Posted by: Anya Martin | October 16, 2008

Finding strength in fragility


Echo of a Shadow opens as a part of the Pittsburgh International Festvial of Firsts

How do you put into words a gentle rocking of your childhood imagination?  I have sat here for some time struggling for a first sentence. Language is mostly linear.  Letters fall into words and words to sentences.  And yet as a child when first writing letters, each one seemed to have a personality, smiling back at me from the page.  O was fat and amiable, N grounded and practical, A aspiring.

As a writer, I have never been able to write love poetry to my husband.  Somehow the words always feel false and flavorless, like a mass produced dinner from Applebees or a lump of raw tofu.  And here I am, trying to put Echo of a Shadow by Barcelonan theatre company Teatro De Los Sentidos into words and sentences, through a rational and logic. 

And I apologize, dear blog readers, because it feels like serving a dry scone to your guests after guiltily gulping down the richest chocolate cake in the world.

teatro de lost sentidos

teatro de lost sentidos

When first entering Echo of a Shadow, you are hesitant, self-conscious, and hopeful.  Like showering with your lover for the first time, you feel a little naked, yet vulnerable and trusting. And then with a caress, you are awash in gentleness, accepting this hushed world of scents, textures, surprises and comforts by recognizing its delicacy and briefness.

“I am a director of fragility,” admits Enrique Vargas, the Artistic Director of Teatro De Los Sentidos.  “The more fragile we are, the stronger we are.  Our whole work is on the nature of fragility.” 

Like building tents in your living room when you were a child, with a blanket stretched from your couch to the TV stand, it somehow becomes easy to slip under the false sky and into another realm of make believe.  As a child I could play for endless hours in this way, but as an adult the ease of belief evaporates.  In El Echo you have the opportunity to reclaim this ease, and unlock the sleeping potential of your own story. 

The deep gratefulness you feel for this opportunity overwhelms you as reluctantly leave the universe behind and exit. One audience member after another emerged from the show into the weirdly balmy October night, surprised to find themselves outside in a strangely normal parking lot, with street lamps and disgruntled parking police.  If they knew Enrique Vargas, they sought out his gaze and helplessly, eagerly thanked him.  If not, they found their friends and beamed at each other blushing in silence, sighing and smiling. 

Looking at audience members still waiting to go in, I couldn’t help but feel so excited for them.  It was Christmas Eve and they were about to unwrap a most precious gift.  Like a fresh convert I just want to give this experience to the whole world — to troubled teenagers, tired office workers, drug addicts, and loved ones.

As Vargas implies, you emerge empowered by an intimate encounter with your own fragility and its connections to humanity and even the greater universe.  You feel you have somehow recovered some lost pieces of yourself, often hidden in direct light and observation and found only in the wonder of re-discovering your shadows.

Tragically, performances of Teatro De Los Sentidos are completely sold out.  But if you are so fortunate as to already have a ticket — go.  You are about to have one of the most rare and treasured experiences of your life.

teatro de los sentidos




  1. Theater of the Senses …. Recapturing that Sense of Wonder?

    As the proud uncle of 4 nieces and nephews, there is a certain wonder rekindled in watching life unfold through a child’s eyes – that sense of discovery when kids see, learn, and react to new things for the first time. Like when you take them to the zoo or a baseball game for the very first time. They depend on you, and it is shared experience. These experiences can be really funny. Like when they are 3 years old, and don’t need any help from their parents in tearing the paper off their presents … they aren’t sure what is inside, or what gift might be coming next. Wonder and excitement, the perfect pair.

    Perhaps recalling that sense of wonder is one reason why it makes us feel special when little kids can say “What’s that?” or ask “Why” about something and we really have an answer. Little kids can say the darnedest things, when even the simplest “Wow, Uncle Mark” and “Thanks” truly have special meaning. Priceless moments that we can all remember.

    But kids grow up so fast – yes, too fast – and with it all kinds of pressures, whether it is studying really hard, playing sports, or trying to fit in and make new friends. And as we age, tackling life’s other challenges doesn’t get any easier whether it is the loss of loved ones, changing jobs, or just the more mundane stresses in day-to-day living. Of course, as adults, we look forward to exciting travel destinations when we are really lucky, or perhaps simpler weekend retreats to nearby parks and lakes.

    Now for me, I have a lot of interests, but I love travel and theatre. So when I read a bit of background before the show on Teatro de los Sentidos (Theater of the Senses) Echo of a Shadow from Barcelona, Spain, it piqued my interest. Some friends at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust had also called it to my attention about a month ago. It sounded interesting. It sounded creative.

    Interestingly, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust selected Ellis Armory in Shadyside for the performance. It’s really a very nondescript old building, sitting across the street from the old Nabisco Factory on Penn Avenue, near many buildings and fences at Reizenstein Middle School (now Schenley High) and Ellis School campuses adjacent to Mellon Park. It was dark. Like some undiscovered hideaway.

    When I arrived, a small group of people were waiting in another little building for their turn. After a few minutes, we were each escorted one-by-one for our personalized experience with Teatro de los Sentidos (Theater of the Senses) which consisted of an amazing array of experiences as we walked barefoot through a very complex yet seamless labyrinth of sights, sounds, textures, aromas, and taste.

    Sometimes, the spaces were peaceful and quiet. Other spaces had stunning visuals given their size. Sometimes, we were alone, and sometimes gently held by the hand. Sometimes, we had personal encounters with actors with a comfort and familiarity where it seemed somehow like they already knew us (not just waiting) and expected us, as we did simple things together. Like a gentle dream or fantasy wondrously unfolding in real-time. It was a nice place making each person feel very special, a comforting place that I’d gladly return to anytime. Like a vacation.

    With over 45 million tourists each year, Spain is no doubt among the world’s most recognized and sought after destinations with its rich history, scenic vistas, fabulous cuisine, and cultural icons. Pamplona is famous for the annual Running of the Bulls. Barcelona gave the world the amazing 1992 Summer Olympics. But for me, Barcelona’s Teatro de los Sentidos will always be something indelible in my memory if anyone ever mentions anything to me from now on about Spain.

    It is truly remarkable that Barcelona’s Teatro de los Sentidos has selected Pittsburgh for this very crucial U.S. premiere for their company. I imagine many other cities and organizations will also take notice, so that this will be viewed as quite a prestigious achievement for the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts to further build our region’s global image.

    Last night, I went to the Ellis Armory with just a simple expectation of seeing something interesting and creative. But I left with so much more. It is hard to believe that an experience that lasted just over an hour could be so memorable and have such impact. I’m glad that another 9 nights of performances are scheduled. For some, I suspect it might be the best $25 they’ll spend all year. For others, it may provide touching comfort and relaxing escape after a bad day or through a difficult time. For me, it was both. For those lucky enough to have a ticket, it will be unlike anything they’ve ever seen or experienced before from a theatrical company.

    We’ve all been taught the five senses from a strictly physiological or neurological perspective – sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. But Teatro de los Sentidos Echo of a Shadow reminds us of emotional feelings that can be quite powerful – the human sense of wonder.

    I hadn’t thought much about wonder lately until last night. Sometimes, as adults we are only fortunate enough to be completely struck by it in nature.

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