” a game that pits two experts (and teams of audience members who side with each) in an argument that can never be settled, such as whether roller coasters are cooler than rocket ships. In Charlotte, guests will hear the eternal “plants. vs. animals” debate, with an expert yet to be determined representing the former and someone from Carolina Raptor Center speaking for the latter. Information and libations will flow throughout the game.

Created at Caveat

Hunsaker didn’t have to argue his boss, Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard, into trying this idea: Gabbard had been to Caveat before him and had sent a mass e-mail about it to his staff. Gabbard, Hunsaker and Blumenthal booking manager Stephanie Cantrell Dowds attended a boot camp over a long weekend at Caveat, learning how the model worked. They took along two prominent creative people from Charlotte: Joni Deutsch, manager of on-demand content and audience engagement at WFAE-FM, and Matt Olin, founder of CreativeMornings.

Hunsaker didn’t just want their input about what to import. He hopes they and other creative people of every stripe in Charlotte will want to shape local programs that follow this template. He might find such folks at talkbacks after shows, which are open to anyone, or cocktail parties before shows open by invitation to creative Charlotteans. (You can reach him at jhunsaker@blumenthalarts.org.)

Hunsaker, who’s 43, grew up in an era when “nerd” had a pejorative tinge. But he knows it’s now used to define a well-informed fan — a “Star Wars” nerd, a Beyonce nerd, even a Carolina Panthers nerd — so the title “Nerdy Nights Out” can be viewed as a compliment.

“With all the ignorance in the world, it was refreshing to see the intelligence in the room at Caveat,” he said “I thought, ‘We’re OK. The smart people are still here.’ But there’s no elitist vibe, nobody talking down to you. You have a couple of drinks, you learn something new, you have a good time.”

Nerdy Nights Out

Where: Nov. 16: “Versus,” QC Social Lounge, 300 N. College St.; Dec. 13: “Nevertheless She Existed,” Knight Gallery, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.; Dec. 14: “Ride or Die: Oregon Trail Live,” Knight Gallery.

When: All shows start at 8 p.m.

Cost: General admission tickets are $9.32 (plus taxes and fees, hence the odd amount), and a cash bar is offered.

Details: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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