Last night I went on The Ride, a brand-new, innovative, mobile, hi-tech interactive theatrical experience that takes place in and around the streets of midtown. I've been hearing about this project since at least 2004 (and was even contacted to consult on its control systems in 2007, which didn't work out), and I'm happy to report that creator Michael Counts' dream is finally an excellent reality. The show is advertised as, "a new entertainment experience that turns the streets of New York into a stage" and for once, this tag line is not hyperbole--this is a show unlike anything I've ever seen (and I mean that as a compliment!).
The Ride experience, a clever pairing of bus tour and interactive theatre, starts when you wade through the tourist throng around the Marriot in Times Square, and board one of four The Ride vehicles, custom-made tour buses where you sit sideways, facing out huge windows the left side of the bus.
The bus takes a circuitous route around midtown, with various performers appearing on the streets. You have two hosts with you on the bus, "Scott":
The bus itself, "The Ride", is also a character (and even the bus driver gets in on one funny bit). Here's a quick video to give you an idea of the experience (no spoilers!):
Even before the bus pulls away, a performance (which I won't spoil for you) takes place on the street, blurring the lines between the show and the tourist hyper-reality of Times Square. The performers, with the street as their stage, have to improv quite a bit, and are real troupers, because they did a great job on the show we saw, which took place during a severe-warned thunderstorm (we even had pea-sized hail on the Ride's ceiling windows!).
The Ride very effectively leverages modern entertainment technology to connect the audience with the performers, and they even do a bit of internet magic to truly involve specific audience members in the show in ways that they will likely find surprising. Here's a few performer vignettes to give you an idea of what the experience is like:
And I have a (spoiler) video here that demonstrates the true dedication of the cast.
The view from the bus as we meandered around midtown on a rainy night was pretty spectacular.
Of course, the audience on the bus is also on display to the people in Times Square, and even tourists in the street get in on the act:
The design and tech elements of the show are very well done and very polished, and technician TJ Pallas was the wizard behind the curtain for our ride, running a Q-Lab system and mixing the show on a Yamaha DM-1000.
Under the bus is the control system (sorry for the picture quality--I was dodging taxis to get these shots)
I'm happy that the The Ride finally has become a reality after so many years and multiple false starts. The show is, of course, aimed at a general tourist audience, but it has retained a bit of edginess. Through its very nature, with performers on the public streets, the show embraces the chaos of midtown rather than sanitizing it away, and parts of the show--especially when the bus pirouettes around Columbus Circle--can even be beautiful. Despite the hardships, I bet the performers on this show have a lot of fun, and at least in these early stages of The Ride's existence, the audience experience has clearly been given first priority, and there are a surprising number of people involved (which explains the ticket costs). I definitely recommend seeing it.
Many more pictures here, and for the weather geeks, here's a bit of video of the crazy storm that took place during our Ride last night: