MBB & Co in Happy Hour. Photo by Mallory Lynn

In The Studio: Monica Bill Barnes Gets Refreshingly Real About Happy Hour

If you've been following our "In The Studio" series you know that most of our episodes take place in just that—a studio. But at a dress rehearsal for Monica Bill Barnes & Company's latest project Happy Hour, I found myself in what looked like an episode of "The Office" on a day of shooting an after-work party.


Before the company began their rehearsal I sat down with Barnes to discuss the refreshingly relatable comedy of her work:

MBB & Co puttin' some moves down in "Happy Hour." Photo by Grant Halverson

When it comes to figuring out what's funny, do you let the audience's reaction dictate the work and tweak from there, or is it a more rigorous process during the development of a piece?

I'm interested in using comedy as a way to make the work relatable. I find often the audience is laughing at moments of failure, at moments where they've had a similar experience. The comedy and the laughter can actually be a release from the tension of some of the very sincere performing that Anna [Barnes' longtime performing partner, Anna Bass] and I are doing. So often I find the things that we're crafting to be heartbreaking tend to be the big laughs of the show.

Collaboration is a common theme throughout your work. Is that usually what sparks a new project or does it start from a more singular idea?

The process begins with Anna and I in the studio, anywhere from six months to a year, creating tons and tons of choreography. Then my collaborators, Robbie Saenz de Viteri (Creative Producing Director) and Kelly Hanson (Designer) come in the process and begin to shape the material—giving it meaning that makes it more relatable and broader than just the sequence of moves. So many of the things that I think our audiences really relate to are in the performances, the costumes and the environment that they enter into when the show starts. There are so many pieces that create meaning and the choreography is actually living within it, and that's really where the meaning and the weight of the show resides.

The hilariously smart styles of MBB & Co in "Happy Hour" Photo by Grant Halverson

Do you feel like it's a deliberate choice to make socially conscious work with an element of comic relief?

For the past 20 years we've been invested in thinking about the way that women are represented on stage. How that relates to the world and how that relates to how we're talking and thinking about gender. It is very deliberate that we make work that asks people to think differently about what's funny and how we see women on stage, and how we feel the art form of dance is readable and relatable.


Happy Hour invites audiences to "come for the free drink, stay for the hope of a life-changing experience."

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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