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New Carolina Performing Arts show makes connections between strangers


Included in Carolina Performing Arts' spring show schedule is “A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call” by 600 HIGHWAYMEN in which participants will call in and are paired with another participant. Photo courtesy of 600 HIGHWAYMEN.

In a time when Zoom meetings are nearly ubiquitous, picking up the phone for a conversation with a stranger may seem like an everyday activity. But in Carolina Performing Arts' current production of theater troupe 600 HIGHWAYMEN’s newest performance, this simple gesture is anything but a typical encounter. 

600 HIGHWAYMEN is a New-York-based experimental theater duo and married couple composed of Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone. Their most recent work, "A Thousand Ways Part One: A Phone Call," will run from March 1-14 at Carolina Performing Arts.

After registering on Carolina Performing Arts’ website, audience members will receive a phone number the day before their scheduled time slot. From there, participants will dial the number and be placed on the line with a stranger and a robotic voice which will guide the participants through their journey with each other.

Christina Rodriguez, associate director of marketing and communications at Carolina Performing Arts, said 600 HIGHWAYMEN's work asks provocative questions about society and the way people relate to each other. 

“Their performance called 'The Fever' is truly something I still think about,” Rodriguez said. “The kind of theater that they create has elements of participation in it, and that was the case in that performance, and is most certainly the case with 'A Thousand Ways'.”

Rodriguez said Carolina Performing Arts has also committed to producing the final two parts of "A Thousand Ways," and that these next chapters will mirror the path of the pandemic. Rather than taking place via phone call, part two involves two strangers in an in-person conversation, and part three uses a group of performers following a shared script.

She added that tickets are limited, and ticket-holders must come to the performance so their partners can participate.

“It’s a really interesting and unique way to approach theater in this remote landscape instead of sitting at your computer and watching a livestream, though there is value in that as well,” Rodriguez said.

Likewise, Megan Whitaker, artist services manager at Carolina Performing Arts and project manager for "A Thousand Ways," feels the performance allows audiences to engage with one another in an active experience, which is not usually an opportunity during online shows. 

“The two callers are essentially working together with the voice of the robot to create their own theater piece in real-time,” Whitaker said. “I hope someone will walk away with the sense that they were a part of something.”

Whitaker, who participated in "A Thousand Ways" months ago as part of its trial run, was surprised at the vulnerability of the piece, despite it taking place over phone. 

“The questions ask you personal things about yourself, and while you don’t know the other person on the end of the phone, and you don’t know their name, you find out a lot about them, even some deeply intimate stuff,” she said.

Silverstone of 600 HIGHWAYMEN acknowledged that though the work he and his partner typically do differs from traditional theater, this performance is especially unique.

“It’s the equivalent of Abby and I inviting two strangers, putting them inside a theater together, and closing the door and walking away,” Silverstone said. “Nobody is there except a voice on a line and two people. It asks, ‘How can we make something together when it’s just the two of us?’”

Silverstone also said the show’s vague premise is intentional, as the experience will differ for each person involved. 

“It’s a much more open experience,” Silverstone said. “Some people might find this show to be fun, some might find it to be pensive. If we can get people to just pick up the phone, they can create their own experience.”

While this performance may look different from 600 HIGHWAYMEN’s other shows, which focus on movement and the body, Silverstone said "A Thousand Ways" is more physical than one may originally believe. 

“The fact that you can’t see the person on the other side of the line means that they come to life even more, because you get to create an image of them. It’s like theater of the mind,” Silverstone said.

Though Silverstone and Browde may not ever know the connections made within the performance, Silverstone believes in the potential of each phone call.

“That’s our faith in humanity,” Silverstone said. “We can all come together to make something happen.”

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