Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, the experimental theater-making duo known as 600 Highwaymen, didn’t want to wait until the pandemic was over to start creating meaningful work. But unlike many artists in their field, they didn’t immediately pivot to Zoom fundraisers and live-streaming. Instead, they went old school—really old—turning to a 140-year-old technology. A Phone Call, the first part of their groundbreaking 2020 trilogy A Thousand Ways, is basically what the title suggests. Two randomly chosen audience members from somewhere around the world have a phone conversation, guided by an artificial voice that encourages them to slowly reveal details about their lives and surroundings. Is it theater? Maybe not technically, but it drew praise for its theatricality in the sense that it brought strangers together to explore their humanity. “Telephones are this amazingly magical thing,” Silverstone says. Part 2, An Encounter, flips the concept, placing two audience members on a stage together divided by plexiglass, this time to emphasize looks, not words. After a world premiere at Germany’s Festival Theaterformen in July 2020, A Thousand Ways did something almost no other pandemic-era production managed to do: toured the world, with the first two parts visiting a combined 30-plus cities around the United States, Europe, and Asia. (Part 1 has sold an estimated 25,000 tickets so far, and Browde and Silverstone continue to add new dates and cities, from Seattle to Singapore.) Part 3, An Assembly, is in development, with a plan to debut this fall. Expect a full audience of strangers for that one, and be ready to engage with them in surprising ways. “[Lockdown] made us all experimentalists,” Browde says.
Read more about Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021