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New immersive art exhibit in Times Square uses puppetry to show that plastic never goes away

Photos by Maria Baranova-Suzuki

A new immersive art exhibit that’s coming to Times Square is here to show New Yorkers that the plastic you throw away never really goes away.

Created by artist Robin Frohardt, “The Plastic Bag Store” looks like your average grocery store from the outside. However, once you step inside, you’ll find that every single piece in the immersive exhibit is made from upcycled plastic materials that came from New York City. 

As you explore the aisles, you’ll find products such as pints of ice cream, rotisserie chicken, sushi, bleach, boxes of menstrual pads, all made out of plastic bags. Each item has an updated pun name, such as Caps n’ Such for Captain Crunch and Plasti-Crapa for Coca-Cola. At night, the space turns into original theatrical performance and puppet show written by Frohardt, who has designed puppets and props that have appeared on “30 Rock” and “Orange is the New Black.”

The puppet show takes cues from Greek Mythology, and Frohardt herself refers to the play as a “tragi-comic ode to the foreverness of plastic in three acts.” The show explores how the overabundance of plastic waste we leave behind might be interpreted and potentially misinterpreted by future generations. 

For Times Square Arts Director Jean Cooney, adding this exhibit to the Times Square Arts lineup was a no-brainer.

“When I first interviewed for the job, I knew that if I got it Robin would be the first artist I’d call,” said Cooney. “I thought it would so perfect for Times Square — the exhibit is made out of New York’s used plastic, and it’s playing to a more complex environmental issue.”

According to Cooney, Frohardt has been working on this exhibit for over three years, and collected plastic not just from people in her own life, but also from the Broadway Green Alliance.

“[Frohardt’s] friends and family know to give her their plastic,” said Cooney. “She has been collecting plastic for a long time in New York, and even has a ranking system for what she prefers or needs more of. The level of obsessiveness is impressive in itself.”

Cooney says that the puppet show is one that can’t be missed. 

“At night, the whole space transforms. The shelves are pushed back and hidden screens and puppets come forward,” said Cooney. “The performance is one to see — the puppet show is so beautiful. I was so moved by the craft and the poetic storytelling.”

Photo by Robin Frohardt

The main takeaway that Cooney and Forhardt want visitors to take away from the exhibit is that while we think the plastic we throw away is gone for good, that’s not actually the case.

“It’s not about finger wagging, most places aren’t 100% plastic free,” said Cooney. “I want visitors to understand there is no ‘away’ when we throw plastic away. It all goes somewhere — hopefully they see the foreverness of plastic and shift their attitudes.”

The exhibit, located at 20 Times Square (W 47th St and 7th Ave), was originally be on display from March 18 through April 12. However, due to ongoing concerns surrounding coronavirus, the opening has been postponed until further notice.

For more information, visit arts.timessquarenyc.org.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. on March 16.

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