This Blind Theater Offers a New Way to 'See' a Play
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Experiencing a play in total darkness is a great way to “see” what’s going on.
By Allison Yates
We are seated by a guide one row at a time in a very dark room, snaking past a blackout curtain in conga-line fashion, gripping the shoulders of those ahead of us. There’s not even a sliver of light from an exit sign or through a curtain. Then the performance begins: voices on stage, a dog barking from the right, the smell of dulce de leche wafting from the left and water droplets tickling my arms from above. It’s a full immersion of the senses — except for sight.
This is Teatro Ciego, a theater in Buenos Aires’ Abasto district, and the play is Luces la Revolución, a story of forbidden love during Argentina’s 19th-century fight for independence. Patrons are surrounded by drama, but there are no set changes or no visual effects, and you won’t see the actors. It’s known as blind theater, and blind doesn’t refer just to some of the cast members. Everyone — the audience, directors, actors, special effects technicians — works in absolute darkness.
Buenos Aires-based actor Gerardo Bentatti was first exposed to the concept of blind theater in 1994 when he performed in Ricardo Sued’s Caramelo de Limón. He was hooked. So much so that in 2008 Bentatti and Martin Bondone — neither are visually impaired — founded Teatro Ciego, currently the only fully blind theater where all performances are done in a pitch-black room. The cast and crew are a mix of both blind, non-blind and differently abled folks — there are around 80 employees, and in any given show 40 percent of the actors are blind. The blind performers aren’t necessarily actors by trade; before Teatro Ciego, some had never even considered acting. These new-to-the-stage performers are sometimes recruited from workshops and events hosted at the Biblioteca Argentina Para Ciegos (library for the blind) or through word of mouth.
Just as the theater’s slogan hints — Lo que ves cuando no ves (“What you see when you don’t see”) — each person constructs their vision of the performance.
Each performance involves only a handful of cast and crew. Yet the fast-paced execution of techniques to produce around 50 to 60 special effects — like the feeling of ocean spray, the scent of a sizzling asado (barbecue) or dozens of animal noises — leaves you dumbfounded at how they pulled it off. Some blind theater companies around the world offer shows where audience members blindfold themselves, but for Bentatti, there’s no comparison. Peeking would take away the magic, so it’s not an option.
Just as the theater’s slogan hints — Lo que ves cuando no ves (“What you see when you don’t see”) — each person constructs their vision of the performance. Bentatti says that darkness is a tool to strengthen our sense of imagination. When there are no defining visual aspects to categorize characters, you create them. “You can say that each person takes away a different show,” he says. After the performance, I learned that Bentatti played several characters, changing his voice several octaves. Just as he said, I’d constructed versions of who those people were.
Teatro Ciego encourages a sense of playfulness and childlike curiosity, brought on initially by disorientation, then by full immersion in the drama. “I bring happiness to people [who] I believe are pretty sad in general,” says Bentatti.
The theater puts on 1,344 regularly scheduled shows a year (plus an additional 320 performances for private functions and school groups) in the black-painted space, which holds 64 people. It runs traditional and contemporary plays, all written internally, with many featuring historical or cultural Argentine themes. But on some nights you can also experience a gourmet dinner, live music and even magic shows in the dark. It’s a place for engaging entertainment but also serves as an inclusive space that brings meaningful employment opportunities to blind people.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of sitting in total darkness for 50 minutes with random spritzes of water or bursts of wind hitting your face, this probably isn’t for you. And if you do give it a try and need to leave, don’t worry — one of the non-blind actors will help escort you out.
But if you can overcome your fear of the dark, you’ll be amazed at how enlightening being present without seeing can be. “It’s such a small time for the people to change so much,” says Bentatti.
Go There: Teatro Ciego
- Location: Zelaya 3006 and Borges 1974, Buenos Aires
- Tickets: $500–$1,500 AR ($13–$40). Buy online or at the box office. See current shows here.
- Pro tip: Learning tango is a popular tourist activity in Buenos Aires. Take yours to the next level by learning it … in the dark. Teatro Ciego also offers tango lessons, where you’ll quickly learn to trust your partner.
- Want to make it a business trip? They do team-building and performances for large companies. So if you’ve always wanted to see your officemate Tim squirm, now’s your chance.
- Don’t speak Spanish? No worries. This year, they’ll launch their first performance in English.
- Allison Yates, OZY Author Contact Allison Yates