Happy Hour brings the party to Hancher

Two ‘businessmen’ tackle cultural problems with slapstick, taking dance to unexpected places in unorthodox ways.


Think dance. Unthink.

Think buttery popcorn. Unthink.

Fall into slap-a-doodle dandy. Unfall.

You’re getting closer. Maybe.

Today and Friday, Monica Bill Barnes & Company will produce Happy Hour in Hancher’s Strauss Hall. The production puts office antics in a new light, with Barnes and Anna Bass playing two men, one in a well-worn gray suit, the other in blue.

The duo will focus on bringing dance to unusual places through purposefully goofy and outlandish dancing and singing. Different colored streamers will will run along the ceilings, and tablecloths will be host to the snack tables.

The company is coming from New York to put on the performance. They previously produced such shows as One Night Only, The Museum Workout, and Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, which employed the idea that dance has no limits of where it can be or should be.

The two performers dress as businessmen going to an “after-hours business party” in which there will be dancing, music, and karaoke, and the audience members have the opportunity to participate in the party. Some will get snacks that could easily be found in a low-budget party. The audience’s arrival marks the beginning of the unorthodox party.

“When we do it in New York, we lay wall-to-wall carpet,” Barnes said. “We decorate this room to look like a conference room and serve cocktails, M&Ms, and popped popcorn in the microwave and really throw people off the expectation in how you usually see a modern setup and watch modern dance.”

Happy Hour was created three years ago with no intention of being performed for more than a single year, but after drawing large crowds in New York, the company decided to continue putting on the show.

The show was created with the idea of changing the way people watch dance. The company members want people to connect with them, rather than just showing off their theater talents.

“With each show there’s either in its location or its collaborators, the situation and the content of the show really marry around the central theme of making relatable work,” Barnes said. “We’ve been here for a good while, and I don’t see anyone even being interested in making the kind of work we make, so I think we have a unique style in the kind of work we’re making.”

Hancher chose Barnes & Company because of the unique type of performance it puts on. While in Iowa City, the troupe will also work with the Dance Department helping create a brand-new piece for the department that will be performed at Hancher later this semester.

“We want to make sure art is accessible,” said Micah James, Hancher’s education manager. “We’re getting these world-famous artists, these world-class artists coming to Iowa City, coming to Hancher, and for most of the shows, not all, students can see them for $10.”

Barnes aims to make her performances relatable and sees her work as a sporting event in which people actually have a stake in the outcome.

“I think we’ve done a lot of work that brings humor together with some issues of what you expect to see women do and what you don’t expect them to do,” she said. “I think a lot of the humor comes from our willingness to do things that don’t feel particularly feminine or graceful, which is sort of a fun thing that runs against our training. As a dancer, you’re trained to be graceful on stage, and we purposefully undercut that with the kind of performing we do.”

The company has traveled all over the country, bringing slapstick to stages both large and small. The members take cultural assumptions and use those to tailor their humor for their performances.

“The same joke replays a few too many times,” wrote Siobhan Burke in a review for the *New York Times*. “But it’s still a joyful respite from the 9-to-5 grind or whatever your grind may be. If office parties are meant to boost morale, this one does its job.”


Happy Hour

When: 6:30 & 9 p.m. today 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Hancher Strauss Hall

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