Friday, April 8, 2016

Immersive Theater in So Many Ways

Contributed by Siobhan O'Loughlin

Photo by Jason Speakman
I didn’t write Broken Bone Bathtub out of a great need to do a show in a bathroom. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll also know that it’s not something I’ve actually written. Half of the performance is the stories that audience members tell, and the rest of the semi-script came out of a bunch of sloppy journal entries (sloppy, because I only had one hand).

After my oh-so-traumatic/dramatic Brooklyn bike accident in the Fall 2014, and upon donning a cast that covered my entire left hand and arm, I started borrowing my friends’ bathtubs all around NYC, because my Bushwick warehouse apartment was a shower-only abode. I traveled to every borough to bathe and was met with kindness and affection by friends who fed me, bought me wine or chocolate to go with the bath, new bubbles, and one friend who washed his warmest, best-est bathrobe for me to borrow. I was telling these tales to my friend, writer/critic Michael Dale of
Broadway World, while sharing drinks at Don’t Tell Mama, when he said, “It’s like you’re going on a bathtub tour.”

But what if I really was?

And so, that’s what I’m doing. Thanks, Michael, for changing my life.

My goals with this piece in particular, artistically, are graciously being met. I hoped to be able to bring it anywhere that would have me, as long as there was a tub or water-based space for me to perform in. As I sit here writing this in Melbourne, Australia, I can tell you that I have received such bountiful opportunity to travel and perform this very mobile show. I also hoped that I could not only reach people with the stories I tell, as I have done with previous shows of mine, but that I could create a space in which participants felt comfortable sharing their own stories, so they could then move each other. And they have. They continue to. I have had audiences from Tokyo, Los Angeles, London, Belfast and in our own beautiful NYC, where people listen to each other, comfort one another, and open up in a tiny space in ways I have never seen before. I get to sit naked in a tub and bare witness somehow. I feel so lucky. I have yet to have a bad experience (really! You’d be surprised how even the bro-iest bros can reveal their feelings so beautifully), and I find such joy in the opportunity that this show allows me; to disarm, to charm, and to listen. In that order, I think.

I feel very privileged to be doing this show. I know that any struggle I've had with this injury cannot compare to the great injustices many people in our country and the world over are currently suffering through right now. I am not an American person of color facing the aftermath of slavery and oppression. I am not a Syrian refugee fleeing for my life. But I believe there is something that the Occupy movement enforced for me very strongly: all of our grievances are connected. Through our stories, we can connect to each other, and we can heal. That’s why immersive theatre has been the outlet for this performance. I would love for all artists to strive for transparency about their careers and situations Let’s get intimate. Let’s be brave.

There is a flip side, of course. I live out of a suitcase. When I began this tour in the Spring 2015, I gave up my permanent home in Brooklyn. I got rid of a lot of my possessions, and I reside wherever my next show is. I stay with friends or on the rare occasion when a producer puts me up somewhere. When I last performed in NYC, I was an au pair with a lovely, generous family in Brooklyn who gave me a home. Doing a few nanny gigs a year helps me immensely with finances. I have yet to receive a grant, (though I do keep applying and I am always taking donations) and while some months are great, there are others that are…opposite of great (for instance, my current nomadic status also puts a serious strain on the potential of a romantic partner).

However, we always look to the future, I think. I didn’t know that my weeping alone on a hospital stretcher with blood on my hands would lead me to be in Australia a year-and-a-half later, about to share stories with a whole new continent of people at some very cool festivals and events. Who knows what kind of beautiful things will emerge out of this month’s imminent disaster?


Siobhan O’Loughlin is a Brooklyn-based writer, performer, activist and award-winning playwright who tours her solo work internationally. She is a Moth Story Slam Champion, a founding member of the Australian/American storytelling conglomerate Everything is Everywhere, a published playwright with Indie Theatre Now, and a trained Joker with Theatre of the Oppressed NYC.

Twitter: @brokenbonebath, @siobhan_solo
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