Historical figures will speak through technology
By Sabina Mollot
Most of the time, the monuments built to honor historical figures go unnoticed by New Yorkers. Up on their pedestals, how could they even hope to compete with whatever is below, flashing on park goers’ cell phones? Fortunately for our forefathers, a history-loving Dane has found a way to get the stories behind the statues told today in a modern way.
David Peter Fox, a TV producer and documentary maker from Copenhagen, has for the past 18 months been organizing installations in different cities where statues speak to park goers via their smartphones. The project began in Denmark, then later went on to London and then the Unites States in San Diego and Chicago. Then on Wednesday, July 12, Talking Statues came to New York.
“I got the idea in 2013,” said Fox, reached on the phone this week. “I was curious about the stories that are behind statues.”
To make the project a reality, Fox and others fundraised to be able to hire a team of actors, one to play the part of each statue, and writers to come up with the material. To hear any of the 35 city monuments’ stories, participants just approach a statue, and scan a code on a sign. They will need a wi-fi connection and a QR scanner or scanning app on their phones to do this or they can type the web address they see on the sign. After that, the individual will be contacted from the great beyond.
“So the phone rings, and it’ll be Shakespeare calling you,” said Fox.
Then the Bard or whichever statue has been summoned will offer a biographical story that runs about 90 seconds long.
Local statues who’ll be brought back to life to tell their stories include Stuyvesant Square’s famous composer Antonin Dvorak and the former director general of what is now New York, Peter Stuyvesant, as well as Union Square Park’s Mahatma Gandhi and former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Most of the statues will speak two languages, English in addition to the native language of the person who inspired the statue. Gandhi will speak Hindi, Dvorak will speak Czech, Peter Stuyvesant Dutch, Joan of Arc French, Beethoven German and Confucius Chinese.
Finding the actors for the nonprofit project wasn’t simple, Fox added. About 600 New Yorkers responded to an ad in Backstage, and in the end those who were chosen had real, rather than put on, accents. Talking Statues was responsible for producing the non-English stories as well, with the translations reviewed by the Parks Department.
Fox said all of Manhattan’s statues will be live on Wednesday though the ones in outer boroughs may not be available for a call until Friday. The stories will be available to listen to for the next six months.
Fox noted that those listening in shouldn’t just expect some robotically delivered history lesson. Each figure from the past has its own distinct personality. Stuyvesant, for example, has an authoritative way of speaking, especially when going on about how much of the city he built.
“He talks about how he made the post house and the roads,” said Fox. “He’s sort of bold when he’s talking.”
The full Talking Statues map is available online at newyorktalkingstatues.com.