Here’s one measure of success: I left Intimacy fully convinced that I had just witnessed an unusually brave structured improvisation, one where these Australian actors achieve such comfort with their humanity on stage that they can calmly reveal their private anxieties and episodes of irrational terror, their specific discomforts being in their own skins at times, their moments of self-acceptance.
Yes, there are pre-set rest periods where pairs of performers face the audience seated and appear to simply be being themselves, in the moment, fully taking in the presence of the people facing them. There are occasional medium -scale video projections like that as well, running as an overlay to the proceedings, close up on a performer’s face not doing anything, just being, and being open to whatever is inside themselves at the moment. There is a structure of taking turns interviewing each other with full empathy and acceptance, to elicit these intimate revelations. There are two points when individual performers dance (very well, incidentally), one as part of an extended entrance, and one as a seemingly organic outgrowth of talking about his behavior; and both are seamlessly accompanied by recorded music, so clearly that had to have been planned. But I literally did not believe it was an entirely written and performed piece of theater and actually asked to see the script. Nobody’s that good!
In fact, Intimacy is based on actual recorded conversations with complete strangers on the street in Melbourne, Australia. The creators at Ranters Theatre espouse an “everyday aesthetic” as part of a radical transformation of theater–without characters, without a narrative through-line, without the conventional denial of the presence of the audience. They also resist the need to be interesting at all points; the simple truthful presence of the performers is enough, or nearly enough, to hold us.
Giving up millennia of theatrical conventions is a mighty artistic risk, although we are told that this everyday theater is an area being widely explored in Europe and Australia now. In this case, it succeeds, and not just in the abstract. Intimacy dissolves the artifice of ordinary conversation and gives us human connection, empathy, a transformative model of self- and other-acceptance in a world of flawed, struggling individuals. And stunningly convincing, truthful performances. And visual appeal in a fairly simple set, and supportive sound design. And good dancing! That’s good theater by any definition.
An elder jazz musician recently shared with me something Ornette Coleman used to tell younger artists: Your improvisations should sound like compositions, and your compositions should sound like improvisations. I would love to be able to take him to Intimacy.