EARSHOT, a theatrical sound installation, at Bonnie Vee and Kilo Bravo
A poet, landlord, and gymrat walk into a bar…
… Sounds like the beginnings of an overwrought and predictable joke but it’s actually the premise of “Earshot,” a theatrical sound installation directed by Jaime Sunwoo, a New York native and recent graduate. “Earshot,” which Sunwoo also refers to as a “collection of audioplays,” consists of 12 radio plays written by 11 different playwrights from around the world. In its final form, “Earshot” will be presented in bars around New York City in early May; the 12 radio plays will broadcast, simultaneously, in a choreographed cacophony from speakers at 12 tables populated by artifacts from the characters’ lives.
Sunwoo became interested in theater and radio as an undergraduate at Yale University. In addition to formally studying sound and installation art as a Fine Arts major, she also wrote and hosted her own radio show, “The Food Whisperer,” in which she held conversations with food items in the dining hall, allowing listeners to truly get to know their sustenance. She first conceived of the idea for “Earshot” in April 2014 and began developing the show shortly thereafter. In the last year, she has recruited over 50 collaborators—including 12 writers and 29 voice actors and a handful of sound editors, stagehands, photographers, prop designers, and musicians—and successfully funded the show’s expenses through a Kickstarter campaign. For Sunwoo, the development and execution of “Earshot” has relied on her reaching out to an extremely large number of people, and she sees “Earshot” as an opportunity to showcase and promote the work of all of her collaborators—from up-and-coming musicians to aspiring screenwriters.
Not only did Sunwoo assemble a diverse group of artists to work on “Earshot,” but, as director, she united the 12 different plays and their casts of characters into a common universe. The radio plays are all set in a single bar, like those in which “Earshot” will be performed, and, in each play, the characters sit around tables, conversing. In one play, two co-workers go on their first anxiety-ridden date; in another, a three aging rockstars commiserate about the fate of their Nirvana cover band. Over the duration of the plays, characters from different plays occasionally interact—phone calls and cat calls are exchanged—and their lives converge through both mundane and coincidental events.
Drinks in hand, audience members will be able to navigate freely from table to table to listen to the individual radio plays. Not only will the audience hear—or rather, eavesdrop on—snippets of the characters’ conversations at each table, but they can also sit in characters’ seats and handle their trinkets and clothing. These artifacts—including a wedding photo, handcuffs, business cards, and guinea pig food—function as “visual biographies,” Sunwoo explains, and toe a “weird boundary between fiction and reality, as they live in the real world but reflect the experiences and lives of fictional characters.” On some days, Sunwoo crisscrossed New York City, visiting a sex shop, a thrift shop, and theater, in order to source props, tracing the daily paths of the characters.
As they cluster around the 12 tables in the bar, “Earshot” audience members will occupy the places of the characters who have seemingly vacated the premises for a moment, leaving their disembodied voices emanating from the table and their possessions splayed on the table. Sunwoo sees “Earshot” as facilitating interaction between audience members; she suggests, “Meeting strangers [over] a dialogue that you’re both eavesdropping on creates an intimate moment… you’re experiencing something together… you are in that character’s seat, occupying their body in a ghostly way.” Perhaps “Earshot” even goes as far as to challenge the detached, disembodied nature of contemporary interaction by challenging audience members to directly confront one another. As Milo, a character in writer Semyon White’s radio play aptly muses, “We’re all so wrapped up in our little technology bubbles it’s made us terrified to actually speak to another human being face to face. God forbid we could ever just sit for a moment and take note of our unfiltered surroundings.”
Though audiences will likely not hear a single one of the 12 plays in its entirety, the choose-your-own-adventure style of “Earshot” gives audience members the chance to converge and converse with strangers—both fictional and real—over the course of the night. As the radio plays end and the voices of the characters slowly fade out, the conversations in the bar will hopefully continue, carried on by audience members and patrons and emerging from the 12 tables in the bar.
“Earshot” will be performed at the following times, dates, and locations:
May 4-6 2015, more show dates TBA
May 4, 8PM, 9:40PM at Bonnie Vee (17 Stanton St, Lower East Side, Manhattan) 21+ EVENT
May 6, 8PM, 9:40PM at Kilo Bravo (180 N 10th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211) ALL AGES
Tickets can be purchased at EarshotPlay.com