Monday, December 23, 2019

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: “A Cocktail Party Social Experiment” by Wil Petre at Chelsea Music Hall

The concept of “A Cocktail Party Social Experiment” is to forge real time connection with your fellow party goers. Smartphones were strictly prohibited at this event (no silent mode or airplane mode!!). However, if you are a non-drinker like me you did have the option of something non-alcoholic. In my case, I chose seltzer with lime. The seltzer was definitely fizzy, probably more fizzy than I typically get it. That put a smile on my face.

For those unfamiliar with Chelsea Music Hall, it's a venue tucked in plain sight right near the Chelsea Market and other more familiar haunts in the Meatpacking District. I was directed to the basement (which, even if you wanted to have an Internet connection to use your smartphone you likely wouldn't be getting). Being an introvert, it's probably interesting + ironic that I chose this event to review (though I'd have to correct you & explain than I'm an ambivert, which means if you talk to me I'll have a conversation with you and not be an ass unless you behave like one towards me). My ambivert self was definitely wondering at first whether this would be my scene since I came alone with no crowd & even smiling at random people tends to lead them to conclusions I'd rather they not assume (I'm out of THAT phase of my divorce & even when I was in it, I had standards). Call it a combo of the New Yorker in me and the massive crowd. I liked the jazz feel of the venue as well as the rows of lights on the ceiling and the pushed out look of that ceiling. There were also some repeat attendees at this event, which at first I found odd until we went through it.

Before the show, you have the option of putting your name in a bucket (perhaps the one I saw labeled “test subjects”?) to be drawn at random. If your name comes up, you are invited to the cocktail party. This party takes place on the stage where our host and creator of the event, Wil Petre guides the action along with various organizers in lab coats. There was also a random question asked in paper form to audience members: What is the thing you dread or are most excited about concerning the holidays? (I'm paraphrasing this). I saw people write their responses then stick them in a bucket labeled “samples” so I followed suit.

Wil & His Lovely Assistant - Photo by Karen May

So once our guests were established, (though one was a late comer; there's always one in every group) the game began. For you old school folk, they had an overhead projector to display where we were in this event and what cards were selected. The way this works is there's a host who picks someone to draw cards. Our “guest of honor” draws a large card and a small card.

Cards - Photo by Karen May

The images on the cards chosen are displayed on this overhead projector (seeing it made me think of this elementary school classmate who lived in my neighborhood & was known as the local ruffian but never bothered me; he said every time our teacher used the overhead, he'd get sleepy).

Wil & the Overhead Projector - Photo by Karen May

The host has a book that decodes what these cards mean. Based on what the cards mean, the host asks our guest of honor a question. Here are the questions that came up at this event:

1. What is your body capable of?

2. If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

3. In what way could a stranger think you're mysterious?

4. Who is gone but not forgotten?

5. Do your relationships define who you are? Why or why not?

6. From what have you been tempted to throw up your hands & walk away?

7. For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?

8. Of what could you say you're a master of?

Deep stuff, right? The first question got a laugh and if you don't know why, you definitely don't belong at this event because you're either too young or too dim (I wouldn't bring my young kids though if the venue didn't serve alcohol, older teens might be okay). The guest of honor is also given the beverage of their heart's desire before being called to answer.

So after the guest of honor answers the question, that individual picks another “guest of honor” who goes through the same process. The person who invited me to this event actually was one of the guests of honor and I learned something about her that it turns out might become relevant to my professional endeavors. The story she told was definitely one that connected with the audience.

However, the answers to these questions went in all kinds of directions. From humor to sadness to social justice matters and insight you might not necessarily pick up just walking along in your day to day life. One guy who was picked said that he was an introvert and shy about such matters but had put his name into the bucket thinking he'd not get picked and due to peer pressure from friends.

This game actually reminded me of Cards Against Humanity (which I didn't get in the divorce & I debated on picking up a year ago when I saw a starter pack on sale at Target). If you've not played that, you should if you're old enough; it's not a game for the easily offended or the younger set.

Knowing the history of how Cards Against Humanity came to be (my ex actually got some of the online exclusive packs), I wondered if this has been mass marketed. The host told us that they're working on this. I could definitely see this being a game lawyers could enjoy, the intellectuals that we are.

However, since you can't play at home yet you do get the option to see this show in person and gain insight on your fellow audience members along with their life experiences. It would be interesting to see how this might play out in areas outside of Chelsea, Manhattan. What about the Midwest or the South or some area where there is less variation on national origin, life experience and the like? I still think even in those atmospheres you'd gain some insight and perspective that you didn't previously have. These are the kinds of events and games where you get to know someone and certainly in a more meaningful way than you do on the Internet or through Facebook/Instagram/other social media networks people are using. I also like that this isn't a game where you have to be an expert in something to have any fun or gain any value from it. When people were more short with their answers or had less to say, fellow guests would probe further and follow up on what they said so if you were more quiet you'd definitely not get lost in the blur of extroverts and loudness that typically happen.

If you're tired of the lack of human connection, you really need to check out this show. Perhaps you can help make this game happen so the masses can be amused and informed, another Cards Against Humanity if you will.

The Cocktail Party Experiment in Progress - Photo by Karen May

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