After I saw [insert slogan here] by YESYESNONO I told my friends ‘I honestly feel like they’re making theatre just for me.’ I loved [insert slogan] and I loved 5 Encounters. I want to watch them all again and again and again.
I saw 5 Encounters three times over the two weeks I was at the fringe last year, with a different group of friends each time. Sam was in the same venue as the show I was working on. (ZOO Monkey House) That venue doesn’t exist now, but it was a 90-seater in thrust, with seats raked generously on all three sides. We could all see Sam, and he could look each one of us in the eye.
The first time I saw 5 Encounters, I volunteered (was chosen? I can’t remember.) to sit on a picnic rug with Sam and some grapes.
‘Are we going to feed these to each other?!’ I yelped like a fuckin puppy.
I think he must have been slightly taken aback? I was full of adrenaline, it was my first proper day at the fringe, I’d been stuck on a bus for 16 hours the day before, and I was just So Happy To Be There.
Now, I associate 5 Encounters with being paid absolute attention to. First day of the fringe, sitting next to friends feeling giggly and warm and loved. Ava saying ‘I miss your skin. I miss your mouth’ into the microphone. Last day of the fringe, sitting next to friends feeling heartbroken, exhausted, all with our shoes off, Sam taking care of us.
A year later, when I arrive at ZOO Charteris, for [insert slogan here], it’s my penultimate day in Edinburgh. I head back to the same venue, it’s the same building, and oh god I’m so excited. I get to see Sam again.
The Sanctuary? It’s in ZOO Sanctuary?
It’s the biggest space in that building. I’ve only ever seen a 20-strong physical theatre adaptation of Peer Gynt there before.
I see my friend who tells me she’s here for the second time. I’m happy she’s here, it would feel wrong watching it on my own. We’re both here just a few minutes before the show goes up. I hop from foot to foot as I climb into the church hall, it feels like a cavern. Up the narrow steep steps, down the rake. My pace slows.
Sam is on the stage, but there’s also a sound designer and video artist plugged into MacBook and desks either side of him, and a HUGE projection screen.
I’m frustrated that they are there?
We are some of the last audience members in so sit near the back. I can only see the outline of Sam’s body in a boiler suit, lying on the floor. I know I can’t see his facial expressions from here, and he certainly can’t see mine.
Why did no one tell me it was like this?
My friends have seen this show and told me they liked it more than 5 Encounters, less than 5 Encounters, that they don’t know but they think it will grow on them more than 5 Encounters. Why did no one tell me the most important part? That the show is huge and not special anymore? That there would be HUNDREDS of people here?
The most petulant part of me feels, quite honestly, betrayed. Why are there so many people here? Why are we in the biggest space? Why did none of my friends tell me the show was so big? It’s SO BIG. I want to be back in the Monkey House with 30 people. I want to be looked in the eye and told I matter. I want my time with Sam.
I’m so distracted by my own internal temper tantrum that I zone out of the first 10 minutes of the show. The spoken word sections, where Sam describes his favourite advert as a child, are distorted and dreamy, with sound design and live video coming from left, right, centre.
It makes me think of a classmate who once said, jokingly, that musical theatre is fascist.
‘They tell you that you HAVE to feel emotional on this particular note with this particular word. It’s manipulative.’
And I think, cripes, they might be right! SO much of capitalist art is meticulously arranging media to make you feel something, to make you conform to something, to make you buy something.
[Insert Slogan Here] separates the layers of Meaning Making. The sound, the text, the images, the arranged media which plucks at your heart strings and encourages you to commit to a 24-month payment plan, to shop at John Lewis, are being arranged in front of our eyes.
It’s all a bit TOO MuCh, it’s overwhelming, I think purposefully. I never fully grasp everything that’s going on during these sections, I’m just so aware of the Making of it all. I don’t register everything Sam is saying because I’m watching the video, or registering the musical notes, and there’s no heart soar. I don’t think there’s supposed to be, it invites scepticism through overload of sentiment.
Because what I think it is saying, initially, is that the REAL meaning the REAL emotion and idk the real ART is in the audience. The sections where Sam gets members of the audience up on stage are always, so, so, perfect. He is gentle and open, and some of the conversations that occur are my favourite memories of sitting in a theatre.
‘While I’ve got you here, can I ask you something?’
‘When was the last time you felt cool?’
‘I think my answer makes me sound really sad!’
‘No! Why’s that?’
‘because, it was actually this time last year at your show.’
and I just think
Oh my god, there’s someone else like me.
It’s a moment of relief for me but I think it’s a slight jolt for the audience. Does Sam recognise this man? I don’t think he does. I think that memory of intimacy is powerful, and Sam means more to him than the other way around. I think there’s a generation of Sam Ward addicts.
I think for a moment, that this might break the show. How can you build a performance and an audience on emotional connection and truthfulness when you’re doing the same thing every night?
BUT. The brilliant thing about [Insert Slogan Here] is how it’s aware of its own insincerity.
Sam says the same phrases to each audience volunteer. ‘While I’ve got you here…’ and ‘Remember that for a moment, you were the most important person in the room’
[Insert Slogan Here] formalises that audience interaction, mass produces it, makes it cynical, reveals its workings.
After I leave the fringe, I incessantly nag a friend to see the last ever performance of 5 Encounters. He doesn’t like it. I wonder if, as a show, it works so well because on some level everyone is attracted to Sam?
Sam has such a unique and caring presence as a performer, when you’re with him, you do feel like the most important person in the room. But insert slogan works so well as a second show because it never lets you forget that this is a performance, and Sam does do this every day. That doesn’t change the fact that you are, for one moment of one day, the centre of everyone’s attention.
????!!!!Insert Slogan is brilliant??!!!!!
It’s so good. It makes me feel things despite analysing and breaking down the reasons that I shouldn’t.
I feel like I’ve had an emotional reconnection, or resurgence, recently. I recognise the strength of emotions I’ve not felt in a long time as I sit in ZOO Charteris. I am so engaged, and feeling my emotions bubble under my skin, in my teeth, up to my forehead.
Two weeks after the fringe, I spent a good 10 minutes crying at this McDonald’s advert. I love the acoustic cover of Rhythm of the Night. I think about working nights, getting early morning trains, drunkenly getting chicken nuggets at 3am.
I really believed that McDonalds cared about me, which is of course, ridiculous.
I really believe Sam cares about me.