There's a Play Happening on the Staten Island Ferry
By ELIZA BENT
Monday, June 29, 2015  •  
Mon Jun 29, 2015  •  
Borough Play  •   0 comments Share This
An audience member's experience changes depending on the weather and fellow passengers
For $1.99, you can download an audio drama set on the ferry

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Is a play still a play when the actors aren't aware they're actors? Is a spectator still a spectator when they become a part of a set? Is a theatre company still a theatre company when it's called This Is Not a Theatre Company?

Founded by director Erin B. Mee and playwright Jessie Bear, TINATC specializes in ontological questions like these, challenging our notion of what constitutes a drama. The troupe's performances often take place in non-traditional settings, and their latest offering, Ferry Play, unfolds on the Staten Island Ferry. Act 1 takes place on the voyage from Manhattan to Staten Island, and Act 2 comprises the return trip.

But instead of hiring a band of actors to continually ride the ferry for a certain set of performances, Mee and Bear had them record the text of the show so that it can play in perpetuity. Ferry Play is a "podplay" that can be downloaded to smartphones for $1.99. The Staten Island Ferry and the Upper New York Bay serve as the set, the lighting is dictated by the weather and the time of day, and the actors are both voices in your ears and whoever happens to be on the ferry around you.

A nighttime view from the Staten Island Ferry
A nighttime view from the Staten Island Ferry


Mee's interest in podplays – which rely on pre-recorded audio that audience members listen to on individual devices – has grown recently, yet she remains hesitant about how most of them have the feeling of a museum tour. "I felt like the characters in podplays were too much like narrators a lot of the time, telling you where to look and what to do," she says. For Ferry Play Mee and Bear set out to create a narrative story that feels self-guided. The director and playwright rode the ferry at all times of day and night in different seasons, and as result, Mee says, "We began to think of everyone on the ferry as a character."

An audience member's experience of Ferry Play drastically changes depending on the weather and fellow passengers. A Sunday morning at 11am is very different from a Friday night at sunset. "You hear the character of April, a teenager, talk about a 'creepy guy over there,'" Mee describes. "So if you also happen to see someone you think is creepy, then you share that with April. Or maybe you see someone who isn't creepy and then you think April is judgmental. Maybe you see no one at all and have a totally different response."

Part of Mee and Bear's motivation for creating site-specific performances is offering work that encompasses and welcomes all kinds of people. "I didn't want to charge more than $1.99 for Ferry Play because that's the regular price of an app," Mee says, adding that when she and Bear gave out promotional fliers for the show at the ferry terminal, people took note. "We made this play to be available to all kinds of audiences, whether they often see theatre or not. Everyone seemed interested, from people with strollers to people in suits to people in scrubs."

Go here to download your copy of Ferry Play.

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Eliza Bent is a Brooklyn-based writer and performer

Photos by Jody Christopherson. Top photo: An audience member listens to Ferry Play.



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