Come As You Are
The traditional theatre, as with dance, is a rather segregated form of entertainment. It not only divides the room into performer/audience, but it divides the audience internally. The wealthy sit in the orchestra, the lucky sit in the back; and as we sit, we watch “actors” prancing in costumes on the stage, the ultimate divider. These are conventions that beg to be shattered in order to form new lifestyles that defy the status quo.
The Fever is such a performance . Written and directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone of 600 Highway Men, the production invites audience members to sit in chairs around the perimeter of a room around a bright red dance floor. The company sits amongst the audience, unnoticed, and the lighting remains bright revealing the faces of each and every audience member. The actors in the company begin by telling us a very simple story, if one could even call it that. Ms Browde invites a young woman in the audience to stand and illustrate Marianne, the subject of the story. She braces herself against an imaginary kitchen counter, and covers her face with both hands to signify “an emotional reaction.” Then Ms Browde asks the young woman to return to her seat. The illusive storytelling continues with different audience members invited to participate in pedestrian movement and gestures. Never do the performers “perform”, they rather invite the audience to join them in the communal movement rituals. For instance, some actors ask, “will one person join me”, “will you help me”, then continue, “now will you leave me”.
The production explores contact, caring, and learning. It’s as if we’d enrolled in a class together, and found ourselves sitting next to classmates we’d known all our lives. Men in suits, young girls in leggings and teens in sweaters all joined to commemorate our human connectedness in under only two hours. More than that, we were asked to engage, for a brief moment, with one another, something the traditional theatre avoids.
The partaking in communal movements that evoke caring for one another has a way of leaving audiences incredibly satisfied. In the end, this interaction, for lack of a better phrase, restores a certain hope in our humanity by reminding us of everyone else’s. As Gareth White puts it in Audience Participation in Theatre, “the idea that empathy is an infection in the body by the emotional state of another person has been reinforced by empirical studies showing that when we observe another person’s emotional state, it is echoed in our own body.” One might say that we are inherently programmed to be empathetic, tolerant and inclusive… if only we all knew.