On the tenth of May 2014 a Silent Dinner Party was held in Leura, in Australia’s Blue Mountains as a part of the performance schedule along side my solo exhibition at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.
Although I have lived in these mountains for nearly 5 years, I had not held one up here before. Since I was having the exhibit it seemed a good time to offer a gallery audience the opportunity to participate in some of these social sculptures that were referenced in the white cube. Despite many requests for a SDP in this area I have not felt a pressing need to do it, precisely because gathering in silence is not such a foreign thing here.There are many yoga and meditation retreats on these mountains and indeed one guest noted that she was aware that many of the participants had most likely done a vipassana meditation which requires 10 days of silence. This didn’t seem to dampen the desire of folk to come and we quickly had bums on all available seats. The experience reminded me that it is not a meditative environment that is created at these parties (although some guest have wanted that and managed to maintain their own calm, private, mindful state during the meal). Rather, these dinners create a space that reflects on language and allows for the more subtle forms of communication to be forefront (in often very unsubtle ways). At spiritual retreats, silence often means a lack of communication. You keep to yourself and don’t engage in eye contact or overt body language, you certainly don’t have conversations in mime, desperately deciphering what it is your mute interlocutor is saying. Whereas at my Silent Dinners, that is the stuff that they are made of. The earnest attempts at understanding each other in silence breeds a recognition of the importance of communication and it’s intricacies. It points at the hierarchy of information we intake, how we rely on words to express and receive that information, then throws it to the wind (usually in a fit of laughter).
If linguistic communication is one of the things that defines human beings apart from other animals, then the deduction of it from a social environment can be seen to be a return to an animal or primal state, that can reveal base elements of this human animal. Base elements that transcend cultural difference, and can play a hand at breaking down prejudices.
The Blue Mountains dinner was lovely by all accounts. It was a relatively peaceful beginning, then there was a point after the main meal where, as if by general consensus, the group decided to get active. I missed the cue for it as I was in the kitchen but all of a sudden people stood up and started mingling. Did you guys orchestrate that? There were 26 of us around that huge table in the wonderfully eclectic environment of Hayley West’s house. There was more than enough to distract the eye from the need to talk! The Indian inspired vegetarian feast was dreamed up and prepared by Charmaine O’Brien who has done extensive travel and research into Indian cuisine, specialising in street food she has a written book on the topic and her delicious recipes will be available on the eaten section of this site in the next days. The chats in the kitchen before the guests came were most enjoyable. I love learning about people and food! And where would we have been without a waiter, and what a waiter we had that night, Micheal Lovett you did it in style! All round amazing help from my mum, Trish Ryan who has now worked on or attended countless SDPs and come to quite enjoy them it seems, although she still mouths words (mother!) My thanks are to these folks, and extend to all the guests, it was great fun. We danced to those universal beats, jumped around in the shape of hopscotch out on the back terrace, and had a decided penchant for napkin origami, that is when one wasn’t throwing the napkins at unwitting folk. One of the guests, Meg wrote an account of her experience, which is a great read. Check it out on the post below.
I will most definitely be hosting more Silent Dinner Parties in the Blue Mountains in future so drop me line any time if you would like to attend one.
Thanks Mountains, I’m off again soon for a time, as I do when the winds here get so cold that they simply move through you. But I will, as always, return to ya.
Some moments from the events in March this year in Adelaide. It was wonderfully animated. Very theatrical, with silent performances and heaps of mime over the four nights. Could it be that we had a clown in our midst? Yes, the fabulous Mr. Bravo Child brought his refined sense of embodiment to the table for us all, with intricately detailed moments woven through every situation and imagined objects outlined in our attention, and offered for us to share. It was epic.
There was the Silent Band, complete with guitar smashing solo, an orchestra being conducted in the round with strings and wind, keys and more, an electro dance party with a DJ. complete with podium dancing. Whoda thunkit – all that music without sound?! The romantic couple in a slow dance topped off the last hour on the last night – who needs music, let’s dance to the beat of our hearts x We had a few rounds of musical chairs, and I must say that the night the peeps from the fringe festival crew were in attendance it got rather competitive.. pouncing for that final chair! We had an award ceremony to commemorate that moment. 3 winners on one chair.. hoorah!
I really enjoyed the run. 30 people a night, 4 nights, aaahhhhmazing food – hard to top the love stack (see pictured below). Made for a great round of charades to the tune of the song ‘love shack, baby love shack’ which was also hummed on numerous occasions around the kitchen. But what a wonder when we decided to prep it in the greater outdoors on the first night. It was such an art to put together, the visual feast got a well deserved spectatorship.
A beautiful evening with 11 of us on a rooftop in Condesa, Mexico City. The group lasted three and a half hours which is a great effort. There was a grand countdown to midnight set to rival the anticipation of New Years Eve, and some really lovely conversation afterwards as well. I did begin a Mexican wave – one of the old Silent Dinner favourites, and the locals didn’t know what was going on. Needless to say it didn’t go far around the table! ha!
I had a wonderful evening. Half of the bookings didn’t show up, which is a first, normally there is the opposite situation, however, the relatively small group meant that I got to relax and immerse myself in the experience which was wonderful, and funny. There were some hilarious performances, Caleb’s impersonation of the Beatles is right up there – I’ve never seen someone embody pop music like that before.
A fantastic meal led by myself and my beautiful cousin Vera Rourke. Vera and I hooked into some memories to prepare this one. We served recipes from our childhood, and began the evening with Bruscetta a la Australiana (vegemite toast) .. fancy!! Went down a treat for the salty Mexican palate.
My sincere thanks go out to those who helped make it happen. Vera Rourke for suggesting it in the first place and hosting her second Silent Dinner Party, for developing the menu with me and jumping head first into the experience, it was really fun. To Caleb Franco for his support and humour, to Belmont for having such an amazing rooftop and for letting us take it over and to everyone who came along and became the work. Cheers guys x
New York, Thank you, what an insane experience for me! That was soooo much fun! We sat 47 at that table in that heat.
I do admit that forming percussion groups isn’t exactly my idea of ‘making as little noise as possible’ – but with such a buzz in the city I guess we can expect a beat, and you guys nailed it! Spontaneous group rhythm, Nudity, Dancing, blindfolds, limbo, laughter.. a lot of things to clap…
A huge releasing shout out to you all for coming.. I’m now digesting!
Well well Adelaide, there’s nothing like a fringe festival run to spice up this project. Let’s see what kind of antics we saw: One guy showed up with his arm in a sling, the cause of many a gesture, and after the dinner party on the street just took it off… We had a blind date! Self fulfilling prophecy at work here: the crew and I were talking that night about how funny it would be to take someone on a date to a silent dinner, like “babe, I’m really into you, I just don’t want to talk to you!” and sure enough that night we got a couple who weren’t just on a date, but had never met before. They didn’t arrive together so had to work out who each other were at the table. As luck had it they were seated opposite each other, and apparently picked each other out straight away. I’ve gotta admit, when I talked to them on the street afterwards, I wasn’t sure if there would be a second date, the lady didn’t seem convinced. I wonder if talking changed their opinions of each other. As a rule I find people much more agreeable without words, but that’s definitely a variable. The guy in this duo had stitches in his forehead, and since I had sliced my finger to the bone the night before, granting me an episode in emergency and six stitches along my knuckle, I had pretended throughout the night that I had punched him in the head, resulting in both our wounds. Love a bitta charades. There were people equipped with photos of their pets, grandchildren and favourite flowers – that’s prepared! Podium dancing around the swimming pool, the neighbour hanging his washing out on the line, only to gaze over the fence and see 25 people sitting around a dinner table together in silence! ha! He must have thought we were mad. We had a group of talkers. 4 women who came as a group for one of their birthdays. They hit the juice pretty hard, and were mouthing words from the start, which quickly became a whisper. Mouthing words to me goes against the request: Please do not use words – however I don’t like to police things too much. These events are for me more about creating an environment for people to play in. However, when the mouthing became a mumble, I did intervene. I wasn’t sure how to do it, so I got on my knees and begged them to zippit! The unfortunate thing here was that this made them feel a sense of defiance and they preceded to ignore me and continue talking, even though I repeated this action a few times. I guess this is ok, sometimes it’s good to rebel right? And I guess if willingly participating in an event gives you the opportunity to go against the grain, then I guess I’m happy to have provided that opportunity too. The only problem is that the people sitting around them didn’t really get to play fair. Ah, it’s kinda like disturbing class in primary school!
Overall it was an amazing experience. The run was sold out, so we had full tables each night. Opening was touch and go at the start, with a sudden storm crashing our outdoor setting an hour before the guests arrived, and blowing the marquee ‘smoking area’ into the pool! Wow, I wasn’t sure we’d get it together but sure enough by the first knock on the door, we were set to go.
My biggest thanks go to all who helped make it happen, Antonietta and Ayesha for the love that poured out of the kitchen, that was one seriously amazing menu! I will have the recipe section of this site up soon, and desperate to share some of that food with you. It was a middle eastern influenced menu, and the desert was a certified love potion… To Rod and Coomba for their splendiferous service and all four of you for some [ineffable] kitchen antics – olive oil will never look the same again! To Marg and Jahan for being such gracious hosts and adding so much personality to the events. To my mum, Trish, for showing up to one event, realising how much help I needed and staying and working on the whole run, thank you x To the Adelaide Fringe Festival for completely supporting a project that didn’t fit in the box, and helping me to realise it my way at every stage of the game. You guys really are supporting new and different ideas, and hybrid art forms, it’s amazing and I’m proud to be a part of it. And most of all, to every single participant, each and every one of whom became the work, embodying it, and filling the silent space with themselves and their interactions, thoughts, responses and (sometimes outloud) laughter. Cheers guys, that run was a truly amazing experience for me.
Cameras were banned so I have no pics of the madness to show you, but oh how lovely to attend an event where you know you won’t be captured and posted online in the morning doing that certain something after two bottles of wine…
I did however sneak a few in the hours around the events, so here’s a bit of behind the scenes for ya:
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!
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.
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
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.