There’s a second late in “Cairns,” a stunning, peaceful sound stroll created by the singer and scholar Gelsey Bell and introduced by Right here, by which Bell will ask you to do one thing drastic: Take out your earbuds. Perhaps that doesn’t appear so excessive, however when was the final time you place away your cellphone, shut your eyes, stilled the psychological whirl of worries, statistics and undone errands, and simply listened?
Individuals who have bored with Zoom performs (don’t elevate your fingers suddenly, please!), will welcome the chance to pay attention — outside and screen-free. In spite of everything, if a sound stroll doesn’t get you into the theater, at the least it will get you out of the home.
Promenade performs, by which viewers members stroll from bodily distanced scene to bodily distanced scene, have change into a mainstay of pandemic theater. In “Cairns” and “Intralia, the Bizarre Park,” one other current audio play, you continue to stroll — for miles — however the scenes are staged in your thoughts’s eye and thoughts’s ear solely. These are participatory exhibits, however in a solitary and covert method that looks as if some form of theatrical koan. When you take part and nobody is there to applaud, does it even depend? I’d argue that it does. Or at the least that it will possibly.
Since each sound walks happen in Brooklyn — “Cairns” in Inexperienced-Wooden Cemetery and “Intralia” in Prospect Park, neither too removed from my residence — I hiked them one after the opposite on a sunny Thursday. Truly, I started the night time earlier than, shopping for Bell’s album on Bandcamp and downloading the tracks, plus a map, onto my faltering Samsung Galaxy. The following morning, earlier than the warmth kicked in, I slid on some sneakers, reached for a masks, tramped the 2 and a half miles to Inexperienced-Wooden’s Sundown Park entrance and clicked play.
I’d seen Bell onstage, extreme and sylphlike within the musicals “Natasha, Pierre and the Nice Comet of 1812” and “Ghost Quartet,” and knew sufficient of her experimental music to really feel curious. Nonetheless, with the anxieties of the final a number of months, a morning spent considering mortality, nonetheless vanguard the accompaniment, didn’t vastly enchantment. As a result of on the finish of the day, Inexperienced-Wooden, a nature protect and sculpture backyard — and within the 1850s, an insanely fashionable vacationer attraction — continues to be a cemetery.
I shouldn’t have anxious. Bell couches her work in deeply humane phrases, whilst she appears to be like past the human and towards the pure world. Even the grimmer observations are by some means pleasant. Passing beneath some purple-leafed beeches, she wonders what these timber may assume, “watching us short-lived meat luggage the way in which we watch buzzing birds.”
Throughout the stroll, which lasts just a little over an hour, Bell stays just about by your aspect. An knowledgeable, supportive buddy, she casts you as her companion, lending an aural hand to tug you onto every new gravel path. She provides exact and specific instructions — take a tender left, make a pointy proper — and even somebody like me, with the directional acumen of a demagnetized compass, by no means felt misplaced.
Generously, Bell desires you to note what she has observed, and in that spirit, she takes you previous just a few graves like that of Do-Hum-Me, an Indigenous girl exhibited by the showman P.T. Barnum; or Eunice Newton Foote, a 19th-century local weather scientist; or Susan McKinney Smith Steward, the primary Black girl to change into a health care provider in New York state. Bell additionally directs your eyes towards Woman Liberty, far-off within the harbor, and to the underside of a gravestone that reads, “Have an egg cream.”
However she additionally leaves house to your explorations, encouraging you to pause the audio each time wanted. Typically, in music composed with Joseph White, she lets her personal speak give technique to whispering, buzzing, chanting as her voice loops atop itself. Shifting from tree to tree and plot to plot, she encourages you to make your individual sense, your individual story, your individual theater. And despite the fact that I’m a meditation dud, the 5 minutes she requested me to spend simply listening — to birds, leaves, an airplane, bugs that chittered like a bicycle with a taking part in card in its spokes — left me feeling quieter.
One other two miles took me to the Ocean Avenue entrance to Prospect Park and the opening monitor for “Intralia,” from InVersion Theater, with music and sound design by Jordan Corridor. At the very least, I feel that was the place I used to be meant to start. “Intralia” exists as an app for iPhone customers, however for the remainder of us, it’s a SoundCloud hyperlink and a sketchy map. The catch: There are 9 tracks and solely six areas marked on the map.
The piece begins with an instrumental — ominous strings — then gives some language apparently borrowed from E.P.A. Superfund website reviews relating to the close by Gowanus Canal, describing harmful contaminants. What this has to do with Prospect Park, fed by the town’s aqueducts and never the canal, is anybody’s guess. (Although the cyanobacteria that has turned a few of the park’s lakes and ponds a retina-jolting inexperienced appears a probable supply of inspiration.)
A press launched had described “Intralia” as a narrative of two municipal staff, Eve and Ash, who confront unusual doings. Apart from a throwaway line concerning the “good luck to be assigned right here, Prospect Park,” I’d by no means have identified it because the piece by no means bothers to ascertain character or place. Different tracks reveal the invention of entrails and hanging goat heads. Which did not really feel creepy. As a result of whereas “Cairns” entrenches itself in its environment, “Intralia” disregards them.
These strings and scares elide what’s authentically unusual and actually lovely about this specific city park. Strolling on what was perhaps the trail, I noticed anglers, bicyclists, CrossFit lovers, kids on scooters, youngsters smoking weed, a person air-drying his laundry on a bit of park gear, and a woman acrobat balancing atop her accomplice’s head. I noticed a memorial for the Battle of Brooklyn and a particularly fairly composting bathroom. “Intralia” ignores all of them.
The perfect examples of environmental theater (I’m considering of items like “The Angel Mission” and “The Dreary Coast”) take a well-recognized place and make you see it by new eyes. However “Intralia” didn’t appear to see the park in any respect, without any consideration given to who you’re and the way and why you could be listening.
I had hiked to the highest of Lookout Hill — for a ultimate monitor that by no means talked about it — and when “Intralia” ended, I hiked down then walked the mile or so again house, alone once more with my very own inner soundtrack. (My Samsung battery held out till I reached the highway that rings the park, then died.) I thought of how beneficiant conventional theater is and the way the actors, designers and administrators conspire to ship a complete murals. Sound walks don’t try this, however even inside these constraints, a very good one, like “Cairns,” can conjure a world and a worldview, too.
Perhaps this type appears stingy — no costumes, no lights, no faucet numbers, just some phrases murmured in your ear — however advance the monitor and consider it as beneficiant as an alternative, a reminder not solely of how a lot theater may give us, however how a lot it trusts us to think about, too.