Symphonic Picnic, known more affectionately as "Shroom City", was designed as part of a summer games festival in July 2016, called PlayTimesSquared. The event was sponsored by the Times Square Alliance and New York University, and was featured by The New York Times, Time Out NY, and NYC1.
As a group, our goal was to create interactive experiences for multilingual, multicultural audiences in one of the most crowded public spaces in New York City: Times Square. As an individual, I focused on transforming Times Square from a chaotic area into a place of comfort, and providing some sense of peace and relaxation through a meditative musical installation, known as the Symphonic Picnic.
Taking into account the unique aspects of Times Square, as well as the issue of games for a global audience, an assortment of teams created eight playful, live-action games with different levels of difficulty and interactivity. My team, in our contextual inquiries, felt bombarded by the overwhelming sights, crowds, and atmosphere, all of which had driven us away from this iconic location in the past. To combat this, we focused our efforts on redesigning the very environment in which we were to inhabit, and to morph our users’ perceptions of Times Square.
Our result — Symphonic Picnic — forced visitors to imagine Times Square as a place of comfort, one in which they could lie down and relax to a symphony of ambient synths and natural sound effects being broadcast across the space by radio-linked, plastic mushrooms. Buttons on the mushrooms would transmit unique sound effects to the rest of the mushrooms in the space, breaking conversational barriers by allowing communication without language.
I knew we had accomplished our goal when I observed one visitor lie down on the astroturf picnic, adorn their headphones, and spend an entire hour relaxing to the musical accompaniment. It was the ultimate dream to take this space that troubles us and others and to create a soothing sense of belonging.
I'm proud of this project because, with this once-in-a-lifetime opportuniy to present in one of the most famous places on earth, my team and I crafted an experience that flipped the script and actually transformed the experience of Times Square. Creating the music, the tech, and and set design of everything was an absolute labor of love, and speaking with our "players" after their time on the turf and seeing their initial confusion and subsequent enjoyment of the experience was as rewarding as any feedback could be. I would be absolutely thrilled to continue working on similarly disruptive experiences, and look forward to that chance someday.
Team Member — Zach Dorsett
Team Member — Sumanth Srinivasan
Team Member — Terry Li Yixuan
Team Member — Adelle Lin
More information available at arts.timesquarenyc.org
New York Times — "New York Today: Outdoor Gaming"
TimeOut NY — "At this free Times Square game fest, you’ll play hopscotch on a NYC subway map and compete in human Pong"
Spectrum News NY1 — "PlayTimeSquared Visitors Get Their Game On"
Copyright © 2021 Zach Dorsett