Review: The Art of Facing Fear

Actors from three continents are zooming in for a theatrical production for these strange times. David Whetstone clicked on a link to learn about The Art of Facing Fear.

In a time of Covid-19, theatre has had to find new ways to get its stories out. Brazil’s innovative Os Satyros, under founding director Rodolfo Garcia Vazquez, settled on the Zoom conferencing app.

With this it has been able to spread its wings without resorting to aeroplanes, teaming up with theatre companies on three continents to present a real-time online drama in response to the pandemic.

Actors from Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Cape Verde and the UK – represented by Christine Berriman Dawson and Elijah Young from Darlington-based OddManOut – rehearsed online without meeting once.

Nigeria’s Bola Stephen-Atitebi cheerfully confessed post-performance that, not being tech savvy, she had been terrified.

As an audience member, I sympathised. Old fashioned theatre-going anxieties like parking and finding your seat were replaced by those of the digital age. I had a link but when I clicked, what? I feared the online equivalent of blundering on stage.

But everything was fine. Over the scratchy/clicky sounds of equipment being adjusted, a welcoming face explained what we must do and then requested our participation.

Into the chat box would we please share some of our fears?

In they flew: “Losing my family”; “being alone”; “losing my mind”; “more intolerance and extremism”.

And would we now describe people we’d known who had passed away during quarantine? There were fathers, uncles, a “great woman” who was someone’s Aunt Mari, a popular radio presenter…

It was a reminder that few have escaped the effects of this pandemic and many have faced grievous fears.

It was also a reminder that others were watching. Theatre has left the packed intimacy of the auditorium but there was an audience out there even if I couldn’t see it or hear it cough.

Ivam Cabral’s online play is set in 2035 with quarantine restrictions still in place after 5,555 days.

The imagined effects have been catastrophic. Cities have gone to pot, TV and newspapers have vanished and oppressive regimes hold sway.

Survivors are isolated and tormented by personal demons although miraculously the internet still functions so they can stay in touch.

“Hello,” intones a female voice as the action begins. “Is there anybody out there? This is Ulrika from Stockholm, Sweden, Europe, calling.”

Cue a blast of Bowie – “Ground control to Major Tom…” – as Ulrika gives way to footage of deserted flyovers and office blocks.

“It’s a miracle,” says Napo from South Africa. “Many people didn’t survive. The most vulnerable were the first ones to fall down.”

Dreadlocked Abdoulaye from Senegal performs a trance-like dance. Elijah is having a panic attack in a sickly green room in the North East, trying to guard his books.

“Take the books. Run,” someone urges. “I can’t,” he replies despairingly.

Joao from Cape Verde says: “Stay alert to survive”. OddManOut’s Christine, dressed to the nines, has a make-up meltdown: “I need my bloody Botox.”

This lively, engaging and often eccentric piece is less a play in the conventional sense than a pandemic-inspired Pandora’s box.

It darts about, dips in and out. What it seems to be saying is that there is no single art of facing fear because fear comes in many forms.

One moment the screen focuses on a single character’s personal trauma, the next it fragments into a grid of mini-screens showing the whole cast whooping and waving colourful carnival props.

Enhancing a sense of improv spontaneity is the fact that our initial chat box contributions find their way into the mouths of the characters. Art mirrors life as our stories join the narrative.

Once the play is over the actors, all smiles now, ask that we stick around for a discussion. You sense the magnitude of the challenge they’ve just risen to and their jubilation is infectious.

Here we all are connecting across continents during a pandemic, just as in the play.

Quite clearly this is not theatre as it has been understood for centuries but necessity is the mother of invention. You can see the potential in this coronavirus-spawned new drama

Perhaps when conventional theatre is up and running again, it will develop alongside it, reaching out to new audiences much as live screenings of theatre shows in cinemas have done. That would be no bad thing.

@DavidJWhetstone

The Art of Facing Fear will be performed on Friday and Saturday evenings until the end of August. To book your zoom link, get your cursor clicking right here.

Foto: o ator Elijah Young emThe Art of Facing Fear

Fonte: New Castle

Ator, roteirista e cineasta. Co-fundador da Cia. Os Satyros e diretor executivo da SP Escola de Teatro.
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