New York City offers many different intriguing ways to imbibe cocktails and see a show, but A Cocktail Party Social Experiment is certainly a show unto its own. The name tells you all: by entering the underground, speakeasy-esque performance space of Chelsea Music Hall, you’ll be in for a night of cocktails, if you should choose, and social experiments, if you should choose. That is, you can choose to enter your name into a pool of volunteers who will kick off the experiment.
The seating is tight – skinny tables have been crowded into the space, almost necessitating that you bump elbows with your neighbor – but this feels like kind of the point. Socializing is the ultimate goal. But the main event begins when Wil Petre, the creator and host of the Cocktail Party Social Experiment, lays out the rules of the game – dressed in a white lab coat, of course.
Over the course of the evening, eight volunteers are selected, one by one, to enter the “cocktail party” on stage. They are given a drink of their choice, a few small talk questions (“Which train did you take to get here?” “How would you rather die?”), and then the real fun begins. Petre’s game relies on a gamebook, loosely based on the medieval science of alchemy, which is filled with serious, soul-searching questions. Each volunteer gets their chance to answer a question specially curated for them. As the stage fills up with volunteers who have taken their turns in the hot seat and are now free to engage the newest questionee, the conversation becomes more lively, more interesting, and tends to spiral towards some very interesting and sometimes intense directions.
With inventive drinks, a lively atmosphere, and completely unpredictable entertainment (even the non-volunteers participated with plenty of oohs, ahhs, and other responses when things got really interesting), A Cocktail Party Social Experiment is an experience that is unlike any you might find in New York. Breaking the barrier of who is a stranger and who isn’t in this city is a difficult feat, but it’s one that this Experiment pulls off with elegance, originality, and charm. And if you care to do so yourself, without finding yourself spilling your soul to a captive audience, they invite you to stay after the show and break some barriers among your fellow audience members as well. It will be a night you might not be able to replicate elsewhere.