Teatro Ciego – An Out of Body Experience

23 May

Tonight I met up with Vero in the Abasto neighborhood and we went to the Teatro Ciego (Blind Theater), a theater performance that is done totally in the dark, the goal being to give you the impression that you are blind. We’d heard good things in the past, and wanted to check it out for ourselves. Working around our schedules, we decided on the Sunday evening performance of El Sueño de los Elefantes (The Elephants’ Dream), a $40 peso show that came with a half hour reception with snacks and tea before beginning. At 5:30 pm the small group lined up and listened to a short introduction from the staff. The room was dark and silent with anticipation, and we all began whispering without being told to be quiet.

In small group we were led to the back of the room where we lined up and put blindfolds on, and holding the person in front of us, walked into the dark room behind a curtain where we took our shoes off. Next, we were led somewhere and told to lay on the ground and get comfortable. Vero and I were two of the last ones in, so shortly after we got on the ground the noises started. There are numerous performances from this theater group, so I can’t say if they are all like this. But for the Elephants, it started out with exotic sounds to give the impression of being in the Serengeti, with some tin siding making far off thunder noises.

I knew that the emphasis would have to be on sounds and smells, and right away the actors moved around us. It wasn’t distracting to hear the footsteps as they walked past, and what started as a far off clarinet was suddenly right next to your ear, and the next second far away again. I had my eyes closed to get total darkness, so I had to battle not to fall asleep. It wasn’t easy because I was already sleepy, but just went soft music lulled me into my head a loud percussion would take me back.

I have to imagine that this is what LSD would be like. Some sort of crazy out of body experience, seeing the music in your head, imaging what each sound was. The thing that is amazing about this kind of show is that you are essentially creating it. Rather than being told what is happening, you hear a noise and decide what it is. One second I thought it was an animal stampede, but then I thought it could be a gentle rainfall against the window. My consciousness faded in and out as I slowly dazed away, and when voices entered the play I was almost bothered to be disturbed.

The smell and drops of water were intense. Some kind of perfume was sprayed and suddenly I was taken back to a memory I didn’t know I had. I was just a small child in my parent’s room in New York, maybe August, and the sun had already set. It was her perfume, so distinct though I’ve never smelled it since. It came from a large clear bottle with a big black top. And I was taken right back there so intensely it was almost alarming. Later came the scent of some country lodge, as if I was in the woods of Vermont in the winter.

However, there were also moments when loud voices or screaming occurred. Startled from the near nap with my stiff body in the darkness, it took me back to my bus hijacking in Ecuador. Not the kind of memory you want tapped on, though it also brought back parts of that experience which I’d forgotten. The thin mat on the ground grew less comfortable with every minute, so that by the end of the show I was borderline in pain, and when someone whispered in our ears that we could sit up when we were ready, I was ready for it.

We let our eyes adjust and sat there for a while whispering about what we’d experienced. Vero fell asleep for a while but still enjoyed it. For me, it was a totally different experience that was somewhat like meditation. With more time and concentration, I could have even floated off the mat. The Elephants play didn’t have too much dialogue, so if you don’t speak Spanish, this might not be a bad choice, though other shows might have more dialogue. It could also be a bit confusing when they give you directions unless you ask for help. You most likely won’t find advertisements for this if you are passing through the city for just a few days, but if you have the time and opportunity, I recommend this as a different activity in Buenos Aires. Now I just need to see the other shows to see how they measure up.

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