“Phobiarama is pure ‘shudder entertainment’ with an abrasive underlying message. After your ride, you are more aware than ever of the evil mechanisms of fear, and you cannot fail to view your surroundings and fellow men in a differently light.”
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS PRODUCTION CANNOT BE REVIVED.
Dries Verhoeven draws attention to a new theatre of fear created by the tactics of terrorists, politicians and some media. In Phobiarama, which had its Dutch première at the Holland Festival in 2017, he stages their strategies in a twenty-first century haunted house.
Verhoeven: “Located deep in the brain are our fear receptors: the amygdalae, two groups of nuclei which are responsible for processing stimuli related to fear. In the face of a potential threat, they decide if we should fight or flee. This is usually a reflex action, automatic. In recent years our amygdalae have been working overtime. Though our continent has never been as safe as it is now, rarely have we been this anxious. We are constantly challenged to distinguish between real threats and cooked-up conspiracies. Politicians, marketeers and terrorists are only too ready to exploit this state of mind, forcing us to be ever vigilant. They target our fear receptors to great effect. That’s what Phobiarama is about.”
From the jury report:
The climate of fear that prevails in our modern-day world is the atmosphere Dries Verhoeven conjures up with his ingenious installation/site-specific show Phobiarama. You the visitor make your way through the terrifying darkness to the right door and step into a ghost car. You ride for a while through the darkness and then televisions start transmitting bad news: attacks, climatic disasters, alarming political rhetoric. The nature of the danger varies and the prophets of doom are sometimes diametrically opposed: a hatred-preaching imam who warns about the racist West, Geert Wilders who warns about Muslim terror. Slowly it dawns on you that what concerns Verhoeven is not the content, but the form: the theatre of fear. He makes it abundantly clear that the person who warns about a climatic disaster, uses the same apocalyptic language as the person who fears a tsunami of refugees. And we, the spectators, lap it up. We are it seems attracted to, perhaps even addicted to alarming (media) spectacle. We want to shiver and shudder.
In an intelligent construction that is packed with effects, Verhoeven then leads us from the evolutionary need for fear (for example bears), via a (media)hype like the evil clown to a confrontation with our own prejudices – fuelled by the same media – about ‘the other’. And the audience begins a highly necessary self-examination process. Do we also project our primeval fear of bears onto (a certain sort) of people? People who ‘are different’, for example, who are masked or disguised, or whose behaviour doesn’t quite tally with their appearance? The show ends with a fascinating anticlimax, which prompts us to reflect on our need for fear. Fear was once an evolutionary need, now it is an addiction.
Phobiarama is pure ‘shudder entertainment’ with an abrasive underlying message. After your ride, you are more aware than ever of the evil mechanisms of fear, and you cannot fail to view your surroundings and fellow men in a differently light.