Walker Art Center, Out There Festival
The audience enters The Fever by 600 Highwaymen at the Walker’s McGuire Theater through a backstage door and steps onto the stage, which is laid with red floor and surrounded by a single row of chairs. The expectations of these spectators about their usual role have already begun to erode. Many of these patrons attend the entire Out There Festival, which included Antigonon, uncontingente epico and Mercurial George as well as the upcoming Real Magic. But for these attendees, tonight’s performance will involve more than simply sitting in the dark and observing. 600 Highwaymen will ask their audience to create a community together– to participate in telling a communal story and to embody the performance itself.
At first the calls to participate are quite modest– hand motions that spread like a wave around the room, an invitation for a single person to stand up, a request to picture a scene. The Fever’s gentle invitation to participate builds trust between the performers and the audience as people begin to understand they won’t be humiliated or forced into action. Even when instructions become more elaborate, they’re always phrased as requests or questions rather than commands: “Will you stand here?” “Can you go a little faster?” “Will someone join me?”
The story, such as it is, invites the audience to consider an existing community, inhabitants of a town attending a party together. We might imagine we in the audience have common experiences, memories, culture, as is undoubtedly true among a given group attendees at a contemporary performance piece on a Saturday night in winter. We’re asked to imagine ourselves as a community, and slowly we comply. Personal responsibility and consent are not addressed directly, but return as themes as audience members make choices and take action. In the end, the experience may be what each audience members makes of it for his or herself, but the real focus is on the power of community.