‘Blindness’ Comes from the West End to Union Square

Immersive light and sound production puts pandemic into perspective

| 19 Mar 2021 | 06:13

The first live production to return to London’s West End in August 2020 was “Blindness,” an immersive light and sound experience based upon the 1995 novel by José Saramago. Now the production is headed to the Daryl Roth Theater in Union Square on April 2 to be among the first live theater experiences in the city since the global shutdown.

In a story of a pandemic bringing a world to darkness, viewed by socially-distanced audiences, director Walter Meierjohann suggests that playwright Simon Stephen’s adaptation of “Blindness” puts the current health crisis into perspective.

“It’s a horror,” he said, “but in a way, what Saramago is suggesting is probably even worse, where one by one a whole society goes blind. So weirdly, you fit in the production and think, ‘Well, we’ve gone through a really dark period, but it could have been bleaker.’ And also, I think, in a way, this piece is very cathartic, because you have to go through quite a lot of dark stuff, experiencing it.” Due to subject as matter as physiological trauma, and descriptions of sexual assault as well as physical assault, this performance is for people ages 15 years and older.

One of the unique features of this show — which spawned from the start of the pandemic when Meierjohann wanted to start with a team of 120 people — is that there is no in-person actor on stage. The entire story is voiced by actor Juliet Stevenson through individual binaural headphones.

Meierjohann said the that having Stevenson in the audience’s ears, through the technically enhanced sound, works well for their imagination.

“It’s not just that you’re sitting at home with your headphones on. A huge part of this experience is that you are collectively socially distance in a space. And listening to a story, which really goes back to basics goes back to storytelling,” he said. “But of course, it’s technically enhanced. And there’s a massive contradiction between there is no live actor, but actually, with this by normal technique, which is like a microphone, which does almost like three-dimensional hearing.”

“Spine Chilling”

Due to travel restrictions, Meierjohan and is unable to be in New York while the show opens, but there is a team on the ground that he and the rest of the crew have been having virtual meetings with, he said from a call to the U.K. One of the crew members on the ground is associate director Markus Potter, who has been working on it since the announcement went out in October.

“It’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever been a part of,” said Potter. “And my gosh, walking me into a live theater again was spine chilling.”

In order to open, the show must follow COVID safety protocol set forth by the state. There’s a compliance officer on site to deal with pandemic safety training for all of the staff.

Even though it is about a pandemic, it is much more than that. Potter and Meierjohann would agree it’s something you have to experience.

“I really wouldn’t characterize [the] show as being about a pandemic,” Potter said, “it really uses the idea of the pandemic as a metaphor for how we treat one another. And it’s a hopeful piece, a call for more empathy in the world.”

As it continues, audiences will experience the show in Hong Kong, Mexico City, Amsterdam, and “Blindness” will be heading to Toronto and Washington, D.C. next.

Meierjohann believes that this piece can be a “stepping-stone” for future live productions.

“Although this is quite a dark piece, that means at the end, there is hope,” he said.

“I really wouldn’t characterize [the] show as being about a pandemic. It really uses the idea of the pandemic as a metaphor for how we treat one another. And it’s a hopeful piece, a call for more empathy in the world.” Markus Potter, associate director