Illicit stunt on Williamsburg Bridge grounds NYC aerialists in jail

[Video Link, Video Link 2]

Video artist Ronen V (who had nothing to do with the video embedded in this post) alerts us to news that fellow New Yorkers Seanna Sharpe (in the photo below) and Thomas "Savage" Skinner are in jail today.

Apparently inspired by Phillip Petit of Man on Wire movie fame, Seanna climbed the Williamsburg bridge and performed a 15-minute aerial show hanging 350 feet from the bridge surface by silk.

The duo spent the night in jail at Rikers Island, and remain there at the time of this blog post. Sounds like they'll be facing some pretty serious felony charges, with two days to find a lawyer interested in taking this unusual sort of case on.

I'm told internet supporters helped them raise bail last night within just 3 hours.

News coverage: New York Post, Village Voice, WSJ, nybuff, grist, CBS News.

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  1. Cool stunt; not-so-cool resisting of arrest (especially since they failed). No need to further endanger the NYPD or onlookers, and way to possibly compound those felony charges.

    Having already hanged, I hope they skate!

  2. Though they may have been inspired by Petit, I don’t see much in common here in either the motivation or the scale. While the towers were a real challenge to rope walking, this seems like arbitrary use of a structure for attention grabbing.

    I feel like I must be getting old to look at this and see the expense to taxpayers and danger to others so easily.

    1. The expense to taxpayers? Let’s not forget the innocents that were slaughtered during this outrageous performance as well. Make sure you do up the seatbelt on your rocking chair.

  3. I’m pretty sure it’s a felony to simply hang something from a bridge. They really should have thought this through a little.

  4. just a tad bit hard to sympathize when the pre-climb statement “My goal is to face my fear and to inspire others to face their fears” is juxtaposed with “Sharpe and Skinner saw the cops waiting for them on the bridge’s north side bike path, so they went south, climbed down and ran towards Manhattan, but an NYPD car cut them off, while a helicopter kept them from climbing back up the bridge.” (as reported in Village Voice)
    guess jail wasn’t one of the fears in need of inspiration…..

  5. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this woman swinging from the trees in McCarren Park a number of times. In fact, I have non-conclusive photo evidence here: http://yfrog.com/z/h8nhhpgj Looking through the photos on her site, one of the girls sure looks like the girl I took a photo of, but everything is messy and unlabeled and unclear as to who is who.

    So, yeah, I guess that’s cool.

  6. If I ran the world, this sort of thing would be perfectly allowable. They only put themselves at risk, and it took some serious bravery to execute such a stunt. The real problem is that if they’d tried to arrange it with the “proper authorities” they’d have been denied, it never would have happened.

    1. But they may not have “only put themselves at risk” since, you know, there could be people under them if they fell or dropped anything, not to mention the risk of freaking out drivers and being at least partially responsible for any traffic accident that might occur.

      Save it for the Playa, people!

      1. But they may not have “only put themselves at risk” since, you know, there could be people under them if they fell or dropped anything, not to mention the risk of freaking out drivers and being at least partially responsible for any traffic accident that might occur.

        I’d like to note hat she did take that into consideration before doing this. From a Wall Street Journal Blog Post:

        Sharpe said she chose the Williamsburg Bridge–the least attractive of the city’s three downtown crossings–out of respect for the safety of rush-hour drivers.

        “It’s not the ideal bridge but I was obscured from traffic. I didn’t want people in cars to look up and see me and crash and cause accidents,” Sharpe said.

        1. Yeah – but that doesn’t sound like much of a consideration. It was still at rush hour – the busiest of times – and doing it at any time risks an accident due to distraction. At the same time, I don’t think it posed too much of a risk to other people . But when you do such stunts, you shouldn’t be surprised or resistant to being arrested and charged.

          1. Indeed — as one of the more readily foreseeable consequences, it could even be celebrated. Nothing wrong with going to jail for your art. In some circles it’s good cred.

          2. Who cares if it was rush hour! Are we such drones that we can’t handle a small interruption in our daily drone routines? The drivers don’t have to look.

            It was inspired, careless, attention getting and beautiful. All things that make us different that the rest of the animals.

    2. If I ran the world, this sort of thing would be perfectly allowable. They only put themselves at risk, and it took some serious bravery to execute such a stunt. The real problem is that if they’d tried to arrange it with the “proper authorities” they’d have been denied, it never would have happened.

      Baloney to all of this. They could have fallen on another person and hurt them or even fallen into traffic causing a collision. Or even the subway line that runs over that bridge. This is really a self-ish and arrogant act.

      Also the concept of them being “denied” is partially true. They would have most likely have been denied doing such a stunt on the Williamsburg Bridge, but there are other venues. One idea is the non-functioning but renovated parachute jump tower in Coney Island. It would naturally draw people and would be wholly appropriate for an amusement zone like Coney Island. Or another venue: Any of the stillborn construction projects in and around Williamsburg. All of these real estate developers are looking for an “edge” to make their condos/co-ops look cool. Especially in this dog of a real estate market. So they would be happy to have something like this happen on their somewhat empty buildings.

      And what they did doesn’t even come close to Philippe Petit. Walking the gap between the WTC towers is an astounding feat; something that surpasses what these folks did by leaps and bounds. Also, the area beneath the WTC towers had very little traffic—pedestrian, vehicle or otherwise—so if the stunt went wrong, only one person would have been hurt.

      The dramatic artists statements make me feel 100% no sympathy for them: The only thing preplanned was a dramatic narrative to add to their portfolio. What Philippe Petit was truly a work of art.

    3. “They only put themselves at risk,”

      Hate to call bullshit on that idea but I feel I have to.

      So if they fell they very well could have landed on a person, on a vehicle, or in front of a vehicle. Or perhaps they fall and don’t land on any one or thing, what do you tell any passersby that just watched a person fall to their death?

      I realize that I am looking at a worse case scenario, but when the possible (and realistic) death of even one person is involved I feel that my stance is warranted.

      1. I think you’re making some un-supported assumptions.

        It’s impossible to say for sure from the video, but I don’t see any of the risks you’re talking about.

        Even so, I think some people are too habitually scared these days. We’ve become a risk averse society. Too ready to shout for lawyers and police.

        Realistically, my odds of being killed by a falling circus performer are very very low. My odds of being bored on any given day are very very high.

        I’m willing to risk being entertained, alarmed or appalled.

        Now, I’m not saying they should get off scott free. Some probation, maybe community service, is reasonable. A felony (loosing your their right to vote!) is insanely disproportionate.

  7. I admire their courage. I can’t even drive across bridges anymore. It’s a weird phobia that crept up on me gradually. I can’t drive on curving upramps, I can’t drive over bridges. And yet years ago in my younger days I used to commute on the GWB every day. I’d never be able to do that nowadays.

    It’s quite a problem.

    It’s not that I’m afraid the bridge will collapse or anything, it’s my fear of losing control of the car because of my fear, and getting stuck halfway across the bridge and stopping traffic. It’s like a weird feedback loop of anxiety. I have no problem being a passenger if someone else is doing the driving, I just can’t drive myself.

  8. Save it for the Playa, people!

    I’ve never been to burning man, but that’s an awesome expression. I am going to use it next time I want to be dismissive of this sort of thing.

    Going over Niagra Falls in a barrel is illegal too, and that is even more limited to self harm. Probably in part because everyone has to mobilize as if they were going to save you, so even if you don’t need saving, you end up burning resources that could go elsewhere.

    But whatever. I think the status quo is good enough here. If you think it is worth the risk of death/getting caught, go for it, and I will applaud your skills and bravery. But if you get arrested, I really won’t care.

  9. Here,here to what salsaman said.
    I love the art and idea and talent
    involved, but it smacks of showboating
    for 15 seconds of hipster fame.
    Plus, the unreasonable and perhaps costly danger to the performers,innocent
    bystanders and possible rescue crews for all.I’m constantly amazed at the lack of thought about the consequences
    of people’s actions.
    Reckless does not equal cool.That is a concept for high school kids. I really wish people would start being more responsible.From high schoolers to congressmen/women.I’m all for going against the grain of society,stirring things up,etc..but…
    Let’s save the serious bravery idea for the people that do it (totally underpaid) on a daily basis to help and protect us.

  10. So, Internet, tell me how I’m supposed to feel about this? My first inclination is to think they’re attention whoring douchenozzles, being unwise because they think they’re wise.

    They don’t look wise. But I’m leaving room to have my opinion changed.

  11. I’m with all the other grownups here. Their “facing fears” motives are not very credible. There are lots of less-selfish ways to face your fears.

    Check out Project Bandaloop for a better-choreographed group of people doing similar work in a less reckless way.

  12. About 25 years ago, I had my window shot out as I drove across that bridge. I guess NY is really much safer these days!

  13. Personally I think this is bad ass. Not everything has to be safe and normal all the time, and thank god there’s people crazy enough to occasionally do amazing things like this to bring us out of our work-a-day stupors.

    So to those two people in a New York City jail right now, being made an example of because our society is so afraid, I say thank you!

    1. Everyone in Williamsburg is apparently trying to “bring us out of our work-a-day stupors.” It’s a tad trite, arrogant and annoying.

  14. I live in Williamsburg and have walked, driven and taken the J train over that bridge thousands of times. I gotta say, that really did put drivers at risk – especially on that outer roadway. The outer roadway is *super* narrow, with each of the two lanes having maybe six inches on either side. Add to that the fact that the entire length of it is basically a series of potholes, and *any* distraction to drivers is seriously putting people in danger. It’s fucking scary enough to drive across it under normal conditions!

    The guardrail is also *super* short. A few years back a driver in a car stopped short and a motorcyclist behind him hit the back of the car, flew over the rail and died in the east river.

  15. I’m surprised no one has accused them of being “terrorists” yet. Sucks that we live in such a fear-driven society.

    1. The only “terrorist” angle that should be explored is how this happened to begin with considering the increased security—at least spending towards it—that exists based on “terrorism.” Especially on roadways, bridges and the like. In that context a stunt like this simple exposes the incompetence of the “war on terror” and the fact that it is clearly a HUGE pork barrel project that does nothing to protect anyone. Unless you count the salaries and pensions of those who “protect” us.

  16. I hope they get comparable punishment to these jackholes:

    http://boingboing.net/2010/10/13/douchiest-rock-band.html

    I realize states may have different laws for this sort of public disturbance, but they end result seems pretty equivalent.

    “Hey, thousands of (mindless office drones) just trying to get from one place to another without seeing something TOTALLY AWESOME! LOOK AT MEEEEEEE! Your worthless lives are now better for having been disrupted by MY COOLNESS! BUY MY [ album | artwork | etc ] !! SUCKERS!!!”

    I’m a mindless office drone, so I made it a parenthetical. But I’m guessing that’s their point of view.

    1. There’s a big difference between someone who performs a little circus routine in a spot where drivers can’t really see and pulls it off without anyone being overly inconvenienced or hurt, vs. someone who purposely prevents thousands upon thousands of people from getting home during rush hour.

      I’m not saying I approve of this. I’m entertained and impressed that they had the guts to do it and the skills to pull it off safely (not nearly as entertained or impressed as I was with Man on Wire, but still….). But I don’t really have a problem with arresting or punishing them for the laws they broke, either (nor did I have a problem with Petit’s arrest).

      Also, how is it that nobody has commented on how every single hipster on that walkway appeared to possess a DSLR?

      1. I made the rash assumption that there’d be some looky-lou backups related to such a stunt. upon investigation, looks like traffic flowed pretty well.

        New Yorkers are obviously more jaded than Minnesotans. Here, a flat tire 2 blocks off of the interstate turns into a 90 minute delay.

        1. One man’s looky-lou is another’s gap in traffic. Around here we’re looking for the latter. If we want to see circus acts we’ll watch as they bring elephants through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

      2. Have you been to Times Square? Every tourist of every shape and color is sporting a DSLR. In Central Park I see entire families sporting DSLRs. Apparently EVERYONE has a DSLR nowaday. (plus, there was apparently a notice put out 24 hours prior to the event notifying people that something was going to go down)

        Count me as another who is not sure it is on the same level as Petit’s Man on a Wire. A better comparison would be Petit’s crossing of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The WTC walk was “humanizing” to the twin towers (what ever that means), and the Port Authority desperately needed the goodwill generated by the stunt to lease floors, hence all the charges being dropped. The Williamsburg bridge is pretty well beloved already by it’s regular users, of which there are many if the daily jams on the FDR and BQE leading to the bridge are any indication. And it appears that the artistic location chosen is not visible to the lower deck cars or the subway lines, which sort of betrays the intention of providing inspiration. Perhaps a better venue would have been UNDER the deck of the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridges, as that provides much more visually arresting view from both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides (plus good sightlines from both office and residential buildings)

        And the Williamsburg Bridge is kind of passe as this point. Apparently, if you aren’t making your way out to the Rockaways this summer, you’re breaking into and climbing the Williamsburg Bridge. Isn’t this the fourth high profile Williamsburg Bridge stunt this year? What, was the South 4th Street station already booked? [/snark]

  17. There’s a big difference between someone who performs a little circus routine in a spot where drivers can’t really see and pulls it off without anyone being overly inconvenienced or hurt, vs. someone who purposely prevents thousands upon thousands of people from getting home during rush hour.

    Well, I don’t know if anyone here posting is an aerialist, but I am, and the *great* thing about aerialists are that they are mostly: 1) young/kidults (27 is young these days, not so in 1912); 2) alt; 3) mostly operating in a socially stratified world that only includes other approved people like themselves; 4) not working any full-time regular hours (part time jobs excluded); 5) self-centred/clique centred; 6) feeling superior to the wage-slaves.

    I mean, new circus could be constructed as the most coolest thing to do in the world. And that means those who do it are the coolest people in the world. To their worldview, things are perfect.

    So this is a natural progression based on the above worldviews. But they also don’t REALLY know about consequences and believe they don’t need safety.

    Safety! Boring! “I” don’t need safety. I’m so amazing!!!!!!!

    I tried to get a trapeze gig at Red Nose a few years ago at Burning Man. ONE of the things (of many) that put me off doing the actual gig was there were no mats. I was not willing to do it. Yes, BORING. Having mats does not indicate a lack of skills or fear.

    I was going regularly to a aerial festival/workshop, and there were two tissu/silks (people who hang from curtains) who were at the beginning of the development of it. So, they had provenance. And in prep for a performance, one of them got a cramp in one hand, which made it immobile/useless, and nearly fell 6 metres. It was with safety and early catching that they didn’t die.
    I’ve had them too. Feels like palsy.

    What if these two in the vid (who I have never heard of before, but seem the same as all the other alt-new-circuspeople, I have no immediate confidence that they wouldn’t avoid a sudden *unexpected* cramp in the hands or foot.
    Ankle hang? Sure. What if that fucks up?
    Oh, what’s that? Didn’t plan for it?
    Of course not! Coz you don’t have a full adult sense of consequences. Just coz you are so popular in your group, you are not abdicated if you perform on infrastucture that is full of non-fit wage slaves that aren’t included in your clique. Like a bridge.

    Quite a few years ago, I would have loved this, but I’m in my 40s now, plan to do static trapeze until I’m 80 or more…so I will leave stunts like this to kids and hope they learn without dieing.

    Circus is risky, it hurts like hell, and you can die. That’s why I love it. But I don’t want possibly to paint a bridge with my body.

  18. Profoundly stupid act.

    Is that the new definition of hip? Mindless attention-whoring?

    This we can live without, and quite well, thankyouverymuch.

  19. jack of all tirades@10: 15 seconds of hipster fame

    Micah@23: Also, how is it that nobody has commented on how every single hipster on that walkway appeared to possess a DSLR?

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you thing it means.

  20. I don’t want people to risk getting hurt to entertain me. I’m sure they have worked very hard on their skills and just want work but don’t risk getting killed for a little publicity. I don’t understand people who get off on seeing others injured, who go to races for the crash and burn, to circuses to hope for falls.

    1. No, just folks offering their opinions: some positive, some negative, some a mixture of both. Mistaking nuance for hatred is comfortable and popular, but you can easily avoid this common error.

  21. Going over Niagra Falls in a barrel is illegal too, and that is even more limited to self harm.

    Define ‘harm’. Of the people who’ve gone over Niagara with a ‘device’, about one in three dies in the attempt. However, part of that reason the numbers are so low is that the authorities can shut off the falls with a dam just upriver when they catch someone about to make an attempt.

    When someone does die, the falls need to be shutdown. Police, emergency recuse teams and engineers need to be employed to retrieve the corpse…and often even just for someone attempting it who survives. It’s a significant cost to the state when someone jumps. Never mind the horror of people having to look at your bloated corpse at a tourist attraction (which may not even make it over the falls…one daredevil got trapped in the rocks on his second try and suffocated.

  22. These “performers” (and their apologists) are really nothing but a bunch of flippin’ @#$holes.

    1. For the record I am not an apologist. I praise their actions. It was dangerous and a bit reckless but I can find inspiration and courage in the act itself. Say nothing of beauty.

      From here on out it’s for the courts to decide. I am not going to say that there should be zero punishment. We have rules and laws and when someone does something like this, they accept the physical and material dangers as well as the legal implications of what they do. They knew what they were getting themselves into and that makes me give them more of a nod.

      You have every right to think that they are any name you can call them. It is a matter of opinion. What happened up in the air though, whether you like it or not was a performance. No quotes. They are performers. Many people pay good money to see things like this go on many high end circus/acrobatic forums. Having performed the same routine in a location that you do not approve of does not make it any less a performance.

  23. @AdrenalineSleep

    Having performed the same routine in a location that you do not approve of does not make it any less a performance.

    Actually, in this case, I think it does. When public safety/property is compromised to satiate the ego’s of the artists, then I feel, contextually at least, the act becomes something much less than a performance.

    Spectacle at the expense of others, disruption at the expense of others, provocations at the expense of others and just being a selfish !@#hole, are all words that come to mind that more adequately define this act.

    In this context, I don’t appreciate their craft at all.

    1. When public safety/property is compromised to satiate the ego’s of the artists, then I feel, contextually at least, the act becomes something much less than a performance.

      I suppose that’s the difference between our opinions. I believe that it is a performance nonetheless. It may fit some or all of the descriptors you have assigned to it, but I do not feel that it is not a performance. Someone can be tried for using a vehicle as a deadly weapon in an assault. The vehicle is a deadly weapon in that case but no less a vehicle.

      I can understand and empathize with your perspective regarding the merits of the act. I believe that she knows and understands the risks in the act (and the rigging) such that it is more controlled than it might appear to be.

  24. “Even so, I think some people are too habitually scared these days. We’ve become a risk averse society. Too ready to shout for lawyers and police.”
    Yes, and a good proportion are on this site, which saddens me, I would have thought better of boingboing habituées. And what’s with all this ‘hipster’ crap? Have we suddenly regressed to the 1950’s, and everyone here is suddenly wearing comfortable slacks, beige knitwear and smoking a pipe while whining about the shocking behaviour of these ‘hipster kids’? Bloody hell, America has returned to Puritanism and McCarthyism, shown clearly by the references to Obama being a ‘commie’ that I see all too often in various tech newsfeeds. The trouble is, a lot of that sort of garbage has been adopted here in the UK, which has become just as litigious and risk-averse. Ambulance chasing lawyers are largely responsible for that; a verminous pox on their houses for a thousand generations.

  25. I’ve met Seanna. I wish she had gotten an engineer to sign off on a safety harness or a net, and a proper permit. Even if she couldn’t get the permit, it all would have cost less than what she’s going to pay now. It also would have safeguarded the people below, so nobody would have anything to complain about other than how it looked. And it looked awesome. I agree with some of the other negative posters here: if you want to defy death, do it where you don’t risk other people’s health, safety, wefare, or property.

    “Rush hour” has nothing to do with it. This would have been a horrible idea any time of day.

    If you think my opinion is too stodgy, just imagine your best friends on the bridge when Seanna falls on them, knocking them over the railing to their death. Chew on that mental image, that feeling of preventable tragedy, and connect with it. This motherfrenzied city is ONE BIG SOCIAL CONTRACT, right down to the guy you cut off in traffic not murdering you.

    I hope she continues to perform and amaze. I also hope she never does anything like this again.

  26. WTF is wrong with you people? Fascist assholes with your ‘it’s not performance if it’s dangerous’ bullshit. You deserve to have your freedom taken from you, you unamerican dickwads. OMG there was distraction for the pedestrians and bicyclists on the bridge! None for the drivers, since she was obscured from their view but for a brief moment when they could conceivably have looked up through their sunroofs. Still, she could have fallen onto the roadway, undoubtedly killing herself and probably causing an accident in the process. So what? It’s a narrow bridge full of potholes– just DRIVING across it is likely to cause an accident. So really what you’re saying is that doing anything dangerous where it could possibly inconvenience or injure someone else in any way should be strictly verboten, and is a total asshole move, unless it’s so common as to be completely un-noteworthy. Drivers in this country (and pedestrians) tacitly accept massive risks each and every day, with hundreds or thousands of moments where one person fucking up even a little bit could leave them dead. This is not substantially different. And let’s note: there were no accidents or traffic jams, and everything went off pretty much just as they planned (they even expected to be arrested).

    Seriously, you are no longer allowed to call yourself a happy mutant. You are ejected from the club. Go stand in the corner until you’re ready to apologize for being such a sourpuss and get back on the freedom train.

    Full disclosure: this is my ex-roommate’s sister. The both of them are incredibly smart and talented people. Though both Seanna and her accomplice are out, here’s the get-them-out-of-jail blog, along with a longer video of the performance: http://www.surpriseindustries.info/seanna.html

  27. WTF is wrong with you people? Fascist assholes with your ‘it’s not performance if it’s dangerous’ bullshit. You deserve to have your freedom taken from you, you unamerican dickwads.

    Thank you for posting this very non-fascist, non-didatic, non-self-centered comment in defense of your friends. The horse is dead; no need to beat it anymore.

  28. Full disclosure: this is my ex-roommate’s sister. The both of them are incredibly smart and talented people. Though both Seanna and her accomplice are out, here’s the get-them-out-of-jail blog, along with a longer video of the performance:

    So that’s alright then…

    it’s funny that this girl and her accomplice are not, oooo 59 years old. She is, wow, young! How come you don’t find 62 year olds – fit ones – doing reckless things like they did, and having one of those grins on their face afterwards. Just like 20 year olds.

    As for the tissu performance, it was the usual. Nothing different that hasn’t been done before. Just done higher up in the air.
    I notice that those defending them are concentrating on that it would disrupt people’s view, and how that is fine. No, that’s not the main concern. The main one is – well, let’s see.

    and everything went off pretty much just as they planned

    What about this guy or this well-she-OBVIOUSLY-isn’t-as-good-as-Seanna professional trapeze performer
    It’s just luck really.

    Also, notice that the performance went for 15 minutes.

    “Seanna climbed the Williamsburg bridge and performed a 15-minute aerial show hanging 350 feet from the bridge surface by silk.”

    For just her? That is extremely long. Most go for 4 minutes. Long ones up to 6. If it was the two of them instead, 7 minutes each is still at the top of the range at 350ft – massive possibility of fail. It just seems longer to the audience, because it’s spell binding. But if you clock it, it’s only a couple of minutes.

    Good luck to them. Hope they get some paid work next time.

  29. To me it’s not a question of whether it was a performance. Obviously it was a performance. The question is was it a good performance. In my opinion, it wasn’t. The vision wasn’t very well developed and the technical execution was sloppy. The safety issues are particularly frustrating for the aerial community not only because we work so hard to uphold them, but first and foremost because members of our community have been seriously injured and have died due to lapses in safety. I also don’t buy that these are the only circumstances under which public, site specific aerial performance can take place. If you think that and you live in NYC, then you don’t go out to see live performance enough.

  30. As a matter of fact, the cloud was suspended above scaffolding, which was in turn above the subway tracks. There was NO POSSIBLE WAY for either acrobat to fall in traffic.

  31. From Seanna:

    “In response to the critical aerialist on Boing-Boing, I agree with her that this was by no means my best work; but the fact is that 60-mph winds and 385 feet of space below call for more caution and care that I would normally exercise on a Cloud Swing. I deeply respect the support and feedback of the aerialist community, who better than any understand the nuances of our craft. And rest assured…the next one will be better.”

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