Teatro Ciego: Dinner and theater in total darkness
January 14, 2012
Last night we experienced a "blind dinner show" at Teatro Ciego, The Blind Theater.
We enter the theater through a candlelit stairway, up into a dimly lit room. An usher gives the group of around ten couples an introduction, explains that the meal is placed left-to-right on the plate and to be eaten with our hands, and offers hand sanitizer. Then each couple is led by hand through a curtained doorway, into complete darkness.
Another usher introduces herself in the dark and guides us to our chairs. I'm sitting at the end of a table, Steph is around the corner to my right. We have no idea how long the table or room are. A waitress comes by and asks what we would like to drink, we can smell her perfume but can't see her, I choose red wine, she puts some glasses down. I can't feel my glass in front of my plate, so I feel to the left, find a glass, drink some wine, give it to Steph to drink some, put it back. Then the waitress comes back and puts a glass in front of me: I had been drinking from the glass of the person to my left.
The finger food on the plate is filled with mystery flavors. The juicy ball on the end of a skewer - is it an olive? A grape? A cherry tomato? In the center of the table is a bowl filled with bread, the bowl itself also made out of bread.
We can hear conversation all around, the sound bouncing off the ceiling and walls, but have no idea where anyone else is sitting.
Even though I can see nothing with my eyes open, when I close my eyes, it feels like the world is shut out. My brain associates my eyelids with perception and a few minutes in the dark doesn't change that.
When we have finished our food and drank much wine, the show starts, playing on all the senses except sight. It begins with the unmistakable aroma of coffee wafting across the room. For the next hour there is a piano, talking, shouting, singing, more scents, a wind instrument I can't identify, voices moving around us in 360 degrees. There is a morning scene with dew and we're sprinkled with water.
Adding to the disorientation is the language barrier: the Spanish I use day to day is aided by body language and a prior assumption of the topic of conversation. Listening to scenes acted out without either of these makes the dialogue mostly incomprehensible. There were scenes from a street and a cafe and maybe a train station, but what was said and going on, I haven't the faintest idea.
Occasionally I tilt or turn my head, trying to figure out where a sound is coming from, or hear it more clearly to understand the words, but my brain has never learned to build a spatial map purely from sound, so it's all a mystery.
The show ends with beautiful operatic singing, then a candle is lit and our sight returns. My assumptions of the room's shape and the location of the instruments have been quite wrong.
According to the artistic director, who is also the singer, there are several blind restaurants in the world, but none with an artistic performance. (At some, she says, the waiters cheat by wearing night-vision goggles; here the waitress - also the clarinetist - is actually blind. The rest of the actors are not.) They don't consider this place a restaurant, it's a theater that serves dinner. She speaks excellent English and tells us about her artistic vision - the show encompasses all the "elements of tango," elements of working-class life and suffering and melancholy and humor. (Children can't understand tango, she says; you have to have lived to understand it.) But I didn't really understand the show, so the vision is mostly lost on me. Regardless, the experience of losing one sense and heightening all the others, for a few hours, is exhilarating.