Brian Feldman puts a lot of faith in his virtual audience. His production #txtshow (on the internet), which he creates and performs, is based on the texts he receives in real time from his audience. We are, in essence, asked to write the script. If we don’t like it, he warns, we have only ourselves to blame.
Feldman presented two performances of his show as one of the 21 digital offerings featured in FringePVD: The Providence (RI) Fringe Festival. I watched them both. As one would expect, the content of each performance was totally different. Just how much of that content was actually audience-generated is a bit hard to tell. Though audience members were told to leave their cameras and mics on throughout the show, not everyone in the Hollywood Squares–like Zoom environment looked like they were tapping away on their devices. Some appeared to be simply watching and listening intently.
It was both odd and amazing to be facing other audience members — as well as Feldman — during the show. We see how they react to his commentary. We chuckle, listen hard, look perplexed, and gaze at each other to see how the lines are landing. That is something we never experience in live theater.
What the performances had in common was Feldman’s wonderfully manic energy and focus. Whether riffing on his quarantine birthday plans or his heartbreak over a lost love, he lasers in on the audience, challenging them to add their own experiences to the mix.
The stark setting in which Feldman chooses to perform adds to the intensity. Almost everything we see is black and white. He sits in a black chair within a white cube in his Washington, DC, apartment. He wears a black suit and leans on a white table. Even his long Mephistophelean beard is dark with a streak of white jetting down the center. A black cup is poised on the table. The interior of the cup is a tantalizing green. Besides the beard — which he strokes occasionally — the cup is his only prop and he uses it differently in each performance. In one, we are asked to wonder what’s inside it. In the second performance, we are challenged by the question of why its liquid surface is vibrating. Don’t expect answers in either case.
Feldman’s body language animates the frame. He leans forward into the camera, leans back, cocks his head, turns to the side, arches his brow, and often scowls. What he rarely does is modulate his voice. The whole performance is delivered in a near-shout, the aural equivalent of an ALL-CAPS email punctuated exclusively by exclamation marks. On the one hand, it’s disconcerting. But his pitch also makes one think about the long-term effects of our current isolation from one another. Will we all lose the social niceties we’ve cultivated over our lifetimes and even lose touch with aspects of reality? What happens when you have to celebrate your birthday all alone? Feldman sang “Happy Birthday” and then tells us he wrote the song.
Brian Feldman was perhaps better positioned to make the switch to virtual theater than many actors. He has been presenting versions of this one-man show with lots of audience involvement for over a decade. Through the miracle of Zoom, he’ll be appearing in many other upcoming online fringe festivals, clocking in as far away as Melbourne, Australia, to ponder, with his audiences, the challenges of our current lives.
Running time: 45 minutes
#txtshow (on the internet) was presented by Brian Feldman Projects on July 28 and August 1, 2020, as part of FringePVD: The Providence (RI) Fringe Festival, which ran from July 20 to August 1, 2020. #txtshow (on the internet) continues its international virtual tour on August 3 to 9 as part of the Minnesota Fringe Virtual Festival, as well as on August 7 as part of the Great Salt Lake Fringe, and September 10 to October 4 as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Tickets are pay what you can.