Times Square may have glitz and glamour, but for many, Central Park is the real heart of New York City. Historic and iconic, Central Park receives around 42 million visitors every year and is home to dozens of events and activities every month.
But there are countless meaningful and thought-provoking events that take place outside the park’s confines, too. One such event, held just above Central Park’s perimeter at 5th Avenue and 109th Street, combines technological advancements with the art of narrative. The Future of Storytelling Festival, a three-day showcase featuring 70 groups from around the world, highlights the ways in which technology is being used to entertain and tell stories.
Held in a vacant six-story building, the hub earned the nickname “The Playground.” Charlie Melcher, founder and director of the Future of Storytelling, conceived the project in order to connect artists with the public in order to feature digital advancements and use them to create in the future. Melcher said that by bringing these two groups together, “we can accelerate the adoption and mastery of these tools so they can be really powerful … and create a whole new media and art form.”
The Playground experience starts with instruction from a costumed guide, reminding visitors that the technology they’ll see holds only as much power as their ability to believe in it. Exhibits range from highly involved and entertaining to educational. Participants are able to engage in virtual reality exhibitions that allow them to fly up in the air to faraway lands, be part of an uprising in Ireland, interview a Holocaust survivor, or turn their own drawing into a virtual pinball machine. The variety of different experiences is mirrored in the possibilities presented by the range of technology employed by the creators.
Melcher loves storytelling in all its forms, so in addition to the virtual reality component, he made sure to infuse other types of performance into the space. But playtime was over too soon for many. Visitors are permitted to stay for only a three-hour time frame. Those who were lucky enough to stay a while at The Playground can understand its moniker — they left wishing they had more time to play.