City Water Tunnel #3

Galileo’s Tears
The water man from Phoenix said: “You have to recognize we’re a closed system – the earth is a closed system – 3/4 of it covered with water, only a small percentage of that is drinkable…the rest brackish. The challenge is universal. Consequently, it being a closed system, we’re drinking the same water that Napoleon drank. We’re drinking the same water that Archimedes drank. We’re drinking the same water that Galileo drank. So you just have to recognize that, put it into that context, and realize you can only do so much with it.”

A multi-media Obie Award-winning play & a five-year community art project.

Marty Pottenger was the performer, writer and artistic director for City Water Tunnel #3, a multi-media Obie Award-winning play and five-year community art project. City Water Tunnel #3 is about the building of the largest non-defense public works project in the Western Hemisphere. The tunnel’s construction began in 1970 and is scheduled for completion in 2025. City Water Tunnel #3 was created in partnership with Local 147 of the Tunnelworker’s Union and NYC’s largest city agency, the Dept. of Environmental Protection, which is in charge of the tunnel’s design, planning, financing & construction.

“Marty Pottenger establishes a city water delivery system as the backdrop for an often lyrical show that speaks with intimate knowledge and yes, even love, about holes in the ground and the people who drill them. …The approach is a blend of Studs Terkel, Anna Deavere Smith and Pete Seeger.”

Peter Marks, The New York Times
June 9, 1998

The play was produced by Dance Theater Workshop and Dancing in the Streets in 1996 and by The Working Theater and Art At Work in 1998. The show premiered at Dance Theater Workshop and HERE Arts Center (NYC) in 1996, then toured to the UK, Italy, Yugoslavia, Sweden, and across the US. The show was directed by Jayne Austin Williams and music for the production was composed by Steve Elson.

You can learn more about the creation of City Water Tunnel #3 by reading this article by Marty Pottenger, which ran originally in High Performance Magazine.

You can watch the entire performance below.

In addition to the play, the City Water Tunnel #3 Project included:

  • Gallery exhibits of photographs, artifacts and tunnel memorabilia.
  • Live multi-media performances produced in NYC, the NY Upstate Watershed Region, universities, conferences and theaters; these performances funded establishment of a Memorial Fund that raised $20,000 towards commission and installation of granite drinking fountains in all five boroughs to honor the 25 people who have died thus far.
  • Onsite lunchtime performances at construction sites & NYC Govt. office buildings.
  • A video by Mary Ellen Strom that traveled in installation form to the job sites.
  • Two fairs for the public and tunnel building community.

In 1998, City Water Tunnel #3 had a month-long run at the Judith Anderson Theatre in NYC. In 1999, the piece was performed at Dance Place (Washington, DC); George Meaney Labor Center (Silver Springs, MD); Working Women Festival (San Francisco, CA); University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS). From 2000 – 2002, the piece toured Rome, Stockholm, Belgrade, the N. New England Tradeswomen Conference, Vermont and Iowa.

City Water Tunnel #3 was generously supported by Lila Wallace Arts Partners, the Rockefeller MAP Fund, NYSCA, NYFA, Arts International, and the Greenwall Foundation.