Melbourne Fringe 2012

Silent Dinner Parties

0 Comments 06 October 2012

At least two hours of silence with more than twenty strangers you have never met. A three-course vegan dinner in a private residence. No technological gizmos permitted. As a meat-eater with a penchant for talking and a fear of silent moments lasting more than two seconds lest they be deemed ‘awkward’, Honi Ryan’s Silent Dinner Party was a journey into the unknown, an experiment in social interaction and an environment where prized words were a forbidden means of communication.

With a sense of trepidation and a desire to talk as much as one possibly could in the moments leading up to the silent dinner party, I arrived at the private residence to hoards of people waiting by the house. Nervous, excited chatter filled the air as those who came alone shifted from one foot to the other in barely concealed anticipation.

As we were guided into the rear courtyard of the house, we were greeted with a sprawling table nestled under fairy lights bathing the courtyard in a pleasant glow. Soon the source of the mouth-watering smells become apparent – an array of dips and pita bread awaited us on the table. The awkward, furtive glances between attendees gave way to muted appreciation of the food as we tucked in with as much enthusiasm as a silent person could muster.

With a disarming smile, congenial host Honi made the rounds, waving to everyone who caught her eye and instructing her helpers to cover the labels of our alcoholic beverages with masking tape. Throughout the night, Honi was a reassuring presence, offering doonas to those who were cold, covertly capturing moments of the night and actively participating in the event that was her brainchild.

After the dips and bread were devoured, people slowly attempted to communicate with one another – an exercise that required oodles of creativity and a unique skill set usually reserved for a game of charades.

It was a constant source of bewilderment how people managed to explain their lives using nothing more than their hands and faces. I learned that the guy next to me had been in a relationship with the girl opposite him for the past 12 years, while a lady elsewhere on somehow managed to express that she is the head of a nurses’ union as we discovered two girls seated nearby met when they performed together in a play.

Despite featuring no sounds other than the odd titter, laugh or shriek, the atmosphere was lively and convivial. We amused ourselves with infantile hand gestures (rude ones, more often than not) as we became well-versed in the art of sign language – if it could be even called that.

Mistakes were made as information was relayed through the most rudimentary ways but instead of inspiring consternation, everyone was relaxed and even tickled by the various interpretations. Rather than impeding conversation, the absence of words only strengthened the desire for understanding between the people sitting around the table.

Every half-hour, we were served with food – easily enough time to familiarise ourselves with each other between courses. Befitting the occasion, the Moroccan-themed dishes were unpretentious, hearty and most importantly, utterly delicious.

Perhaps the most lasting impression from the night was the shared camaraderie and inexplicable bond forged with one another. Despite basic facts – such as our names – remaining unknown until the very end, we successfully learnt about each other’s lives and were united in the fact that we all partook in this very atypical event.

And, in an event that Honi called “unique” to our dinner party, there was a spontaneous marriage proposal. Armed with nothing more than a bottlecap ring haphazardly held together by masking tape, Joel lowered himself to one knee in front of his partner Karen and asked her to marry him. The entire room erupted in a wordless hubbub, and the proposed stood there dumbfounded with tears in her eyes; needless to say, she was lost for words as she accepted his proposal without actually saying “yes”. Various people strode up to congratulate the couple with hugs and kisses – a sign of the bond that had grown despite only meeting for the first time only two hours ago.

Silent Dinner Parties runs until 7 October at private residences around Melbourne. Tickets are $55 full-price.

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