As coronavirus has canceled live entertainment worldwide, we've seen countless performers attempting to convert theatrical experiences into digital streams, with varying degrees of success. But if anyone might be able to capitalize creatively on this crazy cultural moment, it could be Orlando Weekly's favorite performance artist, Brian Feldman. After all, this was the guy who sealed himself inside a Skill Crane arcade machine and performed musicals over the telephone long before social distancing was a thing.
Feldman has been quiet for the first quarter of 2020, but he's returning to the virtual stage this April Fools' Day with an online triple feature. At noon, you can watch as Brian Feldman Writes His Last Will & Testament live on Facebook (facebook.com/brianfeldmanprojects), followed at 6 p.m. with a one-shot Social Distancing Dinner edition of The Feldman Dynamic, featuring his parents and sibling sharing a meal over Jitsi Meet. The evening concludes at 7:30 p.m. with the first-ever online-only presentation of #txtshow, Feldman's signature interactive performance piece. You can register free for all three "pay what you can" events at brianfeldman.com. Since we couldn't meet at a vegan restaurant, a Disney theme park or any of our other usual hangouts, Feldman emailed me these thoroughly virus-scanned replies to my questions about being a performance artist in the midst of a pandemic.
Where are you passing your "stay at home" quarantine?
I've been sleeping on the couch and hanging in the living room of Studio 6107 (the family apartment) in Sanford, where [at the time of this interview] there actually is no "stay at home" quarantine.
How have you been spending your time while stuck inside?
You know, save for the lack of daily bike rides, it hasn't been all that much different from when everyone's not at home in quarantine. I've been at the computer somewhat obsessively reading the news, scrolling through Twitter on my phone, texting and WhatsApping friends to check in and see how they're doing, listening to songs to wash your hands to, watching people adapt shows for Facebook and Zoom, falling into YouTube spirals, eating my usual one meal a day yet somehow washing more dishes than anybody else (I am the Dishwasher, after all), forgetting to take a shower some days, arguing with my Dad much more than I should (I'm sorry, Dad), and just trying my best to stay optimistic about the future. There's also a 50-inch flatscreen TV here, which I've turned on a total of one time.
What are some of the notable possessions you'll be including in your Last Will & Testament?
While it's no David Geffen yacht, it is like #48hYardSale, only with all the stuff I just could never part with. There are museum-worthy paintings, items from my childhood, boxes upon boxes of photo prints, negatives and slides; Warhol-esque time capsules and other pop culture artifacts I've probably hung onto for too long. All of my performance archives: project posters, signage (including the portable marquee that I retired after The Most Expensive Gas in America, which still has the gas prices on it), programs, tickets, props (the Orlando Weekly box I was inside of), wardrobe (most notably The Singing Menorah costume and Hannah's wedding dress from Marries Anybody: Part II), handwritten notes, hundreds of buttons and other ephemera. And, of course, The Skill Crane Kid machine. Now that belongs in a museum.
How is your family doing, and do you think social distancing will improve The Feldman Dynamic?
Early articles and reviews written about The Feldman Dynamic really played up the whole "dysfunctional family" angle. But the truth is, there is literally no way you can be a truly dysfunctional family and pull off a live theatrical presentation like this. While there've certainly been moments – many moments, actually – that none of us have wanted to continue doing this "show" (in quotes, since it's a relative term), it's continued to go on. Now, the show must go online. That stated, we had my Mom on FaceTime for the sixth night of 8 Wards of Chanukah up in D.C. and people told me they hated that.
#txtshow seems tailor-made for our current moment; how do you think performing remotely will impact the experience?
I'd have to agree that the show is more relevant now than ever. But doing the show online is something I've been reluctant to do since immediately following that very first performance at the Kerouac House, when people were already encouraging me to livestream it.
My resistance has always stemmed from feeling that it's vital for the audience to be in the room where it happens, so that everyone can see, hear and react to each other. When something shocking or surprising is said, it's always beneficial to know that someone in that space with you right then and there wrote it, and made the character say it. Making it anonymous via two screens (Twitter and, in this case, Jitsi Meet) ultimately may or may not work. But I guess we'll find that out together!
Any advice for other artists interested in using Jitsi Meet for performances?
Yes. Don't do it! Stick with Zoom and leave Jitsi Meet for me and Edward Snowden.
So, in researching possible video conferencing platforms to utilize for projects during this period of #TheaterAtHome, the main thing I focused on was selecting one that'd be extremely easy to use, extremely free without a time limit, and which offered an assurance that I could hear all audio in a single source – from every single person in the room at the same time. You know, like traditional theater.
Zoom, which everyone's using and I almost went with, doesn't always allow everyone to be heard clearly at once, and when on Speaker View it jumps back and forth, which I didn't think would work for The Feldman Dynamic (especially when everyone's talking simultaneously) or #txtshow (when it's really helpful to be able to hear the silence, and not just have everyone on mute). Ultimately, we'll find out if going with one of my best friend's top suggestions (Jitsi Meet) was the best choice when we do it live!
Do you have any upcoming projects or plans?
I was originally scheduled to travel to Goa from May through June to shoot another micro-budget feature with the same team I shot a film in Chennai, India, called Goodbye, White Guy, which has yet to be released. Ideally, if the world ever returns to normal, a notable festival will accept it and audiences will finally get to see what I look like after not shaving, eating that much, changing my clothes or taking a shower for days on end. Oh wait – that sounds like the plot to last week.
Depending on how long this thing lasts (answer: September 2021, at least), I might finally stage my long joked-about project, Brian Feldman Reads the Phone Book. Assuming I can find one. Honestly, I have no idea what I'm gonna do next. And Baruch Hashem for that!
As a theme park fan, what are you most looking forward to when the attractions reopen?
Is it too on-the-nose for me to say I'd like to visit Carousel of Progress, sing "the song" and hope that nothing breaks in the process? If it is, since I've unfortunately had to go gluten-free since my last visit to the parks, and since it doesn't look like I'm going to be spending (or making) all that much money for the foreseeable future, perhaps with my stimulus payment check I'll be able to afford one of everything from Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC at Disney Springs? If not that, then Dole Whips for everybody!
More importantly, I'm most looking forward to seeing everyone on my Facebook feed breathe a massive sigh of relief.
How many times did you wash your hands today?
More times than Lady Macbeth.