Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is a surprisingly tender, theatrical experiment in the forging of intimacy. Craigslist, Sam explains, is ‘the largest online jobs board’. It also has ‘a sex bit’. In this show, Sam tells us about, you guessed it, five encounters he had on Craigslist with men. He also sees women, he tells us, but this show will only be about the men from Craigslist.
Sam’s approach to these encounters, he repeatedly informs the men, is ‘not wanting to do emotions’. He doesn’t want there to be a life, a relationship beyond that encounter. However, as he shares how he feels about these encounters, I start to wonder whether he really believes no strings attached sex is possible or if that’s what he really wants. In a parallel strand of the show, Sam tells us about psychologist Arthur Aron’s study exploring how to accelerate intimacy between strangers through having them ask each other a series of questions. Sam quotes, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” You may have heard of his work in the ’36 Questions that Lead to Love’ articles that popped up two years ago.
There is extreme audience participation, as Sam asks an audience member to help him create each encounter. They are not naturalistic. In one, Sam sits on a rug and asks a member of the audience to alternate between feeding him grapes and being fed grapes, while he asks her Aron’s questions. The theatrical devices that distinguish each encounter are distancing devices that function to bring us closer, and closening devices that distance. He calls the man the audience member’s name. However, the care he shows to the audience means that the demands he makes of us are not threatening. He picked up on my “Please don’t pick me, Please don’t pick me, Please don’t pick me” vibes. He wants us to feel comfortable. The first thing he says to us in the show is an invitation to take off our shoes. This means that when he does go deeper, when things get confessional, we go with him and share ourselves. One thing he asks the whole audience to do is to write down the thing they regret never telling someone. We can put it in the ‘Yes’ box if we’re comfortable for it to be shared, or the ‘No’ box if we’re not. Made bold by anonymity, I slipped my paper into the ‘Yes’ box. It felt exhilarating to have something I’ve only shared with a handful of people read out to a room of strangers.
Towards the end of the show, Sam confesses something. He feels like a fraud. That the more he tells us, even when it’s true, the less real it sounds. It is a moment of doubt in the project of the show itself. Can real intimacy be created in the theatre? As Sam asks us to raise our hands if we’ve ever felt similarly fraudulent and each member of the audience raises their hand, I think it can, however fleetingly.
Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is on at Zoo, Edinburgh, until 28th August 2017. Click here for more details.