The Fever: Enter a Spectator, Exit a Performer
As someone who has spent many years in theaters, I understand that I simply sit back and spectate when I am an audience member. We all on some level know to respect the fourth wall; that ingrained training is almost Pavlovian. With 600 Highwaymen’s “The Fever,” however, the audience is presented with an open rectangular space, a canvas, and actors planted among the spectators hand you the paintbrush. “The Fever” is predicated around the idea of the audience being as instrumental as the actors.
Text is primarily spoken in the first or second person, thus making everyone in the room a part of the story being shared. Physical audience participation also plays a pivotal role; all of the motions that they ask of participants are simple in nature: make wave motions with your hands, step to a certain rhythm, etc. Although, one of their instructions was eerily specific. They called for the youngest person in the room to step into the middle of the space. I’ve always been considered the youngest in my life; I’m the "baby" of four siblings and currently the youngest person in my acting program. So, naturally, I stepped forward. “Let’s leave him alone,” they said, and everyone else scattered back to their seat. Now the youngest, I stood dead center in a silent, dimly lit rectangle. “You are a child now,” one of the Highwaymen subsequently informed me, and they taught me a simple stepping routine which slowly evolved into a fun and flowing dance that more and more of my fellow spectators emulated.
When declared the youngest, the time I spent alone in the middle of the space was realistically 10-20 seconds, yet it felt like an agonizing eternity. The silence gave me a swift punch to the gut; every feeling that I have ever associated with being the youngest coalesced into a piercing vulnerability. About 30 minutes prior, I was walking into the space to get my ticket scanned without even realizing the possibility of standing in front of an audience mostly comprised of strangers and feeling painfully and beautifully vulnerable. I felt like 600 Highwaymen wanted to share the story of the youngest so they shared me, alone.
While the directions given were basic across the board, their results all ended up representing universal feelings such as love, growth, and guilt. For example, one actor asked a spectator to chase him around the space at full speed. After a few tiring laps, they both laid prostrate on the floor and stared at the ceiling. At face value, it merely seems like unwanted exercise, but the accompanying music helped create what, for me, seemed like a scene of young romance. By giving human beings simple instructions, we automatically inject the emotions that we individually deem relevant, and with that individualism comes a fresh performance every night for 600 Highwaymen. And for some of us (one of the lucky ones being me), we enter the space as a spectator but end up reliving a piece of our own story, just by being asked to stand in the center.