“It’s not a trick, it’s just a gateway to communicating openly with someone.”
Based on a psychological study by Arthur Aron, 36 Questions premieres next week at the Basement Theatre.
The show is under production by actor Simon Ward. Introduced to the concept last year through this popular NY Times article, Ward wanted to find a way to bring it’s premise to the stage.
“I just found the idea fascinating. I’ve been through years of acting classes and gone through those sort of exercises with connecting and focus, and that sort of thing, so it really spoke to that… It made sense to me.”
The article that inspired Ward is written by Mandy Lee Catron. It features Catron undergoing a series of 36 questions with a relatively unknown acquaintance. These 36 questions are designed to push the participants into a willing sense of intimacy, moving at a pace that is relatively comfortable, yet also thrusting them months forward in their relationship. The article ends with the pair falling in love, though the author admits this may have happened anyway. 36 Questions aims to turn this experience into an exhibition, with two strangers meeting each night to undergo the experiment publically. No acting, no rehearsals, just real connections.
Known more for his work on stage than off, Ward originally ran this idea past a producer friend. His contact was certain 36 Questions needed something more to justify its staging, however Ward maintains that any theatrical tampering would defeat is original and pure purpose.
“And then she ended up moving overseas so I just decided to see if the Basement would go for it, and they did.”
The Basement Theatre’s immediate interest might have originally surprised Ward, however the public’s response quickly revealed the popularity of this concept.
“I made the Facebook page and had done my sweep through of invites and the numbers kept ticking up - I’m not inviting more people? So the people who expressed interest, I started looking through, and I didn’t know half of them!”
Ward accounts this interest to the authentic nature of 36 Questions. With a surplus in Auckland of both chaotic and pristine theatre, maybe people just want to see something really genuine.
This interest is likewise present in some of its applicants (Ward set up a Facebook page to scout potential partakers), though the actor has also been surprised by the hesitation of many.
“People are weirdly intimidated by it. I think there is this idea of chemistry between people, as being something a little bit magical and hard to pin down. The way some people have reacted to the idea of doing it, you have to reassure them they’re not being hypnotised or anything.”
While Ward maintains this stance, he also admits he has never actually participated in the experiment, something he does feel is a bit “cheeky”. Which lead us to the second (and much more extensive) part of the interview. In a noisy café on Queen Street, Ward and I decided to tackle the questions that will feature in the show. What followed was a mash-up of hesitation, laughter, and you guessed it, intimacy. I found myself revealing my inner workings to this stranger, and quickly became invested in both his past experiences and future aspirations. The experience ended with us feeling undeniably connected, not romantically, but irrevocably none-the-less. The producer had previously told me, it’s not necessarily about a romantic love, but about forming a connection with almost anyone. Had Simon Ward and I met in a bar in Auckland would we have gotten to this point? Unlikely, with us being completely unconnected – a decade apart, journalist versus actor, a student against a professional. Yet there we were, a successful product of this “exercise in friendship”.
Experimental theatre in its most raw form, 36 Questions presents a unique opportunity in socialisation, a chance to publically view a private interaction. The innovative production opens this coming Tuesday, with tickets available here.