I stood nervously alone on a rather empty street corner in Hollywood at half past midnight on a Tuesday. I had signed up to be the sole audience member of a short, immersive theater performance of sorts that would eventually lead me to slurp down an oyster shooter. All I knew from the scant, mysterious instructions I received via email earlier that day was the experience would involve getting touched and fed, and that things could potentially get messy.
I began scanning passersby to see if I could figure out whom I was supposed to meet, but I didn’t have to wait long. A woman wearing a white domino mask and a navy blue and white striped apron walked up to the opposite street corner and waved. I waved back. She motioned at me to cross the street, and when I did, she reached out to hold my hand and acted as my guide for the rest of my bizarre and unique experience.
This oyster shooter–themed performance is the newest iteration of Infinitely Dinner Society’s “Midnight Snacks” project. Sporadically since May, experimental playwright and director Annie Lesser ("The ABC Project") has been writing, directing and producing these events, which all involve a snack and an abstract performance based on her interpretation of the concept of infinity. In past months, cheese and doughnuts have been the other themes.
Whenever Lesser plans one of these performances, which generally last a short five to 10 minutes and involve audiences ranging from one person to a small group, she announces it on Infinitely Dinner Society’s Instagram and invites people to email her to participate. After the participants send in a donation, which varies between $10 and $25 depending on the performance, she sends them an email with instructions on when and where to meet; usually these meetings take place between the late hours of 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on a street in L.A.
During my solo audience performance, I soon realized the masked woman was Lesser, who is also a photographer I’ve worked with in the past and was the one who invited me to experience “Midnight Snacks.” While we continued to hold hands and walk a few blocks to our next destination, she gave me her noise-canceling headphones so I could listen to a recorded audio production related to the theme. Some passersby did a double take when they saw us; after all, she was wearing a mask long after Halloween.
Lesser unlocked the door to a building and we walked up the stairs to a red-lit room that had two men wearing similar masks and aprons. She closed the door and left me alone with them. The men had me sit down on a couch, and then they kneeled in front of me and made me an oyster shooter, at times gesturing instructions so I could participate. They stayed silent until I ate the oyster, and then one of them said, “Taste the physical,” and the other, “Experience the infinite.” One of them knocked on the door, and Lesser, still masked, came to get me and walked me downstairs. She ended our evening by saying, “Always and forever,” and I responded by repeating the phrase, followed by a nervous giggle, unsure of what I was supposed to say.
That final moment alone sums up the feeling of experiencing “Midnight Snacks,” one of nervousness and excitement because of the unknown.
Lesser seems unfazed when anyone divulges what happens in these performances. “It’s very different when you actually experience it yourself,” she says. “I think people get a little nervous and excited, so some people retain more information than others with the audio piece because it’s just coming at them. I feel like each person will react differently to how the audio piece pairs with the food and the performance that they’re experiencing.”
The idea of “Midnight Snacks” came out of Lesser’s plan to start the Infinitely Dinner Society, an ever-changing art installation and dinner party with a small group of strangers, all involving the concept of infinity or a mathematical equation. Lesser has spent the past year planning its buildout but there have been some delays. In the meantime, she still wanted to do performance art and food pairings, so she came up with the idea of “Midnight Snacks.”
“[‘Midnight Snacks’] is about [exploring my passions] and my hobbies,” Lesser says. “I love cooking — I find it relaxing. I love eating, I love talking about food and cocktails, but then I also have a really strong desire to learn about things I don’t know about, which [is to] understand things that are a lot more conceptual, [like] the pursuit of math and the pursuit of understanding infinity, because it’s a concept and construct that isn’t really rooted in the physical world.”
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SHOW ME HOW
She says the oyster shooter represents something that’s almost the opposite of the mental construct of infinity; instead, it's something tangible and physical that you have to touch and taste. In her cheese-plate performance, Lesser explores the idea of a geometric hypercube, tying up a small group of audience members together in the shape of one.
Lesser works with other performers including Mallory Turner, a concert photographer who shares her love of Hula Hooping, and Jakob Scott, a dancer and choreographer, and takes in their input for the different “Midnight Snacks” themes. The other performances have included elements of texting burner phones, Hula Hooping and choreographed dancing. In one of them, she had her audience members meet on different street corners, and then she and her actors would drive to each location to perform.
The small snacks included in the performances are simple ones that are nothing out of the ordinary, but each serves a purpose with the accompanying themes. Lesser says she tries to makes things from scratch or keep the products as local as possible when she buys items from vendors and bakers. The oyster shooter is made with a Carlsbad oyster, vegetable juice blend, sake and horseradish. The doughnut is from a local shop, and Lesser uses a variety of gourmet cheeses for her plate.
Lesser plans to repeat the oyster shooter, doughnut and cheese plate performances before the end of this year. And when she’s done building out the Infinitely Dinner Society space, she plans to still include “Midnight Snacks” there in some form, and may even continue to do them on the streets. She’s waiting until watermelons are back in season for a new performance she hasn’t unveiled yet. In the meantime, you can look for updates on the next “Midnight Snacks” events on Instagram, and also fill out an application to join the Infinitely Dinner Society membership program to “experience the infinite.”