EMILY WAS HERE: A Unique Experience Where The Brooklyn Bridge Is The Stage

VENTS caught up with the creators of Emily Was Here , the first groundbreaking immersive interactive experience that is available right now, on the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

Hey guys! Welcome to VENTS. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Before we dig deep, tell us a bit about yourself. 

Hey! So, I am Alba Albanese, an actress, writer, and director. I founded an independent production company BrooklynGirl Productions and is a founding member of Actors Theater of NYC. I also wrote, developed, and created several immersive theater experiences, and interactive shows with emerging technology. I live in New York City and work in film, theater, immersive theater with tech and TV. 

Hey guys, and I am Phil Olarte, an actor turned tech entrepreneur who founded and created ChalkNotes, a platform for creators to tell stories with the power of mixed reality technology. Last fall I produced Wherefore Art Thou Juliet, an augmented audio experience showcasing NYC’s Theater District. I am working at the forefront of a new type of theatrical storytelling where the story digitally integrates with the world around us.

We are excited to learn about ‘Emily Was Here’ on the Brooklyn Bridge. Can you tell us about it and when and how can people participate in ‘Emily Was Here’? 

Alba: 

Emily Was Here XR (extended or mixed reality) is an original interactive storytelling experience on a national landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge where you will experience several stories while walking across the Bridge. The interactive experience includes a personal journey guided by Emily Roebling, dozens of poems both classic and modern performed with a multidisciplinary cast, and an original New York City love story – all while discovering AR (augmented reality) visual moments throughout the bridge. Emily Was Here is designed specifically for an audience who walks across the bridge – binding elements of the story to different locations on the Bridge. 

Phil: 

What is mixed reality? It is when digital integrates with the real world. We use our phones as a window to this new world. Emily Was Here brings together both audio of actors performing, maps to guide you, and visual 3D objects – all related to your real world surroundings – all made visible through the ChalkNotes app. You unlock more and more of the story as you walk across the Bridge, moving from location to location. Unlike traditional theater, there is no start or stop time, but it does have a venue – the Brooklyn Bridge. You buy a ticket for access at newyorkcityxr.com or in-app, go to the Bridge, and start on your schedule on the ChalkNotes app. The first location gives you a tiny audio orientation and off you go!  The length of the experience is up to you. It can be anywhere from thirty minutes to spending your whole afternoon on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Why create ‘Emily Was Here’? Why the Brooklyn Bridge and Emily Warren Roebling? What inspired you to make Emily Was Here?

Alba: 

I’m from Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Bridge has always been home for me. Writing about Emily Roebling, a woman ahead of her time, and introducing her to the world in a way that people did not know her is very important to me. I am also inspired by the artistic community in New York, literature, and poetry. I was compelled to include dozens of multidisciplinary artists to recite and perform poetry. 

I cast actors who I worked with in the NYC theater community.  I believe in merging the world of theater with emerging technology, embracing the future of storytelling. Every location is a story and with emerging technology we can bring those stories to life. Awaken the senses. I believe this is the way humans will experience stories in the future – mixed reality. Stories are not reserved only for a 2D screen – they are everywhere – baked into the bricks. To partnering with Phil that founded ChalkNotes, that was a perfect union as Phil’s sense of story makes ChalkNotes a perfect collaboration for artists like me who sees technology as incredibly creative. 

Phil: 

As a former performer I built my app to respect the creative process and let any story be adapted to its intrinsically linked real world location. I am very excited to partner with Alba, who has deep experience merging technology with theatrical performance.  We designed this experience to be site specific, walking the Brooklyn Bridge ourselves over and over again, and as creative people, we saw the ability to use the outdoors to tell a story while keeping everyone safe. 

I understand you are using the Brooklyn Bridge as the stage, can you explain more? Where does this experience happen?

Alba:

This interactive visual and audio experience plays out as you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Each spot is specific to different locations on the bridge. 

Phil:

In custom designing the experience for the Brooklyn Bridge we had to account for a lot, people, background noise of traffic below, the unpredictable helicopter going by – since all of this is part of your experience. It’s also exciting because no one has the same experience. The Brooklyn Bridge has its own plaques and unique features that change as you walk the bridge, so we make sure to call those out in the story to make them part of the story.

What actors can we hear during the experience?

Phil: We have an eclectic cast of incredible actors who lend their voice for the experience from NY theatre, film, and television. Joining Alba Albanese is Rochelle Zimmerman (ABC: Station 19), Salvatore Inzerillo (NBC: New Amsterdam), as well as beloved jazz musician Akua Dixon, Alexander James Rodriguez (Netflix: Bee and Puppycat), jazz performer Andromeda Turre, Beatriz Cavalieri (Baggage Claimed), Bjorn DuPaty (Broadway: Thoughts of a Colored Man), Casey Webb (Hulu: Life & Beth), C.J. Lindsey (Netflix: True Story), Constantine Antoniou (Gotham), David Zayas Jr. (Dexter), Elizabeth Bays (Diabolical), theater actors Elizabeth Santos and Idalmis Garcia Rodriguez (Amazon Prime: Angela), Jaime Zevallos (Marvels: Cloak & Dagger), Jake Cannavale (Disney’s The Mandalorian), Kathleen O’Neal (Theater: Romeo & Juliet), Leila Almas Rose (The Summoning), Michael Kaves (The Many Saints of Newark) Neil Tyrone Pritchard (Theater: Halfway Bitches Go To Hell), Nicole Amaral (Theater: Developing Artists), Onika Day (Netflix: Inventing Anna) and New York immersive performers Mallory Gracenin (off-Broadway: Sleep No More), and Nick Atkinson (off-Broadway: Sleep No More, Hulu: How I met your father).

Plus, the journey is highlighted with an original score by acclaimed international pianist Toru Dodo with Trumpet player Wayne Tucker, and artwork by Alison Blake.

What is the technology behind ‘Emily Was Here’? 

Phil: 

‘Emily Was Here’ is exclusively available on ChalkNotes app, find it on both Apple and Android. I created ChalkNotes to bring people together safely during the pandemic by virtually sharing stories that did not rely on attention-getting screens or controlled prosceniums – but out in the real world, in open space environments. With ChalkNotes, people can share the smallest personal story to the grandest theatrical mixed reality experience. The mobile app acts as a guide through a network of discoverable stories, and when the story calls for it, acts as your window to the mixed reality world. Because all these stories are on an app and people participate on their own schedule, you can have a full entertainment experience outdoors that is safe, but still share that moment with others via community chat. Mixed reality can forge strong memories without a huge budget.

With web3 on the rise, how does ‘Emily Was Here’ fit in and how does ChalkNotes fit in? 

Phil:

ChalkNotes is built with Web3 in mind, and Emily Was Here represents the culmination of over two dozen artists’ efforts to birth a new form of entertainment. The app rewards those that complete Emily Was Here with an original NFT to the first 250 participants, and another series for all those that come after the first 250. We are also democratizing creation and ensuring artists get their fair share of profits. But Emily Was Here is not just entertainment, it is community. ChalkNotes connects audience members together in-app so they can share their experience with the likeminded community. 

ChalkNotes fosters creativity from anyone who wants to build mixed reality experiences and gives you a community to host those unique events. Each community is its own real-world metaverse. NFT is a great method to reward completion of life experiences – we use POAP to facilitate that NFT minting as a reward for finishing Emily Was Here. 

What can people expect when going on the Brooklyn Bridge and using the App for ‘Emily Was Here’?

Alba:

Discover art, poetry, literature, the history of Brooklyn and New York City while walking over the East River. You’ll experience the Brooklyn Bridge as never before. Interact with Emily Roebling, augmented reality art designed for your journey while crossing the bridge, with an original score. Experience the incredible high-rises and engineering marvel of New York City and learn about the history and culture of Brooklyn. You can choose the stories you want to experience, at your own pace, pleasure, and leisure. 

Phil:

A memorable journey on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s such a beautiful story mixed with amazing original music. Add in the beautiful poetry and it’s truly a New York moment. Walking off the bridge you realize you won’t look at it the same way again – it is now part of you.

Who participated in creating this project?

Alba:

Over two dozen multidisciplinary artists came together to create this special and entirely original experience on the Brooklyn Bridge for you. 

Phil:

On the tech side, me, and the excellent minds at NoMoreCoffeePlease worked on making MR (Mixed Reality) possible. MR is still at the beginning, lots of different 3D formats to choose from, different platforms as well. It will explode in the next 5 years. I’d like to see XR more standardized and no “walled gardens”.

How is this different from other AR experiences in the world?

Alba:

There is only one Brooklyn Bridge on the entire planet and the history, the brilliant engineering design and achievement of John A Roebling, his son, Washington and the most resilient, and courageous work of Emily Roebling in leading the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, is like none other in the world at the time, It is a mark in American History we should honor and share with enthusiasm. 

Phil:

It’s amazing what I’ve seen as emergent technology continues to be part of theatrical performance. Yet, I think few are attempting to create mixed reality theater in an open space environment. Most AR/XR/MR are locked in controlled prosceniums or static to one viewing location. This isn’t a game, it is an interactive   virtual performance. I also don’t know any other mixed reality theatrical performance that rewards you with an NFT at the end.

Where do you see the future of entertainment going in the next 10 years?

Alba: 

We are designing and writing stories beyond the proscenium or the screen. It’s already happening around us. I see mixed reality as the future of communication, storytelling, education, institutions, and hospitals. I see mixed reality, XR, experiences as the future of how humans communicate from ordering their favorite shake at the diner, to their favorite shoes, to planning their anniversaries. Emily Was Here XR is the very first mixed reality theatrical experience on an open space landmark, accessible to everyone in the world at any time. We have several projects in development. 

Phil: 

‘Emily Was Here’ is one of the first of a new type of entertainment that is just over the horizon. In 10 years from now the plays, stories and histories that are ingrained in every park, building, and sidewalk will be brought to life in a more memorable way through a glass lens. You will be able to change multiverses like you change TV channels or select a movie on Netflix. 

Also, it’s important to note that performers are part of the equation in entertainment. For them, tools will become easier and easier to make their own everlasting XR experiences so that their earning potential is not restricted to a 3 day run of a show or an ephemeral post – this is what I am providing now with ChalkNotes. Most artists will have an NFT contract tied to their creations which will ensure earnings for them and a better connection with their fan base through shared ownership.

Who should go and visit the ‘Emily Was Here’ experience?

Alba:

It’s a wonderful experience for a date night, a walk across the East River bridge, experiencing poetry, story, and art, while watching the sunset over the New York City skyline is romantic in a special way. When you arrive at the Brooklyn side, I suggest dinner or drinks at the River Cafe or a number of the restaurants in Dumbo. It’s also a great way to experience the city on your own. Emily Was Here is designed to be either a solo, or group experience. It is also a covid safe experience because it is outdoors and at your own pace.  For those visiting New York City for the first time, this original tour experience highlights the history of New York while walking on a National Landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge.

How much are tickets, is it safe and is it family friendly?

Tickets are $18.00 and one purchase is valid for a lifetime. It is family safe and friendly. 

How can people find the experience?


Visit the website www.newyorkcityxr.com or on the ChalkNotes App ‘Emily Was Here.’

RJ Frometa
Author: RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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