If you’re following the development of Anne Percoco’s curatorial project Perimeters for the Dumbo Arts Festival this weekend, you may already know: Wandering Directions by Lily Mooney is a self-guided audio tour through the historic fabulous neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn.  The tour speaks to ideas of memory, association, and physical connections in time and space, resulting in a uniquely rich and layered story – as the tour narrator tells one story, the tourist creates another. Here, Lily sits down to share some of her own story.

How did you get involved with Anne Percoco  and “Perimeters”?

Anne is my cousin, so we’ve known each other for most
of our lives. As we got older and moved into our respective disciplines, we’ve collaborated a little, and we share and discuss our work a lot. I had been talking to her about some site-specific work I’d been doing during grad school—I’ve become really interested in multi-media and experimental theatre, which often sits on the line between visual and performance art. Anyway, she knew that’s what I was doing and thinking about, and she invited me to submit for the DAF, and I came up with Wandering Directions.

What inspired “Wandering Directions” initially?  Had you done public site-specific works prior?

I had done a couple site-specific pieces and one shorter audio tour, which led participants on a walk around the main floor of a library. For that piece, we planted actors in these kind of mini-tableaus around the library, and their actions/appearances either confirmed or contradicted things you were hearing along the tour. That piece was a lot of fun and an exciting challenge, so I had already been thinking about the tour form. When I started looking at DUMBO, it seemed like a great setting to do the tour on a larger scale. A scripted tour also plays to my strengths, because at the moment I’m a little better at sculpting language and experience than materials or bodies.

What did the research for Wandering Directions involve, and what informed the construction of the tour narrative?

I did a little of everything. To gather information I researched the neighborhood’s history and talked to people about the place. I read “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” by Rebecca Solnit, which was a good way to think about what was unique about making a performance where people walked instead of sat. I also cobbled together a small fictional story that I expanded from some real experiences I had walking around. My training as a playwright came in handy during the later writing stages, where, using what I knew about story structure, I organized all the disparate stuff I’d collected and tried to design an experience that weaved around a lot and indulged some tangents (much like a circular walk around the neighborhood) but had an arc, felt cohesive, and changed over time.

Did you wander DUMBO first or already have a story in mind?

I wandered first. And I didn’t have a story. At the start, I felt pretty aware of the fact that I’m not actually from here, and that I’m sort of an outsider, which was an idea and line of thought that is now in the tour. I was actually pretty concerned with constructing an “accurate” or “believable” fictional narrative, which in retrospect I think was sort of silly. It’s really important to me not to be presumptuous or “get it wrong,” but on the other hand, as much as we all feel connected to these places that we live or work, they also kind of belong to nobody, or everybody, and the same space can mean wildly different things to different people. And it’s ironic that sometimes tourists end up with a whole lot of information, or an entirely different set of information, than residents and natives. So once I got comfortable with that, I trusted myself to wander more, through the space and through all the historical research, and I based pretty much everything on what I read and encountered.

Do you have a particular favorite memory or association that formed while working on this project?

I’m not sure I have a single favorite memory, but I think coming here over and over really caused DUMBO to grow on me in this unique way that it wouldn’t have otherwise. And I liked noticing at other people’s relationships to this place. I love how many different people I see here taking engagement and wedding photos, and going to the park and seeing people just basking in the views of the city and the bridges. There were also a million weird little moments and things I noticed but can’t explain and couldn’t include. One example would be these pink handprints that I saw high up on the side of one of the buildings on John Street, between Jay and Pearl, I think. I saw those about five times one week, had no idea what they were, and then on the sixth time I noticed a dirty glove on the sidewalk below the handprints, soaked in pink paint. I still don’t know WTF that was about, but I felt like Sherlock Holmes.

You are often referred to in press as a “writer and performer.” What came first for you, or attracted you to these modes of expression?

I started writing and performing around the same time, actually – when I was younger I did a ton of improv comedy, in which you write and perform simultaneously. For me, writing and storytelling are a really fulfilling way to communicate and connect with people – I love language, and I love drama and suspense and emotion and all that human stuff – and I guess for me, performing allows me to be in the room for all that communication and connection. It also physicalizes it, which is important to me. Sometimes I feel like it’s getting easier and easier to spend all this time in your head, and performance, theater, live comedy, site-specific work all get me out of mine.

As a human / creative person, what motivates you to execute your ideas? 

In general, I create things for two reasons. First, I make stuff because there are true things I feel or observe that I’m not sure are said loudly or often enough. So I try to make things in order to increase the frequency or volume of the truth-telling. And second, I make things to make people laugh, because laughter is both fun and necessary.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I just finished a full-length play, and this fall I’ll be producing a short film based on a feature I wrote, so there are some more traditional writerly things going on. I’m also interested in expanding and refining this tour idea, so I may be trying it out in other neighborhoods or cities over the next few months.