Immersive Superlatives from 2017

An Otherworldly year in review

This year I launched Otherworld — a project designed to connect people through immersive experiences. My goal with Otherworld was to create a monthly occasion to uncover new experiences, enjoy them with a group of likeminded adventurers, and then discuss them salon-style over a drink or a bite. Otherworld — much like the multi-sensory, genre-defying, experiences we attend — isn’t just one thing. It’s a book club for events, a place for social gathering, a curation platform for unique things to do in NYC, and an experimental sandbox.

As an experience designer myself, Otherworld provides an opportunity to deconstruct a wide variety of IRL events, discuss and collect feedback with a group of audience members, and gain insight on the ingredients for truly powerful experiences.

In 2017, our events have taken us to the corners of the city — from Yonkers to Sunset Park — to explore threads of theater, music, performance art, history and nightlife.

The New Year marks an exciting new chapter for Otherworld. In addition to expanding this community and our calendar of experiences in 2018, the focus for next year will be on creation. This means developing original content, forming new partnerships to expand our reach, and experimenting with creating our own experiences altogether. In short, there’s a lot more to come. But before blazing ahead into 2018, I wanted to share some of our superlatives and takeaways from 2017.

Most Interesting Use of Location: Into the Veil

Historic Green-Wood cemetery was the setting for Atlas Obscura’s annual exploratory theater and musical event, Into the Veil. Under the cover of darkness, we navigated the graveyard and explored ‘the world between the living and the dead’ through performance acts in mausoleums and grave sites. The highlight of the evening was a headlining musical performance by SURVIVE (of Stranger Things fame), whose eerie horror-synth hypnotized an audience sprawled on oriental rugs in the open lawn.

The Lesson: Use the location as a springboard for storytelling (don’t make it the only story)

Into the Veil had a lot going for it — alluring location, a talented cast of performers, well placed graveyard pop-up bars, and a big-name musical act. It turned a previously off limits place into a playground for the evening. But ultimately, a lack of storytelling left us wanting more. Into the Veil felt like a disconnected series of tableaus that relied too heavily on the novelty of the graveyard. With access to rich stories of those buried in the cemetery, the event lacked a narrative thread to tie the experience together and give us a reason to buy-in. As a result, we found ourselves wandering the graveyard in confusion, trying to make sense of what we were seeing.

Best Party: You Are So Lucky

On Halloween we reveled at You are So Lucky — an ‘underground’ immersive party at a the sprawling Alder Mansion in Yonkers. Alongside 7,500 other partygoers, we journeyed to the 72-room mansion to explore the ‘performance landscape’ of intimate dance floors, live art, ‘secret rituals’, and other hidden delights. From a party perspective, You Are So Lucky checked many of the boxes for an incredible event. It naturally attracted a deeply engaged audience, had a strict costume requirement to encourage deeper commitment, promised ephemeral performances, and all within a gorgeous, Instagram-worthy setting. But from an experiential standpoint, something was off.

The Lesson: Make choices, don’t try and do everything at once

The allure of a venue brimming with surprises was ultimately the cause for dissatisfaction. The possibility of yet another dance floor with even better music, a missed Instagram opportunity, or whispers of an exclusive ‘play room’ on premises, contributed to a frenzied FOMO-laden experience rather than one of serendipitous whimsy. We found ourselves hunting for the next thing, rather than just enjoying the magic of the current moment. By lowering our expectations and not promising surprises at every turn, the serendipitous encounters that did occur would have been more appreciated.

Most Immersive: Counting Sheep Revolution

Counting Sheep Revolution, swept us into the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine through an ‘immersive guerilla folk opera.’ Based upon the lived experience of the show’s creators, Counting Sheep Revolution used interactive theater, live video footage from the revolution, and folk music by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra to bring their experience to life. The highly immersive show was sung entirely in Ukrainian (with a helpful subtitle here and there). Projections on the walls alternated between real protest footage and a live feed of the room, which further blurred the lines between audience and protester.

The Lesson: Create texture to build authenticity

Every sensory detail of Counting Sheep played a role in telling the story of the Maidan Revolution. But unlike many shows that pack every minute with plot or character advancement, Counting Sheep created lulls in the action that added texture and contributed to an authentic ambiance. In the mid-show interlude, performers fractured into small groups and pulled audience members from their seats to take part in barricade-building and folk dancing. Carts of pierogies and bowls of borscht were passed out and the band played improvisational folk tunes. From that point forward, we were in it — part of the revolution, not just spectators. We were on the journey, feeling the emotional transformation take place within ourselves without being told how to feel.

Best Experience of 2017: KPOP

Our favorite experience of 2017 also happened to be our first: KPOP, an immersive musical that explored the Korean Pop phenomenon and its challenges by way of a dazzling, live soap opera. Inviting the audience behind the scenes of the K-pop ‘factory’ where stars are cultivated, KPOP posed questions of cultural identity and explored just why Korean megastars haven’t been able to penetrate the American market. The show’s strong point of view, gripping storylines, and celebratory, concert-like atmosphere were the ingredients for a truly standout experience.

The Lesson: Ease your audience into it

KPOP hit the perfect balance of authenticity and relatability. By framing KPOP as a focus group — designed to understand American musical preferences and help K-popP break into the US market — we were eased into unfamiliar subject matter. Upon arriving, we were ushered into the ‘waiting area’ where we could buy Soju cocktails and socialize before the show. This same area came to life as the opening scenes unfolded around us while we finished our beverages. As the show progressed, momentum built. We became invested in the micro storylines of the different characters and were brought on an emotional journey that was guided by music. The climax, a fully-blown K-pop show, had the energy and spirit of a pop concert, but was much more powerful because of the relationships we had built with the characters along the way.

To learn more about Otherworld or join us for our upcoming gatherings, check us out here and leave a note. Looking forward to more adventures in 2018!