“We don’t need to pretend that we’re somewhere else. We actually need help being in real time in real space together”
I recently saw an Instagram video involving a large group of beachgoers working together to pull a beached shark back into the water. Their task was successfully followed by cheers and applause from the group. The short clip made me smile as I watched it several times.
There’s a special something about human connection. Whether it is on a night out with friends, or at a demonstration where those present are all supporting the same cause, there is a satisfaction we get from coming together. And luckily for us, the amenities of modern society make it so that the world and the people in it are forever at our fingertips; where likes, follows and comments can make us feel like we really are all in this together.
However, when on the Luas if you look up from your phone and inadvertently make eye contact with another human being, often your reaction is to quickly look away. This is a subtle reminder of how disconnected we all are on a daily basis.
But yet, there is a lingering something that is felt from that mistaken glance, and if you investigate a little further, you realize that not so deep down we all crave some form of palpable connection with one another.
The latest offering from Obie award winning New York theatre company 600 Highwaymen aims to satisfy that craving. The Fever, which premiered last year at the Under the Radar Festival, tackles the very timely subject of togetherness by presenting a show that does not fictionalize its theatrical events.
“We put a frame around the real,” says Abigal Browde, who along with husband Michael Silverstone (and an array of continuous collaborators) makes up 600 Highwaymen.
“I think of theatre as a dilemma or a terrifying construct… Often as a well-trained actor, you are meant to take that energy and that dilemma and sense of terror and hide it or channel it into some other part of your performance and make it invisible. I think that we’re actually really interested in that heartbeat, in that sense of rush, that sense of electricity that happens when someone is watching you do something, that kind of magical energy.”
Described by Silverstone as “a rehearsal for deep empathy,” the duo developed The Fever during the beginnings of the Trump-era.
“It felt as if every day that we were making the project, something new and terrible would happen in the State [New York]. A lot of those horrors had to do with how one group of people was pushing away another group of people. It had to do with groups and group mentality and ideas of otherness, and just sort of watching what was happening in our country,” says Silverstone.
Originally conceived as an American piece, through touring it Silverstone said himself and Browde soon realized the universal resonance of the performance’s themes.
“The show is ultimately about connection and disconnection which I think is obviously not an American phenomenon. It’s an epidemic.”
Described as one on New York’s best non-traditional companies, this will be 600 Highwaymen’s first performance in Ireland. Their previous play, The Record, was a dialogue free piece with music involving 45 actors who rehearsed separately only coming together for the first time on the opening night of the performance. As the audience watched the actors, the actors in turn returned the gaze – challenging each theatre-goer’s presence and becoming an instant success in the process.
600 Highwaymen operate under their own rules and create shows that exist beyond the complacency of a passive theatre-going experience. They want you to sit up and pay attention — to be here now — even if that means challenging your beliefs of what you think theatre is.
“We don’t really make transporting theatre… All of our work is in denial of that. We think that reality is interesting enough, we don’t need to go anywhere, we don’t need to pretend that we’re somewhere else. We actually need help being in real time in real space together,” explains Silverstone.
During our telephone interview, when I asked what audiences can expect to see in The Fever, the response was radio silence followed by a hesitant “sure” from Silverstone, before Browde did her best to explain a show that appears to be much more of an experience, than something that can be condensed into a convenient log line for theatre-goers to ponder and wax poetic.
“The show itself deals with a little bit of mystery so we have to be careful because what’s really important is that the audience comes in without having much knowledge of how it’s gonna go,” she said.
What she could divulge is that the play starts with a story about a party.
Silverstone was less forthcoming in his offerings about what audiences can expect to see.
“I really don’t know how to answer that question… The truth is that it’s a participatory performance. The audience doesn’t see anything — they do. It’s best if the audience comes in it thinking that they are seeing a production of Ibsen or Chekhov — that they don’t necessarily know what the show is.”
“The audience is going to come into a room and they are going to watch a show, and in some moments they’re gonna be a part of it.”
The more I spoke with the two directors, the more I realized that The Fever will indeed be something special; something worth the abandon of preconceptions and the embrace of courage.
Words: Rose Ugoalah
Samuel Beckett Centre, Tuesday October 9 to Sunday October 14 (9–12, 8pm; 13, 2pm & 8pm; 14, 2pm), €20-€25