This American Life: The Invisible Made Visible (VHX, NR)

theinvisible 75I’m not even going to mention how David Sedaris is made up—you’ll have to discover that for yourself.


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You probably know This American Life as a radio program on NPR (produced by Chicago Public Radio, it is carried on over 500 stations), but sometimes Ira Glass and the crew go on the road and do live shows in theaters, as well. The most recent of these shows was “The Invisible Made Visible,” performed at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on May 10, 2012, and beamed into thousands of theaters nationwide. Beginning Nov. 15, you can purchase a video of this show (download or livestream) from and order the DVD from the show’s web store (

I heard the radio version of “The Invisible Made Visible” and it was pretty good that way, but seeing it is better. That’s not such a surprise, because the stage show incorporated all kinds of visual forms—dance, animation, film—that really don’t translate to the radio. The difference is obvious from the very opening segment, as Ryan Knighton discusses being unable to locate the telephone in his hotel room (he’s blind).Watching his explorations recreated by animation at the same time that he’s telling the story gives the experience a new dimension.

David Rakoff is one of my all-time favorite writers and performers, and I knew about his fight with cancer, but seeing him on stage really brought it home (Rakoff died this past August). Rather oddly, although Rakoff had spent most of his career discussing his life at an ironic remove, he let down his guard that night to perform a solo dance that, of course, you have to see to appreciate.

What else do you get with the video that you don’t get with the radio performance? First of all, at two hours, the live show is about twice as long. Second, it’s visual (duh). You get to see how cute Tig Notaro is (even though I find her famous story about Taylor Dane less humorous than other people seem to), play along on a song with OK Go (I used my computer, but there is also a mobile app for you smartphone users), watch two dance performances by Anna Bass and Monica Bill Barnes (by far the most interesting dancing I’ve seen in some time), see Vivian Maier’s photos, and watch a short film by Mike Birbiglia. You also get to see David Sedaris and Glynn Washington perform comic monologues before animated backgrounds. And I’m not even going to mention how Sedaris is made up—you’ll have to discover that for yourself.

As someone living more or less in the back of beyond, I’m all in favor of streaming live performances to theaters—it’s not just the Metropolitan Opera anymore—as well as releasing the shows on VOD and DVD, for those who missed them the first time around. “The Invisible Made Visible” is a welcome addition to this trend. It’s worth mentioning that the proceeds go directly to This American Life, so you’re helping to support the show as well as getting some great entertainment at a reasonable price (the VOD is $5, the DVD $16). | Sarah Boslaugh

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