Rating 3/5 stars
On the evening of Aug. 20, I engaged with the first of a three-part production titled “A Thousand Ways,” an experience limited to a simple phone conversation between two strangers in which the participants take turns playing the roles of actor/actress and audience member. Meant to be a journey of introspection and social connection, the production does just that yet is limited in its capacity.
Created by 600 Highwaymen and hosted by the UCCS VAPA department, the Ent Center event page describes the production as “a three-part performance in which you are the actor and you are the audience. Your words, actions, gestures, silence, thoughts, and willingness are the tools. You need no training. You are the expert.”
The information page for “A Thousand Ways (Part One)” states, “An unexpected yet inviting encounter with a stranger. Pick up the phone. Someone is on the line. You don’t know their name, and you still won’t when the hour is over, but through this exchange — as you follow a thread of automated prompts — a portrait of your partner will emerge through fleeting moments of exposure.”
As someone who participated in theater for several years, I grew up loving theater and the arts. Usually, I thoroughly enjoy the performances produced or hosted by the Ent Center. There were a number of time slots available for this show, so I selected 7:30 p.m. on Aug 20.
Within a few moments of ringing, I heard my phone connect to another line. I was greeted by both the other participants I had been matched with and the automated system that mediated the event.
“A Thousand Ways (Part One)” was nothing like a traditional theater production. Aside from the performance taking place over the phone, its progression entirely depended on the participants’ interactions with the system and with each other.
At the start of the performance, the other participant and I were asked to choose who would be “Person A” and who would be “Person B.” We were told to repeat certain phrases and to take turns answering the questions that the automated moderator prompted us with.
These questions included inquiries such as, “Name someone you love,” “What color is your hair?”, “Where are you?”, “What are you looking at?”, “What are you beside?”, “What is behind you?”, “Do you have any pets?”, “How would you describe the people you came from?”, “How would you describe yourself?” and so on.
Every few minutes or so, the automated system would have us stop to either reflect on what we said, repeat what our counterpart had just said or provide us with an imaginary scenario.
A scenario that remained with me required us to imagine we were stuck in the middle of a desert, leaving behind a broken-down car in search of a way to get home. During our mental journey through the desert, we were prompted to “count the stars” (which was just counting to 20) and imagine ourselves performing other small tasks as we continued answering questions.
This process of repeat, answer, reflect and imagine continued for a little over an hour. While initially relaxing, this pattern did become rather tedious toward the end of the show. Upon hanging up from the call, I was left with several parting thoughts.
First and foremost, the production was mostly organized, and the Ent Center’s box office did a great job at communicating the information participants needed for the performance to be successful. The pacing of the show was also on point; I never felt rushed to answer, and I never felt like I waited too long to move on.
The phone call format allows for plenty of flexibility for the participants to move around and do what they need to do, all within the comfort of their own space. The conversation is as private and anonymous as you want it to be, helping the participants feel a sense of greater freedom to open up about things that are not always easy to discuss with other people.
This production does encourage a lot of self-reflection on the part of the participants, while also helping forge a bond between two random people through their words alone.
While enjoyable, I did find that there were a few flaws with the production that made me lose interest. I found that even if you were standing entirely still in an area with exceptional signal, the automated system would sometimes sound fuzzy or cut out, leaving out important words participants needed to move on with the next part of the interaction.
This problem was further compounded with the automated system not repeating or giving you the option to hear a question or statement again. Therefore, if you happen to miss part of the prompt, you are lost.
These limitations hindered the experience as a whole and often left the person on the other end of the line and I with several moments of empty space.
While it was an imperfect experience, I would not mind doing it or something similar to it again.
Despite its shortcomings, I do believe that this was an event that worked very well in terms of bringing people together and showcasing art and theater as we transition to in-person events. Its individualistic and private format helps ensure that even audience members who are hesitant about going out due to COVID-19 can still enjoy and participate in viewing theater performances.
600 Highwaymen’s “A Thousand Ways” performance two more parts to it. “Part Two: An Encounter” was from Aug. 27-29 in person at the Ent Center. “Part Three: An Assembly” performances are scheduled from Aug. 25-Sept. 3. Each performance will occur at 6:30 p.m. in person at the Osborne Studio Theater, Green Box Arts, Heller Center for Arts & Humanities or Shockley-Zalabak Theater.
Students can attend the performances for free but will need to call to reserve their spots in the performance. Tickets and reservations for non-students are $15 and are available for purchase here. Participants do not need to have participated in the previous events to take part in “Part Three: An Assembly.”