Stad der blinden – Theater Utrecht
How to visualize blindness on stage?
The novel City of the Blind by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago in 1995 tells the story of an unnamed city where an epidemic of “white blindness” occurs – all the victims see is whiteness, like a sea of milk – and the social disruption this epidemic causes.
Theater Utrecht took this story as the subject for their site-specific theatre project Stad der blinden. The stage settings of artistic director Thibaud Delpeut of Theater Utrecht are known for their complex sound decors. He also regularly uses video in his plays. For this piece he found a partner in MAPLAB for specific technological and performative research. The articulated dramaturgical research questions we formulated for this lab were:
- how do you design ‘seeing from memory’ as a composite? Or how do you represent the vision of someone experiencing white blindness?
- how does this ‘composite of seeing from memory’ manifests itself in (theatre) space and additionally in the imagination of the spectators?
The complexity that derives from the paradox in the dramaturgical questions (visualizing blindness) that Thibaud held, led to the desire for an interdisciplinary approach. The lab took place before the rehearsal period started, before the scenographer drew his first sketches.
We formed a team with director Thibaud, his dramaturg and scenographer, and a light designer, a video designer and a sound designer. All of whom have their own discipline related questions and working process. In order to get a wide variety of possible answers to the dramaturgical questions, it was important that all of the disciplines involved could be leading at different stages in the labweek. Thibaud could not be the director of the answers, because it would not take him out of what he could already conceptualize. This led to the following research question concerning the creation process:
- How to lead an interdisciplinary process?
- Which discipline is the directing principle at each stage of the lab week?
pivotal scenes: lab material
To focus the research Thibaud chose two key scenes from the novel, which he wanted to ‘crunch’ to be able to stage the narrative in the novel. First: a group of blind people who lived in inhuman conditions in a quarantine facility, steps outside in the street and a rainstorm erupts. Second, a scene where an blind old man takes a bath for the first time in a long period, when suddenly a silent second character starts to wash his back.
press and lab research related Article
The lab took place at MAPLAB in February 2015. Dramaturg Joris van der Meer wrote two articles on the lab. The first is a thorough description of the experiments that were undertaken to come up with solutions to the dramaturgical question concerning: How to visualize blindness for an audience? This article can be read here from the sidebar as a pdf with links to video snippets from the research lab (in Dutch). The complete album with the illustrative videos can also be found here on our Vimeo channel.
The second article is a comparison between the interdisciplinary process in which the scene with the blind man in the bathtub was researched in the lab; and the way this scene was rehearsed later on. From this micro-comparison Joris zooms out to show what added value of the interdisciplinary lab approach has been for the creation of this production. This second article will be online in June 2015.
In the national newspaper Volkskrant Stad der blinden is mentioned as a cultural ‘must see’ for this summer. You can find the article in the sidebar.
Summer 2015 Theater Utrecht will perform Stad der blinden at several Dutch festivals: SPRING, Oerol Terschelling, Festival Over ‘t IJ and Theaterfestival Boulevard.