What are the immersive trends to look out for in 2019?

"AR is certainly not a new trend, but advances in technology mean we are entering a new phase"

By Hamish Jenkinson

1 - Outdoor:
Much hyped plans for purpose-built immersive theatre space, The Buzz, collapsed last year. There is a severe lack of large scale affordable spaces and Immersive companies will look to find new outdoor venues, from car parks to cemeteries, council estates and open spaces as theatre-makers find new uses and look to maximise their budgets with councils and landowners realise the returns in cultural capital.

2 - Augmented Reality:
AR is certainly not a new trend, but advances in the technology mean we are entering into a new phase that creatives will be able to take advantage of. Previously, to kick start AR you needed to hold your phone over a marker, but now with the advance of GPS based AR, there is no need for a marker. From guiding people through abandoned spaces or geo-located content playing a narrative role - theatre companies should have a field day with this tech.

3 - Immersive Dining:
Trailblazers Gingerline have branched off the overground and now sell-out shows all over London. The Vaults host a steady run of shows, most recently the excellent Divine Proportions, produced by Laura Drake Chambers and her all-female company which saw guests invited to a Dionysian feast. I expect to see speciality restaurants getting in on the act.

4 - Immersive Travel:
Allegedly Punchdrunk has been planning an immersive travel company, which would see guests travel to far-flung corners of the globe for an immersive holiday. Even Virgin Atlantic are getting in on the act, chartering two immersive theatrical flights to New York for Gay Pride. Expect to see this trend on planes, trains and automobiles.

5 - Going Global:
Russia and China are getting in on the act, with no shortage of buildings and abandoned spaces. Highlights from Russia were Pushkin's Queen of Spades, an immersive opera with 70 performers, including a live orchestra and only 54 guests. China has also handpicked UK immersive theatre shows as it develops a new cultural district in Shanghai, Punchdrunk has taken their long-running show Sleep No More there, Les Enfants Terribles took Alice Underground and a new Great Gatsby themed party opened to much acclaim. There’s more to come.

6 - 3D Sound:
L-Acoustics new L-ISA Hyperreal Sound processor, unlike anything else I’ve heard it gives a true 3D sound experience. While expensive, the results are incredible and already immersive theatre shows such as Somnai last year are starting to use it. I predict that bigger shows, with the available budget, will start to use this system.

7 - Audience Decision-Based Narratives:
Black Mirror's Bandersnatch stormed our screens this Christmas and set a new precedent in audience decision-based narratives. More like the world of a computer game, it won’t be long before immersive theatre practitioners jump on this trend.

8 - Location-based VR:
The buzz around VR really died in 2018 but once people get the chance to experience things like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire by The Void, It should pick up again. While home headset sales have slowed, location-based VR entertainment, meaning you visit custom build locations to experience real-time hyper-reality that combines interactive sets, real-time effects, and the latest technology will grow rapidly. Westfield is a major investor in Dreamscape, so expect a VR experience at a shopping centre near you this year!

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