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Sent 07:03 AM: “Everything about you is perfect. Are you able to see the perfect in the other?”
And so began one of the weirdest theatrical experiences of my life.
Run by ZU-UK, a theatre company that specialises in ‘interactive art’, the week is split into two parts: ‘Project Perfect Stranger’ and ‘PlagueRound Game-Show’. The former is a 5-day event where participants are tasked with connecting with a stranger over WhatsApp, and the latter is an interactive “post-normal” game show that puts this newfound connection to the test. And, oh boy, is it tested.
From the offset, the project simmers in chaotic energy. Every morning, participants get a sent an ostentatious monologue from the organisers (“Human Relationing is messy”), and a task they have to complete with their assigned strangers that day. Although these challenges begin innocuously (“send each other a picture of your freezers!”), they soon grow to become startlingly intimate and shockingly intense (“call each other and don’t speak at first – just listen and don’t say anything”). What makes it all the more surreal was that the strangers remain shrouded in mystery the entire time – we have no idea what each other’s names are or what the other looks like (apart from the self-portraits we exchange on day four).
And yet, somehow amid this mystery, connections are formed. By the end of day five, my partner and I have developed in-jokes, share our hopes and anxieties, and resolve to work on a future project together; all this, without even knowing each other’s names. After a year where isolation has become the norm, this flash of humanity is surreal and deeply reassuring – perhaps the pandemic hasn’t completely socially stunted us.
Indeed, the project remains fixated on imagining what life after the pandemic will be like; what will the “post-normal” be? How will future connection work? What changes do we want to see in the world? This line of thinking is innate to the ‘PlagueRound Game-Show’… if hidden behind a veil of madness. An extension of ‘Project Perfect Stranger’, this two-hour finale selects ten of the paired-up strangers, throws them together in a Zoom, and subjects them to a series of silly contests.
Really, if the gameshow is anything to go by, the ‘post-normal’ is going to be utter chaos: ‘points’ are awarded and taken away willy-nilly, challenges are absurd non-sequiturs (“guess who on the call isn’t wearing any trousers!”), and the hosts revel in the anarchy of it all. Most surprising of all though? It is actually good fun. Just like how we were initially brought together by weird tasks, so are we bonded again by this unpredictable experience.
That said, it’s difficult to know how much non-participatory observers enjoy it: the chaotic energy and malleable format are probably less charming to those not in the middle of it. Nevertheless, for those of us who are? Crazed fun.
Without sounding too gauche, ‘Project Perfect Stranger’ is perfect in its strangeness. The feelings it provokes are equal parts unprecedented and nostalgic, blending the joys of the past with the hopes for the future. Due to the chaos of it all, it’s hard to gauge if future participants would get the same joy of it… though I truly hope they do.
For more information about the projects (and to watch the recording of PlagueRound Game Show), visit ZU-UK’s website.