Review: "#txtshow (on the internet)" Virtually Makes Us All Playwrights

#txtshow (on the internet)

Created and performed by Brian Feldman

Presented by the 2020 Philadelphia Fringe Festival (September 10-October 4, 2020) and Rochester Fringe Festival (September 17-26, 2020) via Zoom

Tickets available at: Philadelphia Fringe; Rochester Fringe

Brian Feldman as txt. Image courtesy Brian Feldman
Watching Brian Feldman's experimental, immersive, interactive #txtshow (on the internet) brought to mind the plot thread in Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum in which the protagonists use a computer to generate randomized assemblages of texts to help them to create a fabricated history, which is then received as real. Here, the character txt (Feldman) speaks assemblages of spontaneously generated text(s) from the audience in order to create the reality of the show, which, strictly speaking, is also made up of everything else going on the viewer's screen at the same time. It's all very postmodern. It's all very fun.

Feldman's shows through the Philadelphia and Rochester Fringe Festivals are taking place at the halfway point of #txtshow (on the internet)'s "International Virtual Tour," with the September 10th iteration marking the 100th performance of #txtshow since it made its irl debut in 2009. Audience members receive some instructions before the show that include that they will be keeping their video on and audio unmuted and that there may be adult content (depending, of course, on the audience itself). After a short introduction by screen manager Genny Yosco, txt (Feldman) sits down at a desk in a blank room, identifies himself, and thereafter solely relays what the audience types into the "script" chat. With the recommended gallery view, you can watch the other audience members reacting and contributing, in a sort of virtual version of a theater in the round; and the participation aspect infuses the proceedings with that frisson of risk that can come with live theater. In this, we might think of #txtshow in relation to the work of artists such as Marina Abramović as much as in relation to traditional theater. 
Image courtesy Brian Feldman
txt acts as a vessel for the audience members, so this is obviously not a narrative experience; one could argue that the resulting bricolage is a kind of 45-minute found poem, a mix of the absurd, the mundane, and the (apparently) personal. In the performance that we attended, Instant Pot became the first topic, closely followed by a friend's livestreamed marriage. Shakespearean quotation rubbed shoulders with knock-knock jokes (not to denigrate the latter: some trace the inspiration for the latter to Macbeth's Porter) and Meghan Trainor jokes. There were requests for dancing and puppet shows, and we discovered that more than one person had Alexa as an additional audience member. Some of what txt said was responding to what had been said already or was visible on the screen, and some approached free association (an intensified version of the jumbling of multiple chat threads recognizable from any Zoom meeting with more than a few people in it).

At the same time that txt acts as a vessel, he also acts as an individual in how he chooses to express what he reads and how he fills the intermittent gaps between audience contributions (a little like a video game avatar's wait cycle). He also sometimes combines comments from different audience members in a way that evokes the exquisite corpse game of the Surrealists. In carrying all of this out, whether it's belting out part of Tommy Tutone's "Jenny" or commenting on the cuteness of someone's dog (*your examples will vary), Feldman has a charismatic presence and is extremely funny.

#txtshow (online) offers a unique theatrical experience, in both senses of that description. It seems like a great show to attend with a group of friends, especially if you have interesting friends. But even solo, #txtshow (online) is the most fun subverting the lines between audience and creator that you'll have this pandemic.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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