Dubai Silent Dinner Party

Dubai Gamesters :: Let the games begin Dubai!! Real-Space games, who plays them anymore?

We were 14 people, and the meal was a certified British bake off.  Owen, Helena and I took it in turns to rotate the contents of the oven with cheesy bake after cheesy bake. Following a starter of cheese plates it certainly was a cheesy affair far from my normal vegan meals! I took some halawa there from Lebanon, and sprinkled it over ice-cream for desert as Dei had shown me in Beirut, and once again it won people’s hearts and perplexed their minds.  Those who had never had halawa wondered what that nutty honeycomb stuff was and those who knew it marveled at the idea of mixing it with ice cream! Good one Dei.

So back to the games.  We had all sorts from levitation, to murder winks.  There were choreographed routines performed by a trio to the music playing in their heads.  It was the kind of stuff that comes from a group of people who know each other, and have a shared history to refer to.  Although having said that, I did not share their history, and I still picked up the rules of engagement without too much fuss, so they were pretty good at getting the point across. I was completely astonished at the complexity of communication and group organisation that this lot achieved.

I think we went for 2.5 hours, and it was action packed, not a dull moment.  We had a complete mixture of nationalities, Palestinian, Russian, British, Canadian, Australian, South African, American and Chinese. Looking back it was one of the only ones I have been to where we did not go through a period of awkwardness at the beginning before people settled into it.  I guess that awkwardness was squandered by Darren, one of the people who had so graciously lent us his apartment to host in, appearing dressed in a floral frock with a soft toy on his head. A sure ice-breaker.  He had asked me earlier if he could come to the dinner nude, me being a nudist at heart, and in his house, I don’t see how I could possibly deny him, but he chose the frock instead! People were in the moment and jovial from the start – it was a really fun adventure. I mean, check this lot out, they don’t look quiet at all, but believe it or not they were!

Dubai Silent Dinner Gamesters
Dubai Silent Dinner Gamesters. Photo: Honi Ryan

Beirut Silent Dinner Party

Prandial Passion

It was the largest Silent Dinner Party to date with 40 or so people in the room. Most definitely one of the more passionate dinner parties I’ve ever been to.

In the lead up, I sensed more anxiety around the concept than I have experienced before, but simultaneously there was an overwhelming curiosity and playful approach.

The cooking was a fantastic experience. I learnt some traditional and contemporary Lebanese methods and recipes from Firas, an inspiring individual who studied conflict resolution and has chosen to use food as his medium. Perfect. Dei also contributed a couple of her spectacular and serendipitous dishes.

There was heaps of laughter and many who sat peacefully in it.  People playing games, and there were tears as well. After the dinner party, one lady commented that as she is a shy person, she usually feels detached from the group in environments like this, however in Silence she felt that she could be be completely herself and feel much more a part of the group. Beautiful!

It was lively and the noise levels were pretty high, but there were a lot of people, and for the first time ever we had a bar where people had to purchase their drinks as opposed to BYO. The Bar tenders were amazing, and Firas (the bartender not the cook) embraced the concept, saying that he regularly has days of Silence himself in the throws of his life. Wikid! I do however think there was quite a bit of whispering happening at the bar, it can be hard to communicate Rose Wine without words if there is nothing pink around to point at, as participant Marie Bassil confessed later!

We had vocal interventions with one lady shouting across the table “what is the purpose?” “We are humans we are not Silent” !! She also tried to read a book. That was the first time I’ve ever actively tried to stop something happening at a silent dinner party. Dei and Zico took the book off her and wrapped it in masking tape, the object that came of it was beautiful!  It was a very strong response, I quite liked, the only thing I don’t understand is why she chose to interrupt the silence like that when she had consciously agreed to come along and experience it.  Some of the other guests found is disruptive and she persisted in taking even after people asked her to ssshhh. She was screaming thoughts at me and I was gesturing to her to let it all out, she understood, and said to me “Let my anger out?”, to which I nodded. The lady I’m talking about : if you are reading this, please do get in touch, I’d really like to talk to you about it but I have no idea who you are!! Email me!! Anyone from the event who I have not been in email contact with, please drop me a line, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Beirut Silent Dinner. Photo: Patrick Mitri

It was an emotional exchange for these two ladies who were laughing and crying in each others arms. I don’t know why. Their display of passion was contagious
Meal time on the long red table at the wonderful Zico House in Sanayeh, Beirut.

My biggest thanks to all who helped make it happen, Dei El-Ayoubi, Patrick Mitri, Owen Ryan, the amazing Good Food bonanzas from Firas Abi Ghanem, Zico and all at Zico House x x x x

Edinburgh Silent Dinner Party

Quite a Drama

A Silent Dinner Party in Edinburgh, during the Fringe Festival, with the Shanghai Repertory Theatre!

During August 2011 I spent time working with the Shanghai Repertory Theatre on their mount of the play Drift at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  7 of us were bunked up in a 2 bedroom flat on Morningside, and the other half of the company were just as snuggly in a dwelling around the corner. Living in this close a proximity with your work buddies can be a noisy affair, and with so many languages being spoken around the house it was a ripe environment for a Silent Dinner. The company agreed! Bring it on…

My experience with actors at SDPs in the past is that they tend to mouth words, which surprises me as I would have thought that they would be some of the most qualified people to communicate with their bodies. It has been suggested by fellow actors since that perhaps it is a need in the character to be completely understood that may breed this repetitive behaviour, but either way, I had never done one with a room full of actors, so I saddled up, wrote a menu, laid a scarf on the floor of the kitchen in lieu of a table big enough for the 12 guests, and cooked up a storm with the fantastic Spanish influence of the company’s AV tech, the wonderful Silvia Alvaro . Of the 12, only three of us were not actors, myself, Silvia and ShuTing the show’s lighting designer.

It was indeed a theatrical affair with many little performances happening around the scarf (our makeshift table), and melodramatic exchanges indicative of the intimacy actors share after long runs of a show. The body language between the group was at once exaggerated and yet full of the subtlety and knowing resulting from the closeness of the relationships and expanded encounters people have with each other in the process of developing a piece of theatre.

The ending was without edges. I have never experienced such a fluid return to words than in this manifestation. People began to talk, and the others ignored them, asked them to quiet and returned to their silent state. Even after poeple had answered phones and left with verbal hugs, those who remained, remained in silence. Eventually the drunken last few, still without talking, turned the music on and danced around the scarf, twirling together without words but with harmony.