600 Highwaymen's 'The Fever' examines the power of collaboration and compassion in turbulent times 

United we stand

click to enlarge The Fever has some audience participation (the good kind, they promise)

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The Fever has some audience participation (the good kind, they promise)

These are crazy times we’re living in. It seems that everyone is fighting hard for social justice in one form or another. But are we really getting anywhere? Or are our communities becoming more divided?

Only time will tell, but it’s questions like these that led Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, the creative duo behind NYC-based theater company 600 Highwaymen, to respond to the political frenzy with their production, The Fever.

This groundbreaking production asks us to perceive one another as individuals, human to human, rather than by social status, class, race, religious beliefs, or any other demographic by which we divide ourselves. The Fever reminds us that, as a community, we have to depend on one another in order to survive and asks that we start prioritizing social responsibility.

The Fever has become 600 Highwaymen’s most popular production with over 200 performances conducted in cities across the globe. “We were making this piece in the lead up to the election, and Michael and I were asking ourselves a lot about participation and about our responsibility to one another and to other people,” reflects Browde. “When we started this, we were thinking of an American epidemic of fear and mistrust of each other. We thought the piece would speak to uniquely American themes, but it’s been pretty powerful to travel around the world and realize that these are universal questions that all humans are struggling with right now. They resonate in every city that we’ve been in.”

Though the content isn’t explicitly political, The Fever does inspire thought as to how we navigate our differences. Just as we shouldn’t passively participate in society, this isn’t the kind of production that you passively observe as an audience member. It could more accurately be described as kind of a micro-community in which the audience works together to create the experience.

“The theater is a communal place, but it doesn’t always feel communal,” says Browde. “We go, we sit in the dark, we all stare in the same direction, and there isn’t always necessarily emphasis on the sharedness of it.” The Fever, on the other hand, is meant to be collaborative. There’s a degree of participation involved in order to break down the actor/audience barriers typical of narrative theater.

Don’t let a suggestion of participation keep you away. Past audiences have described the experience as gentle, yet deeply profound and revelatory. If you’re looking for a moment of epiphany, you just may find it in The Fever. “Any idea you have of audience participation, this is something else,” says Browde. “We get feedback from people all the time who say they’ve never seen anything like this. Nothing is uncomfortable. It’s almost impossible to describe what happens in the room, but it’s not audience participation at all in a conventional form. You just have to go and be in the room with it. The experience holds space for whomever arrives in whatever space.”

Though politics and social responsibility sound like adult themes, the show welcomes kids as well (it’s never too early to start considering how you interact with others in your community). Plus, sometimes the kids help the adults loosen up. This show, after all, is not meant to be so philosophically profound that you can’t have some fun in the process.

Whether participating in The Fever or in our communities, imperfections are welcome, encouraged even, as long as you simply show up. “We have an obligation to be with each other, look each other in the eye, and make something together,” says Browde. “No one here is necessarily the expert. We’re going to work on it together. In a very divisive moment in history, that is a powerful thing to do.”

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