Ontroerend Goed @ State Theatre Company Rehearsal Room
2:00pm, Thu 7 Mar 2013
I’m super early for my Internal session, and I’m excited: I know absolutely nothing about the work, and the Festival staff I chat to beforehand are giving little away… and the few snippets they do reveal intrigue me no end. “I hope everyone turns up,” one of them says; “there must be five in the audience, and yesterday there were no-shows.”
But they clam up with details thereafter, so we chat about the periphery of managing theatre-goers: about the presumed entitlement of latecomers, about people taking photos in the audience, and about how the ushers (almost always thanklessly) shut them down (including hanging around to ensure the photos/movies have been deleted).
Luckily, all five of the audience have turned up: two women, a younger couple (in their thirties?), and myself. We go downstairs, wind our way through the corridors until we reach a space with five white crosses on the floor. “Stand on them,” we’re told by our accompaniment, “and face the curtain.” We do so, giggling: the proximity of the crosses to the curtain has our noses almost touching the cloth. I’m at the far left.
The curtain lifts, and there’s five other people a foot away from us. Directly across from us. Staring at us. The eye contact is hard to break, to look down the line at the performers. After a few (tense, almost uncomfortable) moments, the performers start changing positions one-at-a-time; the tall bearded man I was originally facing is replaced by an even taller, unspeakably gorgeous woman. We look into each other’s eyes, but She’s so tall that I can’t see Her through my glasses – more over them.
She ever-so-gently slides her hand into the small of my back and guides me away from the rest of the group; on the other side of the rehearsal space are five small booths, dimly lit within but fronted by translucent black curtains. She guides me into the middle of these booths, and gestures for me to sit at the small table within; She sits opposite, Her every movement elegant and considered. Refined. We look into each others eyes, and I feel compelled to quietly say “Hello”; She just smiles back.
On the table is a small lamp, a bottle of Cointreau, and two small glasses; She pours two measures of the drink (a personal favourite), pushes one glass towards me. I pick it up, we clink glasses in a silent toast, we drink. I’m starting to hear burbles of conversation from the other booths; I feel like we should be talking, that I’m missing a cue for this interaction. “It’s much smoother on ice,” I say to Her, motioning to the drink; She just looks back at me, faint smile and those deep brown eyes.
I’m gulping, She’s sipping considerately; I finish the drink, put my glass down, then return my gaze to Her. “I’m feeling a bit lost,” I say, “Should I be… doing… something?”
She smiles, and very quietly – but firmly – says “There’s no need to talk.” Her eyes soften; She reaches for my hand and starts slowly squeezing it with Hers, running Her thumb over the back of my hand.
We stare at each other a moment, and something in her eyes changes; something flashes into my mind: we’re breaking up. This can’t work. But then She uses Her other hand to flatten mine out, and explores its shape with Her fingertips; the hand then moves up. She lightly touches my face, my hair, my neck; I’m a sucker for neck contact, so I find myself craning to allow her all the access to my neck She wants. She grabs both my hands, and we stare – deeply? – into each others eyes for a moment, before She lifts my right hand to Her face.
I trace Her jawline, Her ear, gently touch Her hair; it feels somehow wrong to be doing this, but there’s an intimacy within the space that is really blurring the lines between the performance I want to give, and the performance I think I should give. But, with our eyes still locked together, I trace Her jaw line one more time and return my hand on top of Hers; She smiles softly, encourages me from my seat, and we leave the booth.
There’s now a circle of chairs in the middle of the room, and She seats me in one of the chairs that faces all the booths; I see all the other “couples” talking, giggling; it all looks completely foreign to the experience I just had, silent and potent and tactile and a little bit uncomfortable. I feel a little jealous of them in their chatty enclaves. One by one the other couples come out and sit down; once all ten of us are seated, the performers go around the circle introducing their “dates”. I’m last in the cycle, and I realise my “date” wouldn’t know my name; Her turn comes to speak, and She smokily looks at me: “I don’t need to know his name.”
Around the circle again, the actors talk about the other’s positives: “We touched each other… in a dark place,” She says. The words look smutty on the screen as I type this, but She had imbued them with a tenderness.
Around the circle again, negatives this time: “There is nothing bad to say about him.”
Once more around… how do the performers rate their dates out of ten? Would we see them again? There’s a few scores, cheeky giggles at the discrepancies. One couple kiss; the male audient’s partner squealed in horror. One couple is shy, and they take turns whispering their thoughts to us with their opposite out of earshot; then comes my date.
She turns to face me. She flicks her hair back behind Her shoulders, reaches behind her neck; one woman on the other side of the circle gasps “oh my god” as she sees my date undo her dress. The dress is folded down, revealing Her (glorious, it must be said) bare breasts; “Is this what you wanted to see?” She said.
Confusion; I can’t look straight at them. I can’t.
But I’m honest, always honest. “Not really,” I say. The words come out quiet, nervous, probably unconvincing. Strangely enough (and, in retrospect, bucking the stereotype) all I wanted to do is look into those brown eyes again.
The dress is back on, and She takes my hand, gets me to stand; soft music starts playing, and She puts one hand on my shoulder and takes my hand in the other. I grab her waist, and we start dancing – I think I hear quiet giggles and gasps from the other four audience members, but I can’t really tell as we dance slowly and I want to pull Her in closer to me but I don’t know what my role is and She’s so tall that if I hugged her I’d be burying my face in those breasts that had recently been exposed to me and sweet jesus this feels good. Warm, comforting. I realise that the others are being encouraged to dance too; soon they’re all up, we’re all dancing. She leans down and whispers to me – “I’d like to send you something. Can I have your address?” “Sure,” I say, half intoxicated by the emotions of the experience, and I scrawl out my address without even considering what the result may be.
Eventually, the audience – the guests – are encouraged to return to the white crosses, and we face each other one last time. Three kisses on the cheek. “Goodbye.” “…Thank you.”
And the curtain drops.
We look at each other in disbelief for a moment, before the laughter begins.
As we were guided up the stairs, one of the staff members asked who my date had been; I stammered in my attempt to describe the experience. “Oh, you got the silent booth,” she grinned, and it took all the self-control I had not to blurt the secrets of Internal out in front of the next group waiting for this… almost unbelievable experience.
And then, a week later, some mail arrived.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 7, 2013