Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

How a phone call with a stranger will make you a part of NYUAD's new interactive theatre experience

Participants become performers as they call in and follow directives from a pre-recorded voice

'A Thousand Ways' by 600 Highwaymen will have its premiere on October 7. May Baranova / Courtesy NYUAD Arts Centre
'A Thousand Ways' by 600 Highwaymen will have its premiere on October 7. May Baranova / Courtesy NYUAD Arts Centre

Could you share a connection with a stranger through a phone call? An interactive theatre experience co-commissioned by The Arts Centre at New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi aims to do produce just that.

A Thousand Ways by artists 600 Highwaymen unfolds as a one-on-one phone call between two callers guided by a recorded voice.

“People call into a conference line. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a robotic host voice and then the other caller joins. The voice then prompts you through this imaginative experience with dramatic visualisations,” says Bill Bragin, the centre’s executive artistic director.

Participants are asked to answer a series of questions that are “decidedly not small talk”, as Bragin puts it, but questions that evoke emotion, turning the callers into performers.

“The questions are designed to build a connection to someone you may never see, or someone you pass by on the street, but may never know… It’s part of the mystery that [the artists] are playing with. People can call from anywhere, but the idea is that these could be your neighbours,” he adds.

'A Thousand Ways' by 600 Highwaymen will make its premiere on October 7. May Baranova / Courtesy NYUAD Arts Centre
The work A Thousand Ways by artists 600 Highwaymen unfolds as a one-on-one phone call between two callers guided by a recorded voice. May Baranova / Courtesy NYUAD Arts Centre

600 Highwaymen – comprised of theatre-making duo Abigail Browde and Michael Silverston from New York – are known for developing work that revolves around encounters between spectator and performer, and creates intimacy between strangers through performance art.

A Thousand Ways is a trilogy developed by 600 Highwaymen as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The collective has described the work as exploring “the line between strangeness and kinship, distance and proximity, and how the most intimate assembly can become profoundly radical.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak, more than a million people have died, and around 35 million are currently infected. At the same time, the pandemic has left millions of people in some form of lockdown, isolated and separated from friends, family and their wider communities.

The second and third parts of the trilogy, which involve one-on-one in-person experiences with strangers, will be scheduled by the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre when such interactions are deemed safe and appropriate.

The entirety of the centre’s sixth season takes place online this year, and Bragin says that the programme has been carefully devised to address the ongoing health and economic crisis. “As an immediate response to the pandemic, art institutions just put their archives online. It was overwhelming… some works did and some did not speak to our moment right now,” he says. “The idea was that we were going to invest in artists that were creating work that is trying to process what we are thinking and feeling right now.”

A Thousand Ways: Part 1 will premiere in the Middle East for the first time on Wednesday, October 7. Participants can place their calls between 3:30pm and 9:30pm (GMT+4) after they have purchased their tickets and booked their slots on centre’s website. The performances will run until Sunday, October 18.

600 Highwaymen will also host a workshop and an artist talk, both free to the public, to complement the show, on Friday, October 9 and Monday, October 12, respectively.

More information on tickets can be found on NYU Abu Dhabi Art Centre’s website.

Updated: October 6, 2020 12:50 PM

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