Vision for social change at ‘Blind Spots’

The audience slowly files into a black box in Lilly Hall.

People shuffle around other patrons and step over actors sprawled across the floor. Under dim lights, “Blind Spots” is set to challenge viewers’ comfort zone.

“Blind Spots:  An Exploration of Empathy and Ensemble” is one part performance, one part social experiment. The show was staged in eight separate segments, with each individual segment focusing on how people perceive themselves, others and their interactions.

The performance is senior Amalia Howard’s project with the Butler Summer Institute. Howard said she has been meeting with her six-person ensemble since May, working with exercises that introduced each performer and their own personal experiences.

This genre of performance is what Howard calls “theater for social change,” a path Howard said she would like to follow in the future.

“This particular show was inspired by the work me and my ensemble did this summer,” she said. “We did a lot of exercises from theater for social change; things where you share personal stories or you do exercises that build you as a group.

“From there we found a lot of themes about identity and perception among people our age.”

Each member of the audience was given a program with two fill-in-the-blank statements: “I am…” and “I want…”

After filling in the blanks, each person handed their program back to an usher.

Contemplating all of the silly things I could write, I chose to say “I am a journalist. I want success.”

Howard hoped her prospective theater-goers would take it seriously, which some did.

The programs were redistributed at random. I received someone’s program that read “I am moist. I want a towel.”

Between each act, a plushy soccer ball was thrown around the room and the person who caught it read their two sentences aloud.

Each set of sentences was a small, cathartic experience, punctuating each tense act.

One of the more forlorn statements was “I am an American still hurting from 9/11 and I want peace for our country.”

Howard’s play made a powerful attempt to understand other people.

Starting off, the tone was set with a dance-like routine performed to “I Will Possess Your Heart” by Death Cab for Cutie, while each member of the ensemble acted out a daily task.

It was quickly followed by a segment  called “Close Your Eyes (You Can’t See Me),” in which a blind woman muses about how she would rather be blind than exposed to human judgment.

Moving down the line to the fifth act, the theme of listening and understanding others is further exemplified.

“Ord:  An Exercise in Listening” took only two of Howard’s ensemble members to express an idea.

The situation was simple: a man who does not speak English is explaining something  no one in the audience could truly know and he eventually gets on a bus or a train. When a woman who only speaks English sits next to him, the man is forced to listen and not talk, sneaking stymied expressions at the audience.

Slowly, it becomes evident that sometimes all a person needs is somebody there to listen.

With each act, the intensity level moved up and down on the comfort scale.

Nearing the end of the production, each audience member was paired up with another and made to look into each other’s eyes.

Some of the ensemble’s actions verged on physically violent or disturbing. There are a lot of extreme movements in “Blind Spots.” It could be a little unsettling, to the point  that it was bothersome.

But the extremes of the production were polarized by Howard’s themes, which shined brightly for social change.

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