Want to be an audience of one at your own private immersive show? You can with a new breed of theatrical audio experiences that are (lucky for us) growing in popularity. Just pop in your headphones and you’ve got a front-row seat.
Merging elements from podcasts, surround-sound plays, popular music, and walking tours, these site-specific audio programs invite you to explore a neighborhood or experience in an entirely new way. This Is Not a Theatre Company’s “Ferry Play,” for example, instructs you to board the Staten Island Ferry to “meet ghosts from the ferry’s past.” And UnionDocs’s “Southside Stories” allows you to view the neighborhood of Williamsburg through the eyes of its residents as it undergoes an ongoing transformation.
But this new app, Hear Their There Here, commissioned by St. Anns Warehouse takes this type of site-specific audio several steps further by safely utilizing the geo-location capability of your smartphone throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park.
This “sound walk” isn’t simply a guide; instead of you following along with it, it follows you. The content is hundreds of real-life conversations recorded in the park over several months by the app’s team, creator Geoff Sobelle and sound designer Gareth Fry. Sobelle breaks it down for us: “I started each of them with the question, ‘What are you looking for?’ and the recording went from there. No one was prepared, resulting in raw, personal accounts from people of various backgrounds and perspectives. This was important to me, as I think you get certain ‘musings’ from people when they are allowed to stroll and let their thoughts wander.”
If you choose to stand in one area for the duration, you’ll only hear one conversation. If you choose to walk this way or that way, however, thanks to your phone’s GPS system, you’ll be walking into the zones of other conversations. And once you’ve heard a certain story, the app won’t play it again. “It really is impossible to take the same walk twice,” says Sobelle. “Depending on how fast you move through a pool of sound, or how long you linger, different clips will play after one another. The context in which you hear each one, therefore, changes each time.” It senses your movement like an aural virtual reality game—and there’s an entire map to explore.
You may end up getting so engrossed that you bump into real objects—like people—so keep your eyes peeled. Let yourself get partially lost in this “show,” though, and you’ll experience a new level of theater.
Why You Should Go: Fry is the sound designer of the Tony-winning The Encounter, which wowed audiences and critics alike with its immersive sound design. Plus, what a great excuse for a walk in the park!