POST: FringeNYC's 'auto/PHOBIA' - the darkness... it spoke

What'd I experience?

Being Mexican, I am constantly around family. When I was growing up I spent all my time with my cousins. In the fall of 2013, I moved away to Maine to start my journey of “independence”. When I decided to move back to NYC the summer of 2015, I was excited to reunite with my cousins. Unfortunately, in the time I was away, they were already adjusted in their lives without me. Autophobia. That’s when it began.

I began working at a retail store in Manhattan. After work, I’d dread going home. I always envisioned my dark basement and often times, my hardworking parents wouldn’t be home until 11pm-1am. It was for this reason that I constantly made plans with my friends. I avoided going home to an empty house until I knew I’d fall asleep as soon as I got there. One of my support systems was my boyfriend, but when I no longer had him to rely on, the autophobia began again. This time, I avoided home because it meant I had more time to think about him. Once again, I made sure to have plans every night. I made sure that I wasn’t physically alone.

It took months for me to finally become comfortable with my loneliness. I was physically and mentally exhausted from all the socializing I had been doing, that one day I decided to go home. In fact, I was actually looking forward to it. From that day, I started challenging myself to go to bars on my own, go to concerts on my own, to go home right after work. Surprisingly enough, I actually had fun doing all of these things. I had fun even without the security of another person!

It was because of all my progress that I was drawn to auto/ PHOBIA. I remember looking through my Fringe Festival options and thinking "Hmmm, this show will probably be really eerie and bizarre." 

The Monday of the performance, I had just started listening to a new podcast called "Alice Isn’t Dead". It is a fictional podcast of a truck driver who tapes recordings for her wife that she is trying to find. In all, the podcast has an eerie undertone. This is what I listened to on my dark path to The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theater. At the theater, a woman told me that the doors wouldn’t open for another 15 minutes and that I could just wander around and come back at 9:15pm. From where we stood, I could see Washington Square Park, but even if I couldn’t see it, I would have still gone there. I continued the podcast, but maybe this podcast on this particular day was not a good idea.

When I returned, the woman recognized me and opened the door behind her. I was thrown off, because I thought that the venue with the glass doors would be the entrance to the theater, but instead, it was the  inconspicuous black door right next to it. “OH! Oh!” I walked up to the third floor and two men greeted me and asked if I was here to see auto/ PHOBIA. I replied “Yes.” One of the guys scanned my ticket and I continued past him into the room. Even with my initial surprise of the black door, I still did not expect the space to be as small as it was. I guess it was because I was so used to NYC having big theater spaces, but I quickly adjusted. While I waited for the performance to begin, I read the biographies of all the people involved. I was excited to find that two of the people were Mexican. I’m always orgulloso and excited whenever I find out a Mexican is doing well. It gives me hope for my future.

At around 9:35 pm, an older man with thick glasses and a hunched back came in to announce that the play would begin. The audience lights turned off and the hunched back man closed the door. ‘Ok cool,’ I thought. Then the stage lights turned off and a type of music that I liked, trippy ambient music, began. But we sat in the dark for a little too long. All I could think was When are the lights going to turn back on? Oh god, is something going to pop up and scare me? Is it going to be that kind of show? The darkness. Even with the music… it spoke.

Finally the lights turned on. In the middle of the stage stood four people huddled together with their arms wrapped around each other. Three of them were girls, all of whom wore the same white dress with flowers printed on it. The only difference between the dresses was the color of the ruffles underneath. The last person was a guy who wore a pink flamingo colored shirt and khaki shorts. They lightly swayed. After a while they let go and the guy in pink flamingo colored shirt took every girl by the hand and led each to a different corner. He went back to the middle and started dancing. Even with his exaggerated dance moves, his body only made sounds ever so slightly. The only thing you could hear was the ambient music that had changed for a third time since the start of the performance. Afterwards, the woman to the right brought out a water gun. The prop was used aggressively and it might have been the first time that I have ever been terrified of a water gun. It might as well have been a real gun, because there was a part of me that thought he would die. Of course, it was just water. But the drop in my heart still did not lift and I felt the pain that went along with the dancer’s expression.

The woman who had used the guns was the next to dance, but I don’t remember much from her performance. Maybe it was the only one that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

The third dance performance was of the woman with the loose hair, red lipstick and smudged mascara. She was the only one who actually made a sound. The whole time, there had only been dancing and music. No speaking whatsoever. The lack of speech made me feel isolated. I felt myself wanting to fill it, but I knew it would be inappropriate. While she was the first to make a sound, it was not as comforting as I hoped it would be. She hummed and aah’ed in loud tones. Sometimes her sounds pierced through the small theater. There was even a point where she was looking directly at me for about half a minute. That was one of the moments where I felt alone. I had no one to lean on, no one to grip onto. I awkwardly looked away, but she still continued to stare in my direction.

The last section was when the guy in the pink flamingo shirt beat up a flamingo piñata. I saw other people flinch, but since I was used to piñatas being aggressively hit, I had to fight back my laughter. It was even funnier when he went to hit it a few more times after it fell to the ground. I couldn’t help but think of my younger cousins who would rip the piñatas apart and wear them like hats on their heads. 

The play ended with the guy unbuttoning his shirt and revealing a white shirt that said “Fuck off.” The lights turned off as soon as you were able to read the words and returned a few seconds later. I couldn’t tell if that was the end, but then the crowd clapped and I took their cue that it was over.

I left the theater with my feelings low. It turned out that everyone in the theater knew each other because they all patted each other’s backs. We all left at around the same time. I felt like I was having a hard time breaking out of my silence, something that I struggle with when I feel anxious. Fortunately, my phone broke the silence. No, it did not ring or vibrant. In fact, it fell down the stairs. Thud, thud, thud.

The couple that had been sitting next time during the performance were the ones who caught it with a gasp.
“It’s alright you guys. It’s an Android phone. If it were an iPhone, I would have been more scared.” They laughed and I thanked them. I stood outside for a bit as I tried to call my mom and find out where she was. Autophobia.
While I anticipated that this performance might trigger prior thoughts of loneliness, I still thought I would be strong enough to face it. Unfortunately, the play left me in a lower mood. It did not leave me with any feelings of resolution nor with any hope. It left me empty. Heck, I had gone to a theater show by myself, something I had never done before. And yet, that act was not satisfying. Even now, I am still trying to recover what I had lost during that performance. It only helped to bring out the dark side. But I’m not as scared as I used to be. I now know I can face the darkness whenever it comes because I’ll just tell it to fuck off.

- Miriam V.


Want to see it?

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