Theater artist Siobhan O'Loughlin broke her hand and fingers in a bad bike accident in 2014. The doctor told the New York–based artist to wrap up her giant cast in a plastic bag when showering, but O'Loughlin was anxious about doing that "because I'm an anxious person," she said recently.
So she thought to take baths instead. A major problem presented itself: She didn't have a bathtub.
Out of desperation, she called up friends to ask if she could use their facilities. They graciously accepted, and soon she was bathing in every borough in New York City. Her friends offered more than just their tubs. Some bought her wine and chocolates. Some made her dinner. Some just cleaned up the bathroom real nice. "They gave me so much kindness and generosity," she said. "They helped me heal."
Her "literally immersive" one-woman show, Broken Bone Bathtub, emerged from this experience. O'Loughlin originally intended the performance to be a 30-minute monologue composed largely of her journal entries from the time of the accident. But during the 2015 premiere in an Airbnb in Tokyo, Japan, she realized it needed to be much more interactive.
"The audience's knees are up against the tub, where I'm naked, covered only with bubbles. And they're giving me a bath. They're washing my hair. As I shared my stories, people began to share their stories. It turned into this hour-long immersive experience," she said, laughing again at the pun, which is excellent and completely inescapable.
"The audience took on the role of being my good friend. I was so nervous and so scared and afraid of being judged. I felt more vulnerable than I'd ever felt as a performer. But it was a natural experience. We were all problem-solving different kinds of trauma. We were talking it out—talking about what these feelings do to us, how we get through them, and how we don't."
Since then, she's performed Broken Bone Bathtub in strangers' bathrooms all around the world. She's traveled to five countries (even the Isle of Man!) and toured several cities in the United States. In Saint Louis, she told her story from a lavish marble tub in the Lemp Mansion. In Minneapolis, she did it in a pink-and-gold bathroom near a sink faucet that looked like a swan. Audiences generally range from 5 to 15 in number, and from 7 to 80-something in age. Though she is naked, O'Loughlin says it's pretty PG. "You might see a boob—I can't promise that you won't. But it's a piece about vulnerability, so there's not a lot of exhibitionism going on," she said.
In Seattle, she'll celebrate the show's 300th performance. There will be cake.
On the event website, you can see the 10 neighborhoods where the show will run. She's covering all corners of town, including Mount Baker, West Seattle, Capitol Hill, Ballard, and even Tacoma. At the end of the month, O'Loughlin goes to Olympia and then Portland. Show up early and take advantage of goodie bags full of soap and tea, and prepare to sit in cramped quarters on little stools or on a commode. "Sometimes it's the best seat in the house," she said.
Seating is, understandably, extremely limited. There are only 250 seats available during her May 3–24 run, and O'Loughlin says they'll likely sell out.