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Murder at the Canal Street station

by Benjamin Kabak

Kill or be killed as you wait endlessly for the Q at Canal Street. (Photo courtesy of 31 Down Radio Theater)

Well, that caught your attention, eh? Someone’s been killed at the crowded Canal Street stop? Well, not quite. I’m sad — or happy — to report that no one was murdered at the underground entrance to Chinatown.

The murder is part of an interactive performance by the public artwork troupe 31 Down Radio Theater called Canal Street. The action takes place in labyrinthian tunnels of the Canal Street Station, and you, the detective-cum-straphanger, are supposed to solve the mystery. For $2 — or less — you too can be a New York detective. Time Out New York wrote about this intriguing work last week:

For all the improvements over the past decade or so, the transit system is still kind of creepy, which makes a new interactive public artwork by the group 31 Down Radio Theater all the more diabolical. With just a swipe of your MetroCard, it puts you in the middle of a murder mystery unfolding in the Canal Street subway.

According to creator Ryan Holsopple, the piece, titled Canal Street Station, consists of a toll-free number you can dial from any of the pay phones there. The voice of one Niki, an archetypally breathy French girl, comes on to say that she’s just committed a murder, and that you need to find her somewhere in the labyrinth of platforms and tunnels connecting the J, M, Z, N, Q, R, W and 6 trains. “Basically, it’s a big game,” says Holsopple, who adds that depending on where you are, you’ll be asked a specific question about that location—maybe for a detail from a nearby mosaic or which train goes to Fresh Pond Road in Queens. You hang up, snoop, then call back with your answer. If correct, you’ll be told where to go for your next call.

I love this idea; I can’t wait to do it, and a few things leap out at me. First, this game relies on the payphones in the New York City subways. Wait a minute, you might be thinking, do those payphones actually work? Well, about a quarter of them don’t work. So part of the game is finding a working payphone at Canal Street. (The other part involves finding one you want to touch. Good luck with that.)

Next, I think this game is best played at rush hour. That Canal Street station is a zoo during the day; why not really go for the “confusing masses of harried commuters” theme that would so enliven the game? You can push against the tide of humanity as you dash from the Brooklyn-bound N/Q platform to the uptown J/M/Z tracks.

So there you have it. You can spend an hour, as the theater troupe suggests, running around Canal Street trying to find out minutiae about the subways in an effort to solve a murder. Test the payphones; test your patience. And have fun. It’s the best $2 or Unlimted Ride swipe you’ll spend this month.

And who knows: Maybe she would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids and your dog too.

To get started, head to the Canal Street station; pay the fare; find a payphone and dial 1-877-OR-WHAT-31 (1-877-679-4283). Canal Street will be in the Canal Street station until October.

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Marsha March 20, 2007 - 8:17 am

I am eager to read the details of your game.

Julie March 20, 2007 - 10:34 am

This sounds like a lot of fun, though I’m hesitant to try it because that Canal Street station really has a foul odor to it. Cool idea, though.

iread March 20, 2007 - 12:29 pm

How fun! I can’t wait to try this! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Oh, and by the way, I love your blog. I read it religiously. Okay, maybe that’s going too far. I read it several times a day and always learn something new and that makes me happy. There, that’s a little better than “religiously.”

Kim March 20, 2007 - 4:28 pm

What a cool idea. I’ve heard about the whole ten-minute theatre fad in nyc, but this is ever better. I hope you write about your experience.


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