Just You, Me and Everyone Else: Onstage Dating

Bron Batten.jpg

“That is what our online dates are: squeezing the bowels of the internet for... what? True love?”


First dates are hard — especially when they’re in a bunker, on a budget, with a healthy-sized audience watching. Bron Batten’s 'Onstage Dating' is a challenging exploration of psychology, romance, and our inane human mating rituals. We caught up with Batten to find out how she manages to create an intimate reality around her voyeuristic first date, and why audiences can't help but fall in love with her.

Fringebiscuit: What prompted your initial devising process?

Bron: I hadn’t actually dated [anyone] in the formal extent of the word. I thought, 'What is that process of going to meet a stranger?' There’s a hopefulness and a vulnerability to it. It’s such a brave act.

FB: What kinds of people did you date for research?

Bron: I met really sweet people, and really mean people, ha. I went on lots and lots of dates and met people I wouldn’t normally. Everyone has been on a date, people tell me all sorts of things.

FB: How did the show come about?

B: It was made, originally, for a live art festival — I wanted to make it so it had a broader appeal. You need to make it layered so it appeals to art people, but also those who can come in and say, yeah, that’s funny. I want to make things that people enjoy! The challenge I always set myself is to make it artistically rigorous.

FB: How do you decide who to date from the Audience?

B: I generally choose men — it’s different every time, performing the show — literally all the men have to do is not be arseholes. This was the 57th time, haha.

FB: How do you build a trust with the audience in such a short space of time?

B: Putting that trust in the audience — I do trust the audience because, in 57 times, there’s always something redeemable and likeable. It’s an act of trust to go on a date — but, also, do a show. I’m just like ‘Look at this person, aren’t they great?’.

FB: How do you manage how personal things get in front of the audience and strike that balance?

B: People have told me incredible stuff! The questions are deceptively simple. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I do want to provide the space. Once you grow up you’re not allowed to be silly, and play, and be ridiculous — and that’s a rush of adrenaline! I provide the space for someone to play along; the more the guy flirts, or plays along, or is silly — the more the audience goes, ‘Yeah — we like seeing this person play’.

FB: Does it ever go further than the first date? How real is the date for you?

B: I’ve been on two second dates with guys on the show… and they’ve been disasters! The dancing, for me, is the most real moment — it normally gets to be their favourite romantic song. It’s so different every night — people love the possibility of romance. I have to tread the line so carefully — if I insult the date, I insult the audience.

FB: What’s your opinion of online dating?

B: When you’re on a first date, you’re performing — it’s an elaborate version of yourself that you’ve constructed. Live first dates — the stakes are so great, watching two strangers and thinking ‘They might fall in love’. It’s weird, nowadays we have so much choice — we constantly search. It’s like when you go to a restaurant and have 100 options on the menu, I’m like, 'Can you give me five..?' Online dating is great because you’ve got the access to the internet, but also, it’s about that tyranny of choice.

FB: What’s the best and worst date you’ve ever been on?

B: Best date…someone who was so intrigued — that thing of active listening, like, ‘Tell me more about how you used to dress up as a whale!’ Maybe he was trying to get me into bed, but there was a look — a vibe. The worst is that disappointed look when they see you like, ‘Ahh…’. The worst — seriously — I was timing the whole date. He had this monologue for like three hours and did not ask me one single question about myself! It’s interesting, offline we tend to make people reinforce your view of the world — the guy I had this amazing date with was this right wing, military guy, and I’m this lefty, weirdo artist.

FB: How do you create the narrative each night?

B: In terms of structure, we worked really hard on the arc of it. Every time I perform it’s different — the improv changes, adjusting to the energy of the person. I’ve done it with gay guys and it becomes this really camp thing, like, ‘Let’s play at heterosexuality!’. It was two years in the making and every choice that happens is considered. But, also, the unpredictability is the audience. How can you do it with someone you don’t know? This is like my superpower: I can sense when people are on Tinder dates at a bar now. It’s a beautiful thing.

You can see Bron Batten in 'Onstage Dating' at Underbelly, Cowgate until August 26. Tickets here.