“When I was single, all my friends were on Tinder and I found myself despairing that it was the only way to meet someone.”Craft queen Kaila Perusco began hosting dating events with Work-Shop founders Matt Branagan and Chet Garcia three years ago. Sixteen guys and 16 girls would be paired together for five minutes at Work-Shop’s warehouse space to do craft activities like making pom-poms or moulding sex positions with plasticine. Persusco had no prior experience as a matchmaker, but lots of crafty activity ideas, and the unorthodox dating event took off. One moment that still raises eyebrows happened without warning: a woman climbed over the table and started pashing her date. “It was like a movie,” says Perusco. “She used her arm to clear the table of all craft stuff, sat on his lap and ate his face.” Apparently the couple had a follow-up date, but the romance didn’t last. Kaila is still running Craft Singles at Work-Shop, but now she’s adding another matchmaking string to her bow – a grown-up dating event called Conscious Dating. “I think Craft Singles and Conscious Dating complement each other. It’s quite a young crowd that comes to Craft Singles, so I wanted to cater to people interested in meeting someone in the long term.” Conscious Dating takes place in a more intimate setting in a collaborative space in Darlinghurst. “We put cheesy candles and flowers around and there’s a bar and tea available on the side. It’s still speed dating – but we have conversation challenges. For example, you’re not allowed to ask anyone what they do for work, how old they are, or where they live.” Questions we did ask Perusco, who is 27 and lives in Petersham. “I feel like that’s the unconscious thing you do when you meet someone,” she says. “I don’t think anything really great comes from small talk. Like Craft Singles, there’s an activity at every station, all gearing you towards talking about topics you might not normally talk about with a stranger.” They play games like ‘Two Truths, One Lie’ and ‘Budda Says It’s So’, and Perusco makes Chatter Boxes filled with questions. “It gets pretty deep, but it’s a good way to gauge whether or not you agree on fundamental things like that.” It’s not all conversational either. Perusco has experimented with hand massage challenges, “which people really get into,” meditation and Laughter Yoga, which she says pushed people out of their comfort zones, in a good way. Her aim is to run the events once a month, bringing in different activities every time. Most of the people at her first events have been in their late 20s and early 30s, but she’s already had requests for an over 45s night and one for age 65-plus. Conscious Dating’s first lesbian dating night will take place in July and Perusco aims to run more frequent same-sex dating nights too. Kaila’s top dating tip is “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be open to new people and different things. Sometimes you can get stuck dating a ‘type’ of person, which is why I love that at Conscious Dating you can’t ask certain questions about people.”
These modern-day cupids are doing things the old-fashioned way – face-to-face! We've profiled the best matchmakers in Sydney to find out how they got started, their biggest success stories and what they think of online dating. Plus, we've got a list of upcoming speed dating nights and our top picks for first date bars.