These days, finding love online is easier and more common than ever before. According to one poll, 32.2 million people in the United States alone are active on online dating sites in 2020, up from 26.1 million in 2017. But some matches, it would seem, are more memorable than others. One of the smash hits of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist sees Sam Ward sharing his experiences of posting to Craigslist in search not for employment opportunities, but for men to have sex with.
Sitting alone on the stage in dungarees and bare feet, Ward recounts each Craigslist encounter in great detail, describing the living room in the first encounter as graphically as the blowjob that took place in it. The juxtaposition of Ward’s deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery with the extremely adult themes makes for very entertaining viewing – watch him calmly intoning lines like “I put a hand on his bum and I tell him I like it” and try not to crack a smile.
Yet for all Ward’s natural charm and the hilarity of the lines he delivers, Five Encounters… wouldn’t be half what it is without the audience’s involvement. For each of the encounters, Ward invites a member of the audience to help him tell the story – in the first encounter, a girl comes up to recite the lines of the man to whom Ward is giving oral sex, using a carrot, a wet sponge and a balloon as props. At the halfway point, Ward goes further and gets everyone in the audience to write down one thing they regret not telling someone (one of 36 questions curated by psychologist Arthur Aron, which can supposedly foster a romantic connection between people), then collects these in a cardboard box to be read out later on. These and other such moments of audience participation bring the encounters to life and help them feel more real to those watching.
This, sadly, is also why the recording of the show – recently made available to watch online for free by YesYesNoNo – doesn’t demand the same attention as it does in person. The heavy involvement of the audience, coupled with the often long gaps between encounters during which Ward banters with them, makes it a lot harder to engage with the stories and feel part of them from the other side of a computer screen, particularly in the show’s second half. The content in itself, however, is undoubtedly creative and well-put together, especially given how sparse the cast and stage setup are. Five Encounters is well worth your time if you ever have the chance to see it live.
Words by Nat Schaefer.
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