Virtual reality (VR) events are set to be the future of the entertainment industry, just as Zoom has become for meetings.
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A quiet revolution has been going on with new operators providing location-based experiences, using technology, in a far more immersive way than traditional theatre.
Leading the trend is the award-winning company Layered Reality™, formerly known as dotdotdot. The immersive theatre company are the creators of the multi-award-winning lucid dreaming experience SOMNAI that opened in 2018, and the critically acclaimed site-specific The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience based on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of HG Wells’ sci-fi novel, which won the prestigious globally recognised THEA Award (dubbed the “Oscars” of the entertainment world).
The popularity of events such as the Crystal Maze, clueQuest as well as The War of the Worlds Immersive – voted a Top 20 Night Out on TripAdvisor (and in the website’s top 1%) – already showed a shift towards people’s search for more intimate experiences in smaller groups. It’s a shift that will now become the new normal.
“Life pre-COVID particularly, we felt quite distant from one another a lot of the time, we were hurtling around,” explains Layered Reality™ CEO Andrew McGuinness of the growing demand for smaller events. “What we really want are intimate experiences where we connect with other human beings. It's a sense of bonding that we crave. And that bonding you can get from having an intimate experience where you go through a lot together in a short period of time. That’s what people are looking for.”
Wearing VR headsets, guests at The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience take part in realistic battles against the Martians, emerging two hours later having shared something unique, perilous and exhilarating with their team.
Key to Layered Reality’s stunning immersive experiences is layering three exciting multimedia elements. The first is theatrical features, comprising large-scale walk-around sets, first-class actors performing live, and pyrotechnics. The second element is the newest technological advances, including virtual reality, projection mapping, volumetric holograms and surround sound. The final layer to ensure you are completely immersed within the world of the experience is physical sensations: temperature, scent, physical movement, touch and sound. As a powerful and evocative tool to create emotion, music plays a part in all of the experiences.
Andrew says: “Because you've got your nose smelling something that your eyes are seeing, and then you can see a 150-foot Martian fighting machine, you’re really convinced that you are in that place, and you get a much more intense experience than you could ever have with one single layer. It's by bringing those layers together that the physical movement of your body tells you that this is real. What you can expect is to escape to a different place for a couple of hours where you're immersed in another world.”
During lockdown, whilst we were unable to travel, VR and Augmented Reality (AR) proved they had the capacity to truly transport us to a new place, providing the escape we all craved. Technology has also been shown, crucially, to bring us closer together.
“It always struck me as interesting that using technology could help make that human connection,” says Andrew. “Before COVID-19, technology was almost seen as the antithesis of connection, as something that kept us apart. Used in the right way it can be one of the tools that brings us together. Technology allows you to live some of those sensations and experiences that you couldn't possibly do in real life. So you can see things and experience them because of these digital tools that you couldn't do in ordinary formats.”
From the only company creating feature-length Layered Reality™ experiences, these immersive experiences are set to be London’s best nights out for small groups, plugging the gap left open by theatre and music-venue closures due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions. When venues are given the green light to reopen to small numbers of guests, these intimate experiences will be among the first major entertainment sources to open.
While the experiences are scaled up or scaled down to cater for whoever is taking part, another benefit to smaller events is that they can very easily be socially distanced. Furthermore, event locations are central and easily accessed by mainline trains or cycle routes, and protective masks can easily be integrated to ensure a safe environment.
Above all, these are novel experiences that shake up the tried and tested formats of the past 50 years and will create memories that last forever.
“People are looking for new and different,” explains Andrew. “When you look at the going-out market, it hasn't changed that much for decades. The content changes, but the format doesn't. What we offer is something very different from the traditional forms of entertainment. If you love the theatre, you can really love this because not only are you watching it, you’re in it. There's something about seeing an actor up close and personal when there’s only a few of you, and the eye contact being made with you, that's incredibly powerful.”
“These are new forms of entertainment of which we hope to be pioneers. One of the things that struck me over this period has been the way in which Zoom moved from 10 million users to 300 million-plus now, and that number will carry on rising. I think this is going to be like Zoom. People are going to discover something out of this crisis, and they're going to want to have new deep experiences that stick with them, and they're going to want to experience them with others.”
"There's no greater gift than the gift of a memory." Andrew says, "We want to be in the memories business, to deliver people fantastic memories so that when they're weighing up their year, we can be on that list of things that they remember.”
See what a Layered Reality Experience is like
HuffPost UK talk to Founder and CEO Andrew McGuinness about developing the Layered Reality™ approach to make amazing new experiences combining live actors, VR and sensational 5D effects.