Engaging with anything on the internet can feel like shouting into a vacuum and hoping for a response or, at the very least, fleeting validation. Brian Feldman’s hyper-interactive #txtshow (on the internet) places this phenomenon in real time via Zoom.
Feldman's performance was certainly the wackiest virtual gathering I've been a part of all year. The audience receives a set of instructions before #txtshow starts: Keep your camera and microphone on; switch to gallery view so that you can see other participants; and add anonymously to the script by writing in the app's chat feature.
How the show unfolds is up entirely to the audience. The only script is that of which fellow participants dream up for Feldman to recite.
If instructions are followed, each audience member submits lines privately to create a sense of surprise. Whether Feldman belted out a Pop song, stated an existential qualm, broke the fourth wall, or stared through the computer screen in silence, the end takeaway was almost Lynchian in its absurdity (and drawn-out pauses).
Despite a screen manager reminding everyone of instructions, there was a lag during the particular performance I attended of people actually beginning the script. Throughout, there were periods of awkward silence before someone got the ball rolling again.
Near the beginning, one person’s keyboard clanking made it difficult to concentrate on much else. There were also a few times when either audio feedback or a lag in internet connection made it difficult to be fully immersed. Other improvised moments made for wonderfully weird theater.
Created in response to the pandemic, #txtshow originated from Feldman’s home in Washington, D.C. It has since made its way to six countries and 21 cities. Cincy Fringe marks his Ohio debut.
Feldman himself was highly expressive with intense delivery. Both the backdrop and the table at which he sat were white, contrasted only by an empty black coffee mug and himself, dressed in a black tux. He hung in liminal space at the mercy of his audience’s perception. At times, he pointed, danced, sneered and got unsettlingly close to the camera.
Watching Feldman animate words sent to him was like watching Twitter come to life: a collection of nonsensical thoughts contained in one place, screeching into the void. Any given set of people that logs into Feldman’s performance will have an entirely different experience. And that’s the point. If you’re up for the challenge, there are still two opportunities to participate: June 16 and 18.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival takes place June 4-19. For more information, show descriptions, a schedule and tickets, visit cincyfringe.com.