I

I went to a blind theater on Thursday. Beforehand, I couldn’t have imagined the profound ways it would change my perspective on life and our senses. Teatro Ciego had been on my list for almost two months. I don’t even remember who first told me about it, but it had been confirmed by locals multiple times as something I should do.

I chose an event called A Ciegas Gourmet. It was described as dinner and a musical show, in the dark. I invited one of my local friends, Ali, and posted it on the Hacker Paradise Slack channel. In total, eight of us met outside of a brightly painted, yellow and blue building.

We clumped on a hot second floor landing and received our pre-show instructions:

  • “Turn your cell phones off completely. We don’t want any light.”
  • “You will walk in like a train with your hands on the person’s shoulders in front of you.”
  • “Eat from left to right. Unless you want to start with your dessert….”
  • “There will be an intermission. If you need to go to the bathroom, yell.”
  • “The first five minutes are the scariest.”

Thankfully, Ali translated all these very important instructions for us. So, our group formed our train and headed between the curtains, into the darkness.

II

When it is dark, truly pitch black, the world falls away. The only way you know something exists is to hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it. Otherwise, it’s a void. It’s a mystery. It’s an expanse. Even though we were seated in very sturdy chairs, there was this feeling of floating, of not really being anchored to anything. I didn’t expect this dinner to hold any kind of fear or panic, but it was there, lurking at the invisible edges. Our number one sense for discerning our world had been stripped away and, with it, our ability to see threats.

All visual communication was gone. When Mike and Niels, the guys to either side of me, were silent and I wasn’t in physical contact with them, they didn’t exist. Throughout the night, we kept poking and asking each other, “You still there?”

I thought about people who go blind after birth and how they must experience something like this and how absolutely terrifying that would be. This dinner offered temporary blindness, of our own choosing. In a couple of hours, we were going to walk out and our sight would return, but the servers and the musicians and the actors in the show, they were all visually impaired. They couldn’t turn it off or walk out. It was their life.

III

Surprisingly for me, the food held the smallest segment of my attention. True, it was interesting to feel the items on the tray, take bites, and try to guess what everything was, but it was the least important part of my night. I thought the food would’ve been the point, the center, the focus, but really, the darkness was the center. And finding the walls of the darkness was the focus. I traced the edges of my tray to find my wine glass. Periodically, I stopped reaching out for the people beside me, breathed deeply, and tried to feel their existence. Could I feel the person next to me if we weren’t touching and they weren’t talking and they didn’t smell?

I could not.

Mostly, it was sound that constructed the edges of the darkness, giving it shape, filling up the emptiness. The actors did a marvelous job of moving throughout the space, never running into anything or anyone, constructing a narrative without any visuals at all, constructing a soundscape. They transported us through busy, market streets, household conversations, jungles, and a beach. We experienced the sounds of horses and money exchanges and arguments and laughter and fishing and joy. When we were in the jungle, it misted on us. When we were at the beach, it smelled like fish (thankfully, we were done eating by then).

IV

Towards the end, we heard the flicking of a lighter and, suddenly, there was a flame and a candle was lit. And then another. And then another. Maybe five candles, in total, were lit, but it felt like daylight. The spell was over, the veil was lifted, the darkness was broken, and we didn’t have to imagine its edges anymore. We saw the actors first. We saw the room. We saw the tables and chairs and plates. We saw the people across the table who had been making out all night. The stories we had constructed about our surroundings were proved or disproved in one moment. At the very end, they illuminated our menu for the evening, and I didn’t even care.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” —Anne Frank

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