The 'Blind Date Experience' is new this year at Fringe, offered by Cannonball at several shows throughout the festival Credit: Courtesy Cannonball

I’d never been on a blind date before Monday night.

I have my best luck when I’m out and about, asking a fellow coffee shop patron about the book they’re reading or complimenting someone’s dress at a bar. I enjoy talking to strangers. So when I saw the “Blind Date Experience” included in this year’s Fringe Festival lineup, I was enticed.

The festival, hosted by nonprofit FringeArts, is a four-week celebration featuring music, dance, theater, comedy, and almost everything else in venues across Philadelphia. It’s been a hub for avant-garde creators and curious crowds since its 1997 founding, evolving into the type place where you can encounter both an angsty clown soliloquy and a surrealist rock opera.

The Blind Date Experience is new this year, part of the Cannonball Festival, which is sort of a fest-within-a-fest offering shared, “not-necessarily-romantic” experiences. For $35, patrons get admission, prepared discussion questions, and a pair of drink tickets.

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How blind is this blind date? Very. You don’t answer any questions about sexual orientation, age, or gender — and you do not send in any dating app-esque biography. The only choice you get is the show you attend.

Gabrielle Revlock, a choreographer with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, said she and some other artists came up with the idea at a party and ran with it. The “dates” don’t have to be about finding a romantic or sexual partner, she said, so audience members can leave with new friends, show-going buddies, or even potential business partners.

“It’s nice to go to a show with someone, and the disadvantages are very low. Like, it’s slightly boring? You’ll be OK,” Revlock told Billy Penn.

A very sweet meeting

I chose “The Squid and the Octopus,” a puppet play about the ocean’s smartest cephalopods.

When Monday night came around, I was pretty pumped. I put on jeans and a “going out” top and arrived about 20 minutes before the show. My date was already there, waiting under the fairy lights of Norris Square’s Mass Garden with a provided paper baggie of blind date goodies.

We exchanged names — Simon, meet Sammy — grabbed a table, and dug in. The pre-show questions prompted us to talk about our recent daydreams (home purchasing for him, scuba diving for me) and our curiosities of the moment. We landed on a conversation about “the last time you taught someone something,” and Simon told me he’d recently led a group exercise at his writing group.

A writing group! I write! The conversation took off like a rocket just as we were ushered into the theater, but I felt pleased we’d made it to curtain without small talk. We didn’t quite get to the recommended part where you play “rock, paper scissors” and the winner chooses the seats, so we plopped down in the second row. What followed was a somewhat informative presentation about sea life.

During the mollusk-inspired performance, I thought about my first impressions of Simon. I’d gone into the evening open to any sort of connection with any sort of person. He seemed thoughtful and kind, and made me laugh a few times. But I can usually tell within a few minutes if there’s going to be a romantic spark with someone. So far I was getting friendship vibes.

After the show we cashed in our drink tickets (pinot noir for me, a lager for him) and sifted through the goodie bags, which had provided us coupons for the bar, a Cannonball pamphlet, two pieces of chocolate, hand sanitizer — and some suggested post-show reflection questions. We never got to those. Instead we:

  • Talked about the show for 2 whole minutes and decided we were both pretty lukewarm on it
  • Jumped back into the conversation about Simon’s writing group, which I invited myself to join
  • Learned we both enjoy writing letters and have actual pen pals
  • Finally gave the skinny on our jobs (Simon works for the American Philosophical Society). At this point I confessed about writing this article. He was pretty cool with it!
  • Traded travel stories — Simon’s traveled to 22 countries, and I hiked 100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Exchanged numbers and agreed to be friends

We said goodbye and settled on plans to reconnect at the writing group.

His expectations for the blind date experience were similar to mine: either a romantic connection or a friendship would be welcomed, but mostly he just wanted someone to see a show with.

“I was not expecting to meet the love of my life at Fringe Fest,” he said in an interview with Billy Penn the following day. “Fringe is weird. You have to be open to new experiences if you’re going to a Fringe show and the same applies to meeting a new person.”

I walked away feeling grateful I’d met someone so warm, engaging, and genuine.

The apps ‘kind of suck’

While I was in line for the restroom, I overheard a group of people talking about the blind date concept, so I popped over with my notebook.

Ava Haitz, 25, had signed up but was paired with her housemate. They were both a little disappointed, having hoped to meet a potential boo.

“Everyone is sick of the apps,” Haitz said. “They kind of suck. I’m over it.”

Haitz and friends saw a lot of promise in the idea of meeting someone at Fringe, which they agreed draws a certain type of Philadelphian.

“You’re not going off of thin air, you have common ground already,” said Saloua Amaura, 23.

They recommended event creator Cannonball add some questions for blind date ticket purchasers and make logical matches based on age, gender preference, and level of interest in a romantic relationship. Organizers said the blind date experience is still in development, and they may make adjustments in the future.

As for me, I thought it was delightful — and texted Simon when I got home to tell him so. He has two more experiences already booked.

“It damn sure beat a dating app,” he said following our meeting.

So, should you go on a blind date at the Fringe? I say yes. Whether you’re single or partnered, flirty or befriendable, outgoing or reserved, it’s a great chance to learn something about a fellow human, all while having a shared experience of some of the most provocative art Philly has to offer.

Really, what do you have to lose?

There are 20 more chances to see a Fringe show with a stranger. You can find them here.

she covers. She has been a health reporter for the last eight years, first at The Sacramento Bee and then at Capital Public Radio. Her podcast, “After the Assault,” explores the journey to justice...