From a Baltimore rowhome bathtub: A truly immersive theatrical experience

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Talk about an immersive experience. Siobhan O'Loughlin will perform in the bathtub of a Baltimore rowhouse.

Siobhan O'Loughlin is nothing if not fearless.

The Salisbury native, who earned a degree in acting and theater arts from Towson University, has built a career largely based on provocative solo shows she has written and performed around the world.

"Natural Novice," for example, deals with a woman who refuses to shave any part of her body. And "Broken Bone Bathtub," which started a Baltimore run Tuesday, will find O'Loughlin performing naked — except for a layer of soap bubbles — from inside the bathroom tub of a rowhouse.

"My poor mother, right? The things she has seen me do," the Brooklyn-based O'Loughlin says with a laugh.

But she's very serious about delivering meaningful theatrical experiences.

Her first solo show, "The Rope in Your Hands," addresses injustice, incorporating stories O'Loughlin heard while volunteering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "Broken Bone Bathtub" came about two years ago, when she broke her hand in a bike-riding accident on a rainy night in Brooklyn.

"I didn't have a bathtub where I lived, so I asked friends if I could use theirs," O'Loughlin says. "And they were amazing."

That generosity triggered the idea for a play about a woman with a cast on her hand and forearm trying to bathe herself. In the process, she talks about pain, friendship and community, and encourages those in attendance to share their experiences.

O'Loughlin has performed "Broken Bone Bathtub" on four continents. Australia and Ireland are among recently visited spots, along with all five New York City boroughs during a "50-baths-across-New-York" spree.

Last year, the Baltimore premiere of "Broken Bone Bathtub" sold out at Charm City Fringe Festival and generated lots of buzz.

"We heard the response she was getting," says Glenn Ricci, co-artistic director of Submersive Productions, which created the 2015 local immersive theater hit "The Mesmeric Revelations of Edgar Allan Poe" at the Enoch Pratt House.

"There's a circle of enthusiasts for immersive theater, and Siobhan [pronounced 'shi-VAWN'] also crossed my radar that way. Her show seemed like exactly the thing we should bring here."

In addition to providing a home for "Broken Bone Bathtub," Submersive Productions engaged Baltimore artist Amanda Burnham to create an art installation in the residence to complement the theater piece. Attendance per show will be limited to about 10 people, who will learn the location of the house after purchasing tickets (it will be near Patterson Park).

"For me, creating a performance is being in a dialogue with the environment I'm in," O'Loughlin says. "The bathtub piece is very personal. The only place it could take place is a bathtub. And it's very interactive. The audience takes on the roles of my close friends."

That doesn't mean getting into the act is required.

"No one is forced to do anything," O'Loughlin says. "I encourage people to sit really close to the tub and I'll ask people to do things to help me. Usually, if someone says no, someone else will jump in. When I did the show in St. Louis, one couple sat in the back and seemed kind of uncomfortable, but they came back the following weekend and told me they had regretted not participating."

If there are a lot of reserved people, limiting the interaction, O'Loughlin uses more of her script.

"I go in with no expectation," she says. "I've learned to be ready for anything. Sometimes it is a really silly show."

There's unavoidable uncertainly about an immersive, interactive theater piece in a private home.

"We want it to feel a little bit risky," Ricci says, "but never too risky."

Or risque.

"I do have a bouncer for my protection, since I'm naked in the bathtub with strangers sitting around me," O'Loughlin says. "But there's nothing salacious about it. It is not about sexuality, but intimacy. I do try to be as modest as I can. The bubbles are there for a reason."

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If you go

"Broken Bone Bathtub" opens tonight and runs through Sept. 11. Tickets are $18 to $45 (limited availability). submersiveproductions.com.

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