Creator and Host: Wil Petre
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
It is quite frankly impossible to attempt to distill Wil Petre’s insightful immersive experience, A Cocktail Party Experiment at Chelsea Music Hall into one thing that is quantifiable by traditional theatrical standards. Like a cocktail, it is comprised of many singular elements that while on their own are enjoyable, but when brought together, transcend and create something unexpected. Much like pointing to the cocktail with the most unusual-sounding ingredients on the menu and saying, “Oh, this sounds too interesting to pass up,” buying a ticket for A Cocktail Party Experience is an aesthetic adventure that proves effervescent and more than palatable.
Drawing on his stunning ability to create an atmosphere of community and trust, Petre hosts the evening utilizing a game he co-created with Chiaki Murata to conduct the experiment — “Can we create an analog experience in which a group of strangers can get to know each other in a deeper and more meaningful way? Our hypothesis is: Yes”
In this game, guests of honor (who are drawn from a hat containing the names of audience members that volunteered to participate upon entering the space) draw cards from two separate decks. One deck contains drawings of everyday objects, the other is comprised of alchemical symbols. Each pairing of images links directly to a question (and in a tarot-like way, the alchemy points to the overall theme of the question).
It is then that the magic truly begins to happen. The person drawing the cards is asked the question their symbols are associated with. And these are not surface level questions. These are questions about life, death, hope, fear, memory, and dream. These are not things audience members in a room full of strangers get up on stage and talk about while sipping on their drink of choice.
Except that they are. And they do.
The raw honesty and courageous vulnerability of each person willing to participate in the experiment is nothing short of breathtaking. Each person responding at the November 24 performance was thoughtful and daring. Petre leads the evening, but the eight volunteers onstage join in on asking questions and driving the conversation as each participant answers their question. The group onstage – and by extension, the audience – ceases to be a collection of strangers or disparate groups of friends. We become a community in the seventy-five minute run of this show. We look at those around us and connect. We ask our neighbors questions, we look each other in the eye. We are present. We are connected.
Every time this experiment is performed, it will be a singular experience. The participants will be different. The questions will be different. The audience will be different. But I have no doubt that the effect will be the same. Wil Petre has created something singular and special in this one-of-a-kind experience. I personally look forward to visiting the next cocktail party, and maybe I’ll throw my name into the hat to be a guest of honor. I can only hope to be as brave and eloquent as those at the November 24th performance if I am lucky enough for my name to be called.
Whether you’re a cocktail aficionado or a teetotaler, you will leave A Cocktail Party Social Experiment drunk on the human experience.
Runs until 16 December 2019 | Photo Credit: Marcus Middleton