Here’s the text of an online question and answer interview my co-producer/performer Vera Chok and I undertook for Fringe Review.
What’s the title of your show? – The Fever by Wallace Shawn
Where is it playing, on what dates, and at what times?
It’s a one-off at The Brighton Media Centre Gallery – Venue 73
May 22nd, 7.30pm
What is it about?
GM: As a director I find the worst question that can be asked of me is ‘what is the play about”. Theatre is a live experience, and I want to surprise an audience. However…
The Fever examines the human condition in the world dominated by a privileged few. Though the work directs its attention towards the middle classes – their privileges and narrow worldview – the issues raised speak to everyone but the very poorest and most powerless in the world.
VC: Simplistically, it follows the thoughts of a middle class person who struggles to justify their desires in a world laden with injustice.
What is new and different about it?
saltpeter’s approach is pretty different: While our Brighton performance is a one-off, The Fever is an ongoing project, and Brighton is, in fact, the second version of our show. Why have we chosen to work on this repeatedly? Because we believe in the social and artistic ideas it provokes and we feel it should be performed as often as possible. The aim is that each staging feeds into the next, irrespective of the individuals involved in the shows. More importantly, we hope that others will be inspired to create their own responses, with or without saltpeter. As an arts collective, we’re interested in starting off social and artistic movements in this way.
The piece itself is pretty extreme. It’s been panned by some critics as a merely an expression of “liberal guilt” while others champion it as a harsh criticism of oppressive (US anti-communist, imperialistic) regimes.
Our staging is also unconventional. Written as a monologue, we will, however, be using an ensemble of 6 representing different ‘voices’ as aspects of a single human being’s thoughts and feelings. The action will also take place in and amongst the audience within the context of a private view at the Gallery. Incidentally, Johnny and Lol’s exhibition will still be available to be viewed during our show, and the audience will be allowed to dip in and out of the gallery while sampling some beautiful Italian wine.
Not least, it also brutally funny and starkly violent in its honesty. I do not know of any other piece that examines so pertinently and poetically our position in the world.
GM: I’m not sure that the words ‘new’ and ‘different’ really apply. This is certainly not the first work that looks at our relationship to the poor, it just happens to be a very good one. What can be said is that as a company we believe that the work is very important, it is important that it is seen by as many people as possible, and that we believe that we are doing justice to that work.
What would one of your rehearsals look and sound like?
VC: Lots of arguing, laughter and gasps of horror! In all seriousness, it’s a dense piece of writing with plenty of provocative ideas which, more often than not, has everyone in the room re-examining their personal beliefs and actions, usually with a sense of fear: “Do I do that? Is that how I behave? Is that what I believe in too?”
Luckily, it’s rather violently funny and it’s going to be very exciting performing it live, in and amongst the audience in a small space: will the audience find it as funny? Will their sensibilities be offended? Each actor, as we work out the significance of what we’re saying, is probably asking, “How do we prepare for this experience?” It’ll be a privilege to be able to perform at close range to audience, feeding off their reactions. We’re preparing to be on our toes!
What’s the story behind the show’s appearance here? How did it come about?
VC: I specifically wanted to bring it to Brighton, a city that’s known for it’s liberal politics. The Fever pushes very hard on the concept of being liberal and humanitarian, but how much of our personal comforts are we prepared to give up in order to help? One of the toughest questions in the play for me is, “I can’t give the beggar all that I have, because I – ?”.
GM: As mentioned, The Fever is an ongoing project for saltpeter. We are keen that the piece be performed as much as possible, in many different ways, and in many different kinds of venues. We have specifically chosen to perform in a gallery, as a private view is the kind of place where the characters in the piece might gather in real life.
What’s your favourite theatre show ever (excluding your own) and why?
GM: At this moment in time, I would say The Seven Streams of The River Ota, the first project Robert Lepage created for his company Ex Machina. I saw this seven hour epic at the National Theatre in 1996. The mixture of visual imagery, philosophical ideas, music, and above all commitment made this an unforgettable experience. The beauty of the piece was that although it enthralled me, and in some way changed me, it left me unable to describe why it was so impressive. This is, I believe how theatre should be. Theatre is a live event, always different, performance to performance, a shared experience with an audience at one time in one place.