Work in Progress, Camden People’s Theatre
Sam wants to talk to you about Five Encounters he had on a Site Called Craigslist. This work-in-progress has a desperation to it, a rawness that should carry through to whatever the final iteration of this piece is. The stories themselves are quite ordinary, but it is Sam himself who draws you in and leaves you wanting more. Not necessarily more of the show, but more of his company. He seems like the kind of person you feel safe around.
Five Encounters uses anecdotes and a lot of audience participation to question how we as people can forge meaningful relationships. Something that kept coming up was the work by Arthur and Elaine Aron, The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. Thirty-six questions that are aimed to study emotional connection between two people. This study was originally sparked by the two researchers falling in love, and it’s used in this piece to explore connections between complete strangers.
Sam talks openly about the culture of casual sex perpetuated by advances in technology. The usage of online dating has tripled for under 25s in the last three years. More than 60 million people use Craigslist each month in the US alone. Does this mean we’re getting less capable of experiencing “interpersonal closeness”, as Arthur and Elaine Aron call it? Is it easier to be close with strangers than partners? Who knows. One of the great things about this show is that it doesn’t attempt to answer any of these things. It just gives you questions, the kind of which you may only come across whilst in the midst of an existential crisis.
There was a point in Five Encounters where I felt uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable being in the audience, but uncomfortable being with Sam in that situation. I didn’t want to be there with him, wanted him to get out, to be safe, even though what he was telling us had already happened. His delivery open and honest, every word and action welcoming you into the stories he tells. He brings you with him to every encounter.
After the first encounter, the first time Sam ever met anyone from online for a casual encounter, Sam talks about the walk back to campus. He mentions that he has to adjust his rucksack because the hammer he brought with him is knocking against his back. And it’s the little details like that which jolt you out of the place of comfort he settles you in as an audience member. No matter how much you’re enjoying the piece, there is an element of danger. We’ve all heard the statistics, just most of the time we don’t choose to acknowledge them.
As much as I hate the term, it’s a very brave piece. It’s bare. It’s openly admitting to something that there’s still a taboo around and saying that it’s okay to not be open with people. It’s okay to not know what your sexuality is right now, it’s okay to seek out physical intimacy with no strings attached. You do you.
Sam deals with a lot in this piece, and I left with questions buzzing around my head. More questions for myself than anything else. And I’m intrigued to see what Sam does with it now. It’s funny, it’s intimate, and it brings you achingly close to people you may have never known had it not been for this show.