Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist

Sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure

Sam Ward is a bisexual, sleepy guy that tells us about five sexual encounters he has via a site called Craigslist. Sam and the audience begin an hour of exchange. It is an exchange of trust more than anything else. We become closer to Sam and to the other bodies around us. We didn’t plan to reveal any of ourselves, and we don’t have to, but we see Sam’s vulnerability and in exchange we let ourselves be vulnerable for him.

Craigslist is essentially a personal ads website that is sometimes used for sex. Sam talks to us about the sex bit and boy, is there a sex bit. There’s no money involved in Craigslist, any adverts that are sexual and involve money are shut down pretty quickly. But much of the sex that happens via the site is short. The encounters last no longer than an hour usually, and it’s unlikely that they’re ever repeated. It’s sort of like a theatre show. Within the performance realm, there’s no acting, there is simply storytelling and metaphor. In each encounter that Sam takes us through, gently, he asks if someone doesn’t mind helping him. So then some audience members become those on the other end of his encounter, and what we see is a creation of connection forming and moving within the theatrical space. The participants, for the most part, are the metaphors. They peel carrots into microphones, confess their love for each other, and pop balloons.

Sam also tells us about Elaine and Arthur Aron who wrote a paper called ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness’, a psychological research paper that investigated how you can become close to another person. They stated that there were 36 questions which allow for the level of intimacy needed to feel truly connected to another person. The first time I saw this show, I was asked a few of these questions and it was not until the end that I realised the affect they had. I felt opened out, like a really old library book that hadn’t been read for a while. Sam is so welcoming, so warm, and the relationship he creates is not between performer and audience, but a communal exchange of intimacy.

An exposure lives at the heart of this piece. A vulnerable and delicate exposure that if mishandled could end up tearing a rift in the tender gap between audience and performer. It is not mishandled here, in fact, that gap seems to fade altogether and what is left is just us, in a room. As we are asked the questions and told of the encounters, our walls splinter and crack, leaving us bare but warm. It seems trivial to say this show was an exploration of how we connect to each other. It wasn’t a show so much as a telling and re-telling, a revealing of body and heart, a shape moulded by experience and by audience; by people. Elaine and Arthur Aron state that a key pattern in the development of close interpersonal relationships is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure. Perhaps this is what happens in that room, and as we hear his story, a relationship moulds itself in the spaces in between.

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