Review: The Art of Facing Fear by The Red Curtain International and Os Satyros

Standing in solidarity against the hurt and fear that plagues this world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an onslaught of problems to the world, plunging the year 2020 and beyond into uncertainty and trepidation, with no clue what the future looks like or how to plan for it. How then does one face fear?

For Brazilian theatre company Os Satyros, fear is best faced by addressing it head on, expressing and capturing the anxieties of 2020 through their online play The Art of Facing Fear. Performed on Zoom and directed by Rodolfo García Vázquez, the play takes advantage of its digital form to ambitiously unite 25 international cast members from around the world, coming together to share their experiences of fear in 2020 through a montage of scenes.

Performing a play on Zoom is already hard enough, even more so having to juggle this many different time zones and potentially unstable internet connections from the cast. Yet, despite these differences, The Art of Facing Fear manages to unite us all from the start by posing a simple question: what are our fears? In sharing and reading the various responses from the audience, it quickly becomes apparent that we’ve each been confronted by fear in our own way, ranging from the benign to the existential, each fear valid in its own way.

The Art of Facing Fear begins proper with its opening credits, showcasing a series of monochrome photos of various cities around the world, serene and stark, each one devoid of people thanks to the various lockdowns implemented in 2020. The play uses this as a springboard to imagine a dystopian future, where the narrative is set, as people stuck in quarantine create an internet group, coming together to share their stories. Each one dressed in aluminium foil and speaking their own language, their rooms either darkened or in a dishevelled state, it’s not hard to imagine this as the worst possible outcome if the virus continues to ravage the world.

In the scenes that follow, we’re privy to a multitude of actors and their vulnerability in these times, from losing their loved ones to fears of not being able to get the vaccine. These are showcased in a variety of forms – from Chasse and Rutva performing interpretive dance, capturing the myriad of violence and pain and helplessness that the pandemic has brought with it, to actors using Zoom’s functional features to superimpose images of the sky on their masks, as if symbolising the search for some kind of freedom and fresh air once again. In one scene, Sabrina Denobile shares a tender moment with her daughter Nina, talking hopefully about the future.

On the more surreal side, there are even scenes where performers imagine living in a surveillance state, constantly anxious over being taken away by mysterious authorities. Or a particularly absurd scene, as a white man begins to humblebrag to his friends about all the benefits he enjoys, while he slowly but surely finds himself alone as they leave one by one, encapsulating how some people are simply blind to their privilege.

The most powerful scenes however, are those that come from places of real pain that become a siren call for change. In a rousing monologue, Victoria Chen speaks of fighting for revolution against the powers that be, while Fenny Novyane talks about her fears of walking home alone, referencing the various incidents of blatant anti-Asian violence in the USA. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire performance comes from the African actors; one scene sees Paulo Figueira continually binding his face with cling wrap, gasping for air as he shouts ‘I can’t breathe’ while tribal drums beat in the background, viscerally bringing to mind the death of George Floyd, before the others come together and raise their fist into the air, reminiscent of the BLM logo as they continue to stand against anti-Black violence.

The Art of Facing Fear can only be described as a chaotic hodgepodge of scenarios, reflecting how insane the past year has been in terms of all the world has experienced. Director Rodolfo García Vázquez allows his cast to express themselves freely, and with it comes the primal energy that translates to us, even when divided by a screen. But just when you think it all gets too much, we see Nina Ernst quote Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, reminding us that hope will survive even the wildest of storms. Watching the cast all come onscreen, we sense their togetherness despite being physically apart. We hear them sing ‘What A Wonderful World’, and realise that even with all the uncertainty present, this is a global phenomenon, and without a doubt, will come through stronger, when we choose to face our fears and work to overcome them together.

The Art of Facing Fear played online at 2am, 10am and 7pm on 20th June 2021 (Singapore Time). More shows may be released if you ‘Pay It Forward’. More information available here

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