The “human experience” is an interesting thing. At times, it seems like this lofty idea that is too ambiguous to have any real meaning. In reality, the human experience is based on what becomes “natural” for each individual, as no single person’s experience is exactly like another’s. However, throughout life we are handed so many opportunities to empathize and relate with those outside of our own personal echo chamber. Sometimes, these experiences ask us to let go of our inhibitions and test our level of comfortability; to journey into the dark. This last weekend, the “dark” manifested a little more literally than figuratively in the form of The Blind Café.
As a self-described impactful, positive social change experience, The Blind Café is an opportunity for dinner and a show unlike any other: dining in 100% darkness. The uniquely crafted evening begins with a brief explanation of what to expect and the ground rules are laid out to ensure everyone has a comfortable experience. As groups of 8 begin to line up, they are guided to the entrance of the space where a series of curtains hang to block the outside light from traveling into the room. Once you enter, a legally blind server takes over the group as they guide you to your seats, moving slowly through the room as to not bump into anything on the way.
The first 15 minutes of the night are the most unnerving – you literally can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. With dinner already served and ready on the table, the patrons are encouraged to begin eating as a Q & A with the blind staff gets underway. Feeling around the table, it was not hard to identify the packaged dinner, water bottle, or grapes. Although, if you weren’t careful enough, you may have also ended up with a handful of butter for the sliced bread. Rumor has it there were also chocolate covered strawberries, but those must have missed me and my seat at the end of the table.
As the Q & A continues, no question is off the table. As an observer, the staff were well equipped to answer even the most ignorant of questions, although nothing seemed too inappropriate. The thing about ignorant questions is that you don’t always realize how ignorant they are until you have an answer. The responses the staff gave to all the questions were insightful, engaging, and honest, without making anyone feel as if their question was stupid. Ignorance, first and foremost, is a lack of understanding; knowledge. The only way to combat it is to recognize your own ignorance and address it with an open mind.
Following the Q&A, a dessert of what I believe was some sort of cocoa-berry compote was served by the staff as the evening’s entertainment took the stage. Joined by local musicians Dango Rose and Andrew Forbes, Rosh and the Blind Café Orchestra began their set with Forbes playing a joyful Irish tune on the bagpipes in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The rest of the set was very much an “acoustic Sunday” feel in that it was both welcoming and an easy listen. It was a clear indicator of the mood they were trying to set for this portion of the night.
As the music continued, I found myself becoming more and more animated in how I was taking in this experience. No one could see me, and yet I was bopping around in my seat, enjoying the music to an almost “silly” degree. I could feel my inhibitions lessening and my whole body and mind becoming more, in a word, free. It’s interesting, really, to realize that you are more comfortable in the dark surrounded by people than you are in the light amid the same group of strangers. At one point, our table’s conversation led to my divulging of being a musician; a vocalist. As my tablemates asked me to sing a tune, the first thing I thought to sing was an original piece that even my date for the evening had never heard – and I sing in front of him all the time. It’s interesting that the first thing out of the hat was something more personal, instead of one of my go-to karaoke numbers. It makes me wonder: Are we more afraid of performing in front of others or are we more afraid of visual reaction from others? There was something about singing in the dark that made the other people’s opinions, good or bad, less important and made the music the focal point, more than it had been before.
What I found most interesting about the evening, is that their main goal is to provide a new kind of music-intake experience, not blindness awareness. In a separate interview, Rosh acknowledged that because there are multiple levels of blindness, it would not be appropriate to say that they were promoting “the blind experience.” However, due to the already established nature of the night, he quickly recognized that there was at least an opportunity to raise philanthropic awareness of blindness and to incorporate opportunities for those in the visually impaired community. Personally, the night served as a reminder that anyone, regardless of means and ability, can succeed. The professionalism of the blind staff and other volunteers was second to none, and I can’t wait to see Esha Metha, one of the staff members for the evening, in her performance of Into the Woods with Phamaly Theatre Company this summer in Denver.
The Blind Café is a touring community awareness event organization based in Colorado. For more information and to learn where you can attend, visit www.theblindcafe.com. To book a private event or bring them to your city, click here!
Jon Bee, Student Services Administrator, Voice Faculty, Professional Dark Eater