SALT LAKE CITY – Advertised as an immersive experience for two, Etiquette is a theatrical experience like none other. Arriving at our table within the café, my husband and I sat across from each other, not knowing what to anticipate. In front of us lay 2 sets of headphones, water glasses, and various objects. We were told simply to listen to the sound coming through our headphones, and do as instructed. Created by Rotozaza, a UK based company, and written by Ant Hampton and Silvia Mercuriali, Etiquette is a half-hour long exchange between two people in a public place, but where surrounding bystanders are likely not aware of it. Creators Hampton and Mercuriali coined the term “autoteatro” for this type of unique performance where audience members perform the piece themselves, and for each other. Perhaps the best way to explain what Etiquette is, is from the creator’s own website:
“Etiquette exposes human communication at both its rawest and most delicate and explores the difficulty of turning our thoughts into words we can trust. A young girl and an old man lead the participants into several micro-situations, often borrowed from film or theatre, wherein private words shared between two people split and reform incessantly. Etiquette offers the fantasy of speaking with someone without having to plan what you say, and the resulting thrill of disowning responsibility in a performance situation. Conversation is shown to be a kind of theatre whereby ‘audience’ and ‘actor’ roles are imperceptibly assumed and exchanged.”
Etiquette is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and the concept is hard to grasp without participating in it. It is a completely enthralling piece where you become the actor and the spectator all at once. Plunging into the unknown, an unanticipated story develops, and your role within it is even more complex. You are a part of the play, responsible for moving it forward as it seemingly unfolds before your eyes. I found this incredibly unique contradiction fascinating and stimulating. Because of this nature, I became invested in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I was surprisingly moved, and felt empathetic emotions that became harder and harder to distinguish as the piece continued.
I was greatly impressed by the theatricality involved in this tiny show. The instructions you are given are not a hindrance, but keep you on your toes as you feel your way through the scene. As long as active listening takes place, the show is a success and works beautifully. Reflecting back on the performance, I am almost baffled by how much fun I had. The excitement of developing your own character without the pressure or responsibility that usually accompanies such a thing is refreshing.
I also felt a profound connection to one of the resonating themes surrounding the feeling of simply not knowing what to say next or how to move a conversation forward. Etiquette embraces some of the hard emotions people face and explores how to express them to another person. Communication is at the heart of all human relationships; however, effective communication is at times the hardest thing to achieve with another person, and can lead to the crumbling of a relationship. Etiquette puts participants in a position where this is deeply understandable, leading me to contemplate how many of my own conversations originate from an authentic place, and how many are more or less performed. There is magic when the world seems to fall away and all that is left is you and another person, attained by an authentic connection. I assume this is not an experience people often have, and Etiquette provides a space where this can be achieved.
My advice to audience members would be to embrace the experience, making sure not to hold back. Adjust your headphone size and volume, and be prepared to engage. Feel free to give life to your lines, speak up, and don’t be shy. However, shy natured individuals should not be scared away. Etiquette is simple and safe, and there is no need for worry if you mess up (my partner and I did a few times), the show still works out fine. I think there may even be an impending threat of mishap built in to the piece itself, acting as a reminder that live performance can always go wrong. Engaging in this performance with someone you know is comforting, while also remaining uniquely distinct. I assume having it with a stranger would be equally fulfilling and would likely add to the excitement.
I have thrown around various adjectives throughout this review, trying to describe the impact of Etiquette. The truth is, there are no adjectives that can truly sum up this piece. Etiquette is simply a half hour experience guaranteed not to be forgotten. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity that Sackerson has provided.
Full disclosure: The producer of this production (Dave Mortensen) is the founder of Utah Theatre Bloggers Association and a member of its board of directors. As a board member he is in charge solely of the technical functioning of the web site. Mr. Mortensen had no involvement with the writing or editing of this piece. Honest criticism was encouraged.
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