A ride through time

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Utilizing virtual reality and live performance, an innovative new tour makes history accessible to New Yorkers and visitors alike


  • Passengers getting the fully immersive VR experience. Photo courtesy of The Downtown Experience

  • A panoramic shot of what viewer see with the headset on. Photo courtesy of The Downtown Experience

if you go


WHERE: experiencetheride.com (leaves from 200 Water Street in front of Starbucks)

WHEN: Times vary

It’s no secret that Manhattan is steeped in history. The Downtown Experience aims to create a multi-faceted experiential tour. You can encounter the Lenni Lenape people who inhabited Manhattan 500 years ago, immigrants searching for a new life in the land of opportunity, President Washington being inaugurated, the worst day on Wall Street, and a look from the top of One World Trade Center — all while sitting on a bus.

“We’re going to be re-framing the concept of people boringly talking at you on a tour, and instead bring you into the heart of the city,” says Richard Humphrey, CEO and CCO of The Ride LLC, the company that produces The Downtown Experience.

“These are actors, not tour guides, they’re telling you different moody stories that stick to the facts of the history, illustrated by videos and all done by hundreds of hours of research,” Humphrey says.

Humphrey works to bridge the arts, entertainment and business communities together to create exciting and innovative new technologies. He has led endeavors to develop video-conferencing technology for performing arts, streaming media, and introduced Broadway to mobile marketing.

“When I was entering mid-career 15 or 16 years ago, I decided I didn’t want to be left behind on digital technology,” Humphrey says.

The precursor of The Downtown Experience was The Ride, the company’s eponymous bus ride through Midtown where the streets are the stage for the performers.

“When I got recruited to work on The Ride, I had a pretty strong background sitting at the intersection of digital technology and content construction.”

The Downtown Experience takes a different angle, as history is the focus point and passengers are guided through the history of downtown Manhattan.

“The Downtown Experience is a passion play for me, I’ve always loved downtown, it’s always had a strong history and very difficult last few years,” Humphrey says. “There was really nobody living above 14th St. until the early the 20th century, so I wanted to tell a story of the thriving pulse of New York City itself, going back 500 years to the Lenni Lenape Indians.”

The Downtown Experience delivers virtual reality simultaneously with live performance. As you are introduced to the virtual reality experience on your headset, a troubadour serenades you.

“I built the storytelling of The Downtown Experience around virtual reality,” Humphrey says. “The aim is to create experiential entertainment, which is the future of tourism.”

Because this is no ordinary tour, there is a full team operating the bus on the day and a great deal of time and expertise was required for the production.

“The virtual reality pieces were literally hundreds of hours of work. Re-creating the interior of the 1929 stock exchange took countless computer-generated hours from photographs of the period,” Humphrey says. “The [depiction] of George Washington from [the] 1789 inauguration was recreated from etchings from the period.”

One of the most moving parts of the tour is its 9/11 tribute, as a video plays on monitors inside the bus with a rap song over the top. As you look down, you notice the rapper is right in front of you, on the street performing the song live.

Says Humphrey: “The thing I love about the 9/11 piece was the staging, because I had to find the perfect place to do the performance, then do reveal of the building, then put on your headsets and go inside.”

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