On the outside, there’s not much to distinguish Teatro Ciego from the other independent theaters in Buenos Aires. Moments before the show, the foyer is filled with guests intermingling and sipping on Malbec. But Teatro Ciego (Blind Theater) is something completely unique – every play is performed in complete darkness.
You don’t so much watch the show as experience it through every sense except sight. This unusual method is proving popular: the theater has been around since 2008 and there are now regular performances of 10 different shows.
The rules at Teatro Ciego
When it’s showtime, staff come into the foyer and explain the rules. Phones have to be switched off, not just put on silent, and electric watches should be taken off: even the dim screen glow is enough to spoil the darkness inside the theater. It's also recommended you take off your glasses, in case they get snagged on anything.
At first glance, the people guiding you inside could be mistaken for stewards. They're all wearing plain black clothes with the Teatro Ciego logo and little makeup. Actually, they’re the actors starring in the show. There are no visual spoilers and no need for costumes or stage makeup when the performance is in utter darkness.
The actors usher the audience into the theatre in small groups. Each guest puts their hands on the shoulders of the person in front as they pass through a thick, black curtain into the pitch dark.
Related articles: Eating, living and dancing like a porteño in Buenos Aires
Enjoying dark magic
In the dark magic show Iluzo, a grand and self-consciously hyperbolic conjuror takes to the stage, performing feats of mind-reading and making objects appear in seemingly impossible places. Perfectly timed crashes, bangs, wallops and even smells stimulate mental images of the theater around you.
Unlike many conventional magic shows, where tricks are performed on glamorous assistants and unwitting audience members, everyone experiences the tricks simultaneously. It’s disorienting, deeply psychological and delightfully surprising. The performance itself lasts a little under an hour, and it’s important to arrive on time: given the immersive nature of the performance, latecomers are not allowed in.
Origins of dark theater
The technique was pioneered in the 90s by drama teacher Ricardo Sued in the Argentine city of Córdoba, who started meditating in the dark, according to Teatro Ciego general producer Ezequiel Viscovig.
Sued began adapting theater techniques to the darkness and ultimately developed the work Caramelo de Limón (lemon sweet), to be performed in the dark. Viscovig says that although other theaters work with sensory deprivation techniques such as blindfolds, Teatro Ciego is the only theater where all plays are performed in the dark.
Catering to non-Spanish speakers
Unsurprisingly for a theater where you can’t see, language is an important component of the shows. If your Spanish is anything less than perfect, tell the actors at the beginning. Not only is the performance delivered in a fast stream of Argentine Spanish, you actually need to think in Spanish for some of the tricks to work.
However, Iluzo director and performer Jonás Volman speaks fluent English and uses clowning techniques to work with speakers of other languages so they can enjoy the show, too.
“Generally, the effects work,” he says, smiling.
A play for everyone
The broad variety of shows mean there’s something to suit all tastes. Mi Amiga la Oscuridad (My Friend the Darkness), which runs on weekend afternoons, is a show specifically for children. Amurri, who also acts in this show, explains that children are introduced to the darkness gradually, so they don’t get scared.
At Sonido 360, classic albums by bands like Queen and Pink Floyd are played through a state-of-the-art surround sound system so you can enjoy them without any kind of distraction. There are even speakers in the ceiling.
If you really want the full-scale sensory experience, the show A Ciegas Gourmet features a seven-course taster menu during the play. The menu itself is a secret to avoid spoiling the experience, but they cater to vegetarians, coeliacs and other dietary requirements, as long as you give 48-hour notice.
Related articles: Top 10 Buenos Aires experiences
Teatro Ciego’s impact
Teatro Ciego’s motto, Lo que ves cuando no ves (What you see when you can’t see), feels the most real when the lights come on at the end. You realize the theater you’ve been imagining, the stage with its heavy velvet curtain and the orchestra pit framed by ornate wooden carvings, only exists in your mind.
The magician, who you’d mentally dressed up in a grand top hat and tails and who definitely had a mustache in your imagination, must be one of the friendly, unassuming guys showing you the way out, although you’d be hard-pressed to say who.
In a way, you’ve been at the same show as the people around you, but there are some parts of the show that you created yourself and only you can ever know.