Individual tastes notwithstanding, it can be argued that the best theatre is that which connects us to our own humanity and lived experience. Though the COVID-19 outbreak, and ensuing mass quarantine, has curtailed our options for public performance, this collective drawing-inward has proved unexpectedly fertile ground for artistry, inspiring new means of creative expression and prompting us to delve deeper into our inner worlds for inspiration and strength. Befitting its unconventional, sensory-focused production style, NYC-based performance group This Is Not a Theatre Company addresses social isolation with Play In Your Bathtub, an interactive “audio spa” experience designed for listeners’ personal spaces.
Upon registration, participants receive an email with instructions and a private Soundcloud link to the show’s 25-minute audio recording, to be played while soaking in a bathtub (or foot bath). The accompanying prop list guides us to gather a damp washcloth, scented items such as aromatherapy products, a beverage of choice, and a candle or other soft light source. While previous interior-based TiNATC shows such as Theatre In The Dark: Carpe Diem and Versailles 2015/16 have derived similar immersive effects from the company’s detailed curation, Play In Your Bathtub’s reliance on our own resources still produces a comparable effect while making the experience nicely customizable (and an excuse to break out that glass of wine or long- forgotten bath bomb). Although the experience is solitary, the company’s suggested listening times seek to replicate the time-and-place practice of theatre-going, another appealing bit of normalcy, and a chance to prioritize something enjoyable.
The recording itself functions like a guided meditation, inviting us to absorb the simple pleasure of a bath while lightly directing our focus to its singular elements. Against a backdrop of ambient water sounds and classical music, the show begins with a whispered directive to “drink from the well of yourself to begin again.” Ensuing sequences prompt us to massage our scalps, “dance” with the water by touching and rippling its surface, savor our drinks, or note the visual and tactile details of the bathroom tiles. Other segments take a contemplative turn: parallels between the bathtub and the ocean reference humanity’s awe-instilling smallness, while rhapsodies on the senses remind us of both the fleetingness of that which we perceive and our ability to rekindle it through memory and imagination. In one instance, TiNATC company member Jonathan Matthews leads us in a singing exercise, first directing some simple call-and-response vocalizations, then inviting us to harmonize with him. The sequence is as profound as it is enjoyable, inspiring a childlike sense of play while recalling the underrated beauty of joining voices with others. After the scripted portion concludes, the recording continues with an extended period of water sounds, allowing us to linger in the bathing experience and re-emerge as we see fit.
Play in Your Bathtub’s effectiveness lies in its simplicity, and TiNATC eschews most of its trademark social insights in favor of bath-like immersion and comfort. Though the piece would hold appeal under any circumstances (and, personally, I’d love to see a post-COVID revival), the conditions in which we now find ourselves give it several new layers of meaning. Like the act of quarantine itself, Play In Your Bathtub requires us to slow our pace, consolidate our focus, and pay closer attention to our immediate surroundings. As these changes have, for many, sparked considerable fear and disorientation, the piece’s appeal to self-care is profound, and all the more essential to our collective physical and mental well-being. Conversely, for others, this paring-down has produced an uncanny calm, a newfound sense of discovery, or an appreciation for that which we once ignored or devalued. By highlighting these more benign aspects of solitude and distilled experience, Play In Your Bathtub affirms that our strange new conditions need not be roundly sinister or stripped of meaning. Even in reduced circumstances, it posits, we possess an endless capacity for creation, contemplation, and joy, and need only give ourselves a small nudge to access it. As such, the piece is more than diverting entertainment; it’s a comforting gift to a world in sore need of it. As the quarantine progresses, testing our capacities and inspiring countless new forms of creative response, Play In Your Bathtub stands as a reminder that the simplest experiences are often the most meaningful.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.