The Reflections of Strangers

The back of a person wearing headphones in Strangers & Others. Photo by Benedict Johnson

Welcome to the third of three pieces that documents the reflections and responses of a number of people who participated in Strangers & Others by H2Dance — two weeks after their initial encounter with the work.

If you wanted to read the expectations and reactions that people had before and immediately after then you can do so here and here. When I spoke to people about taking part in a conversation they agreed to answer the questions below and were also free to offer a response in any other format.

Warning if you’ve not experienced Strangers & Others spoilers incoming.

Person 1

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
I remember being led to the floor by a stranger with my eyes closed, and I don’t remember having seen her before in the hour beforehand. I remember because it was very surreal and I don’t usually have enough trust in anyone else to close my eyes let alone a stranger!

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
It forces you to challenge your prejudice (because everyone has them) and it’s a lot of fun — I hadn’t laughed that much in a long time. 
Rubbish: it overran a bit from what I was expecting so I was a bit late and would have been nice to speak to the people I hadn’t spoken to but shared a lot with! I also wish that the music had been less intimidating but I get the need for atmospheric tunes!

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Curiosity, and I had some spare time in between work and poetry club!

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
It was fun and intriguing. I love to watch people and catch their eyes and smile on the street, but to actively look deep into their eyes longer than comfortable and choose ones you like based on random factors was very strange. It felt like being back at infants school - the childish giggles, the following instructions but finding it all alien!

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
Make it a little shorter — have fans on! A few seconds less staring into strangers eyes maybe as it went from uncomfortable to weird and then just boring but that was perhaps the point! I don’t know!
Overall. A very surreal experience but great fun and very amusing too. I would get people to come with me next time as I think they will either love or hate it and things like this fascinate me. It wasn’t what I expected at all — I thought there would be more dance and more light, more like immersive theatre I suppose but I wouldn’t undo my decision if I had the time again! It was really great to see a lot of different ages represented too, and the younger ones seemed to warm to it quite quickly which was a nice surprise! I didn’t partake in all of the commands at first as i didn’t feel totally comfortable with it but that is more my own shyness/anxiety than the event’s fault.

I forgot to add, I went to poetry club and started writing a poem about it — if H2Dance would like to see it and use it once it’s done (or not as the case may be) you would be very welcome. Xxx

Strangers, and beyond — a poem inspired by H2 Dance.

Step back.
Step forward.
Step outside yourself.
You are the
Last one laying down so
Open your eyes.
Stare into someone else’s…
Judge.
Assume.
Pre-judge
Their ice-cold confessions
Which to them are just their lives.
Line up. Rearrange
Step back if you ever claimed JSA
Divulge secrets
But only those with the same channel on will know them.
Experience your own shame
Your own pain
Take mental notes.
Take a hand up.
Touch someone on the nose.
Arrive strangers.
Sit awkward alone.
You will have touched everyone by the end.
Shared intimate but cold moments
Searched for emotion in your eyes
Tried not to laugh
When told to look longer
Than is comfortable.
Dismissed one by one.
And it’s time
Behind the black curtain, our guards come up again.
Shared smiles are now awkward and one-sided but
We will never experience these same moments again.
A slog of fizzy wine then time to run –
This was ninety minutes of a day
When strangers became less strange
And life became less strained.

Person 2

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
I remember the people, I remembered what they looked like and what I perceived them to be. I remember being asked to look at someone I thought was good looking. I remembered the guy I looked at, I remember looking at a guy I thought could be a racist and judging them by their looks and feeling wrong for doing so. I saw one of the guys that were in group in the street and I remembered him instantly and had a flashback to the time in the show where I had to stare at him.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
Good things — I loved the exposure allowing yourself to be looked at while you looked at others and I loved the environment. I didn’t feel tense or awkward. I felt free and valued within the space. 
Bad thing — I wish it was more adventurous, every order we received from the headphones followed the same pattern; I wish there was more exposure, more intimacy, more contact and times of exaggeration. See how close you could get to people, more physical contact and elements where maybe one person was exposed.

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
I came because I sometimes go to the Wonderful Wednesdays at the art centre as we are encouraged to attend them as part of our course (I’m on the acting and creative performance course and this is the theatre we are encouraged to see). When I heard it was interactive and you have to move around I thought this is going to be something I am going to love.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
It made me feel exposed but in a good way. I like meeting new people and I feel it boosts your confidence as everyone is equal in the space and you are allowing yourself to be exposed but by receiving a positive response. It was you aura and personality that was feeding the show and it was something that you were part of. However this came with different outcomes as although you felt confident amongst the others that were around you, you also had people that picked up on your body language and kept pointing at you when a particular question came up. I felt that this took away the freedom of the show a bit.

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
I feel the show could be better if there was more exposure, if there are more things that make people feel a bit on edge, a bit awkward, but also gave the show that more depth and it got extreme like instead of just maybe looking at someone it became more physical, it became more intimate and that people are put in situations where they were thinking I need to kiss this person on the cheek or something and is this okay to do it. I feel that it should overstep barriers, I feel that it should make people feel a bit on edge because theatre is meant to be challenging and the fact is you’re involved in this show that you should be in a position where you do feel something different than just listening to a set of headphones and doing what it says. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t put in a position well challenged, I was made to feel that I was doing something that was a bit more extreme than something I could do in my every day life. I mean when in life did you get to be intimate with a stranger? When do you get to push those barriers? The answer is you don’t. You never experience going up to strangers and touching them or doing something different and I feel that this theatre offered that and a new experience which is what theatre is meant to do. I just wished there was more. It was played a bit safe.

Person 3

Strangers and Others is an engaging and frank look at how we interact with other people. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about leaving behind the security blanket of being in an audience, but in just a moment I was drawn in like the others and travelling silently guided only by the voice in my headphones.

When two dogs meet for the first time, they circle around each other sniffing and appraising. As humans we hold back. We have manners. We have customs. This piece gave us permission to engage. I cannot believe how strange it felt to really stare into a strangers eyes; and yet, why not?

Prepare to have some preconceptions uprooted in an animated tapestry that will take on a different shape at every performance. This inventive piece will have you thinking long after you take off your headphones.

Person 4

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
What I remember now is much different from what I remembered immediately after the show. What I remember the most is pointing someone out from a question asked and then placing them in a corner by themselves. I think this is because it felt completely out of character and uncomfortable, I’m not sure why I conformed to doing this, when it is something I would not agree with. I believe I remember it because it’s something I should have challenged.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
1) It makes you laugh!
2) Breaks the ice between strangers and feels as if you almost know them by the end.
3) N/A

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Heidi and Hanna were artists in residence developing the piece with us; it was great to see it a year later!

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
It was fine interacting with people that I didn’t know, there were points that I felt uncomfortable, whether this was via being asked to do movements, placing body parts on one another or through provocative questions. But elements soon became much easier and normal within the performance e.g. movements together, whilst others became more challenging e.g. questions. I had much stronger emotions toward the questions, especially if I decided not to answer the questions and see others answer them unsure whether or not they were answering the same questions. I think if I knew nothing about the performance my feelings would be very different, I was very aware that I would be interacting with the other people in the room before the performance.

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
-I’m not sure if it would make it better but having Heidi and Hanna not visible.
-More discussion afterwards, whether this is facilitated I’m unsure.
-I would have liked to have experienced it with more people and with less people that I already know.

Person 5

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is? 
The image of the space and the people in it. The feeling of that initial awkwardness and nervous energy has stayed with me.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
- It seemed that people were having fun
- It was a different way to engage in the show
- I wasn’t clear who it was for (an audience-less performance / a performer-less audience)

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Interest in H2’s work, audience engagement, participation and technology.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
Initially awkward, I still remember the person’s face I had to stare at for a minute or two. Uncomfortable at times when being coerced into making judgements about strangers, and what those strangers perceptions may subsequently be of you.

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
More space to watch / observe the group. Watching and participating are different modes, and flicking between the two so rapidly meant that it didn’t feel there wasn’t always time to step back and watch the action — which was also pretty compelling. The initial ‘choice’ is offered to step out at any time, but the level of coercion is such that it doesn’t seem like a real possibility — also for ‘fear’ of ‘breaking the game’.

Person 6

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
Sense of fun and intimacy of the performance.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
Pace of activities very good; opportunity to interact unselfconsciously. Maybe could have been overall a little bit shorter in length.

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Attracted by the idea of choreography.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
It did not occur to me at the time that I was necessarily interacting with strangers. A few people I already knew but it was unselfconscious interaction with everyone. I felt totally liberated!!

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
No suggestions. It was a very memorable experience. I have described the event to several friends and they were a little incredulous. One of my friends is a psychology doctor and she was quite interested. I see the event as being very therapeutic but not for everyone perhaps. I loved it! It would be great to repeat it. This activity is beneficial to relaxation and de-stresses. The day after, I awoke still feeling liberated and interestingly had had one of the best night’s sleep I have had for ages following the performance.

Person 7

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
The strong sense of community being built as people were prepared to experiment, to engage constructively with others and, for me, to reflect and examine the ways I approach people non-verbally and others approach me. This is what I have been working on in my head ever since.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
The mix of people, the fantastic, welcoming building…sorry struggling to find any rubbish.

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Ease of access for me…a sense of adventure, curiosity.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
It was good. Always nice to meet new people and as nothing was demanded of me verbally, I didn’t have to make my usual effort to listen. At first it was like relaxing into a bath and yet exploring the space, the ways the single light both illuminated and created shadows and how this made people look/seem. It took a while before I realised that we were not all being given the same instruction and then the realisation made me laugh. There were some instructions for physical contact where I was glad I was next to the person in the room I knew best and that I trusted. There were some instructions that made me uncomfortable and then I realised I could disobey, that was liberating. It was fun too, both disturbed me (in a constructive way) and gave me pleasure.

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
Sorry can’t think of anything :)

Person 8

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
Touching a strangers bum, because it felt unnormal to touch a strangers body part.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
Great social interaction with strangers & nothing bad to say about it.

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Because my brother in law invited me and I liked the title.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
Very strange and different.

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
More comfortable head phones

Person 9

What is the part of Strangers & Others that you remember the most and why do you think that is?
The part that still appears in my memory fairly vividly is when we were asked to point to someone who might be for example a racist or a homophobe. I think the reason it’s still there is the associated feeling with the memory, the jarring nature of what we were asked to do in relation to a subject that I’m not all that used to talking about in an open way. I think in particular it’s the challenge of being forced to judge and categorise someone based only on looks.

Tell me two great things and one rubbish thing about Strangers & Others?
Great things: 1) a unique experience that is challenging mentally in moral judgement, found this really interesting, and 2) the physical process/response needed to answer each question, compared to how you might normally privately consider the answer i.e. normally you might just think of the questions/answers and they’d be kept to yourself, whereas in the session you had to physically indicate your response (without knowing whether someone else knew what you were responding to).
Not sure I could really describe a rubbish thing, the only odd bit that comes to mind is when we were asked to smell someone else’s ass. This just seemed awkward for the sake of it, I couldn’t really figure out a purpose, other than to make you feel uncomfortable.

Why did you come to Strangers & Others?
Invited by a friend, I’d never been involved in anything remotely like it and it sounded interesting.

Can you describe what it was like interacting with people you didn’t know? How did it make you feel?
To start with I found it quite difficult, I didn’t know anyone (other than who I was invited by) and assumed lots of people knew each other, so I spent more time listening, I was probably very awkward. During the session I felt awkward to start with but the instructional nature of the setup almost took away the choice quickly to opt out, it was kind of freeing, as though there were no real consequences associated with your actions, because you were instructed to respond, and then you moved on. Honestly felt like I spent most of my time giggling during the first half, and frowning in concentration and consideration in the second half (which felt darker).

How could H2Dance make Strangers & Others better?
Genuinely can’t think of anything. I didn’t really think ‘this was wrong’ or ‘that didn’t work’. I didn’t come along with an agenda, and I didn’t engage in the purpose, so I can’t say how it can be improved to meet a need or goal.