Below is our review of the most recent Candle House Collective experience in their help! series, each and every. Read our review of previous help! series entries: claws and on the serenity of oranges.
For the past 40,000 years, people have made music. Evidence of songwriting and musical instruments permeate all throughout human history and is found within every known society – even the world’s most isolated and primitive ones. Of all art forms, none is more universal, understood or human. Music is the language through which our souls communicate. It’s the perfect vehicle for channeling feelings, emotions and ideals. While language and beliefs divide us, music, more than anything else, is capable of uniting us. While individual tastes may vary, love and enjoyment of music is one of the very few things that every person on this planet has in common.
Sadly, so is death.
each and every is the latest phone-based immersive encounter from Candle House Collective, and the third production to be released as a part of their 2020 anthology, help!. each and every takes place entirely over one single phone call, but at around 80 minutes, it’s easily the longest and most layered Candle House Collective production this year. Created by Evan Neiden and Taylor Feld and once again directed by John Ertman (who also directed claws and on the serenity of oranges), the experience is both highly personal and uniquely collaborative. While each and every’s narrative is mostly linear, ending largely the same way for everyone who does it, audiences do have some agency deciding the shape and direction the experience takes in getting there. It’s also – as is often the case with Candle House Collective – startlingly emotional at times, demanding its participants recall and consider some difficult moments in their lives.
Like in the earlier help! productions, participants take on the role of a volunteer for the Etcetera Helpline, an ersatz helpline for all of life’s little problems. It turns out that the person you’ll be helping today is Taylor, who is also a volunteer for the helpline. Today, however, Taylor needs some help from you.
At its heart, each and every is a show about friendship and grief, and how the first can leave you vulnerable to the latter. It also has a real interest in music’s ability to express feelings and emotions in a way that can be universally understood. However, it’s not at all straightforward in its consideration of these themes, and while it does deal with grief, it isn’t a heavy experience. Neiden and Feld keep their narrative light by weaving two compelling, but disparate, elements into it. The first is the notion of Pandora’s Box, the well-known Greek myth in which the unwitting Pandora accidentally unleashes all the world’s evils onto humanity. The second is the Voyager space program, which in 1977 launched two probes into the depths of space.
Discovering the exact ways in which these play into the overall experience is part of the fun, but both share two common themes – darkness and hope. Yes, they take on very different forms, but both Pandora’s tale and the Voyager probes remind us that in the face of the overwhelming, we’re guided by hope. There’s a lot happening in the world right now that feels overwhelming, but for Taylor, the worst of it seems to be the grief they’re feeling over the recent death of their childhood friend Luke.
It’s worth pointing out that we don’t learn the details about Luke’s death until well after Taylor’s first mention of him, and we gain that information little by little. Layering in the heavier details in this way allows each of them to beautifully land and elicit the proper response, but it’s also what keeps the experience from ever becoming too somber. The conversation with Taylor – at least as I experienced it – never once veers too deeply into the awkward, truly uncomfortable moments that often are a part of conversations with mourning friends.
Everyone handles grief differently. Taylor’s way of handling it is both unique and profoundly beautiful, and it’s here where you’re asked to play a role. Life is comprised of moments made up of good emotions and bad, and the right song experienced at a key time can often be the perfect reflection of either. Combine a few of these highly personal songs together, and you have a unique reflection of who you are as a person. Assemble a good number of these collections, and you start building a snapshot of who we are as a people. each and every puts that idea into action in a unique way that allows Taylor to share some of the emotions they feel at the loss of their friend while gently eliciting and gracefully listening to any challenging feelings you yourself might be experiencing at the moment. Ultimately, what you and Taylor create together serves as a poignant tribute to their lost friend and as a catalyst for audiences to let go of some bottled emotions. It’s cathartic, joyful and life-affirming, while still acknowledging the long-term nature of grief.
each and every recommends that participants spend some time with their music collection before their experience and it’s essential advice. While a deep knowledge of popular music or music as an art form is not necessary, knowing the songs that resonate with you on an emotional level will certainly yield a better experience. That said, if a love of music is something that drives you and is a big part of your life, each and every is likely to be particularly rewarding for you. The show builds on our emotional ties to music, using them to create a collective message about what it means to be human right now, painting a sonic picture of all the good, bad and ugly moments that comprise life in 2020.
However, it’s here where I ran into the one problem I had with each and every. While it’s hard to deny the delight that comes from discovering what you and Taylor will be doing together, I did feel slightly unprepared for it. Telling audiences to consider their music collection is about the best advice Candle House Collective can give ahead of each performance, but it’s not quite enough. I found myself putting together a list of my favorite songs – ones that all had meaning for me. But very few of them wound up being relevant to what I needed, forcing me to come up with at least one song on the fly that I wished I could change afterward. I don’t really have a good solution to this. I feel like to go into specific detail about what kinds of songs you should be looking for would give away too much, and the truth is that it really didn’t hurt the overall experience for me. So, come prepared with a broad list of songs, but don’t be surprised if you still manage to find yourself putting it aside and having to come up with a song or two in the moment.
Like every Candle House Collective show that I’ve experienced, the acting in each and every is top notch. If you picked up on the fact that “Taylor” is also the name of each and every’s co-creator, that’s no coincidence. Taylor Feld, who absolutely stunned in Candle House Collective’s The Lucky Ones last year, plays a version of themself in this largely autobiographical work. Feld displays a remarkable range of emotions here, drifting from enthusiastic and funny at times to deeply sad and angry at others. Through it all, however, they remain a wonderfully warm and approachable performer, quickly creating a space in which the audience feels comfortable sharing and opening up. The script, written by Neiden and Feld, is never less than fascinating and at times deeply powerful. Taylor’s description of the cyclical, dehumanizing nature of grief is one of the best I’ve ever heard and instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever lost someone close to them.
I don’t think I can emphasize enough that for a show dealing with grief, each and every is a ridiculously fun experience. That’s because, with its clever pacing and its interest in uniquely paying tribute to Taylor’s deceased friend, it’s far more a celebration of life than it is a meditation on loss. And not just Luke’s life – all life. Yes, you may cry, but you’re also going to laugh and smile and will likely finish it up emotionally in a much better place than you were when you started. each and every builds on the idea of music helping us through pain, revealing how much more it can help when you involve others. Ultimately, it offers hope and reassurance about our shared experiences at a time when many may be feeling anything but connected to others. Have no doubt, each and every makes it clear that grief is painful and can sometimes change your life forever. But it also demonstrates that if you don’t lose hope, it can often yield some pretty surprising, pretty wonderful things.