New Normals

Pokémon GO creators set up immersive theatre collaboration to create post-COVID experiences

25 August 2020

By Sandra Mardin

Back in March, I posted an article on LinkedIn about the pending threat the pandemic would pose to the cultural and creative sectors in particular. Today, as we are cautiously picking up the pieces of what’s left, there’s also a sense of optimism and opportunity about what a new normal could look like.

A piece of news that caught my eye recently was that immersive theatre pioneers Punchdrunk partnered up with Niantic, the leading location-based gaming company behind Pokémon GO. A collaboration that has the potential to deliver intimate immersive experiences at a previously unobtainable scale. The inspiration for the collaboration had come not from the pandemic but from Punchdrunk’s performance of Sleep No More on the global stage.

“We’ve often heard audiences comparing the show to a game. It’s an idea that’s fascinated us for some time and led us to imagine what would happen if we integrated game mechanics and digital technology into our work. We believe that the future of interactive audience experience will be at the cross-section of gaming and theatre,” Punchdrunk explain.

Niantic’s Real World platform gives Punchdrunk the opportunity to take the immersive theatre experience outside of physically bound spaces and disperse it into the wider environment. In a hint of what’s to come, they say they intend to bend the rules of the genre and redefine the norms of mobile gaming.

Today, as we are cautiously picking up the pieces of what’s left, there’s also a sense of optimism and opportunity about what a new normal could look like.

What does it mean?

Although the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, delivering engaging live experiences while adhering to social distancing is still a considerable challenge. Combining theatre-making skills with the thrill and scale of mobile gaming lets us reimagine new possibilities. This type of cross-sector collaboration isn’t just noteworthy for the sake of reviving theatre experiences but an opportunity for brand theatre as well.

Cross-sector collaboration in a crisis results in much stronger commercial results, according to Harvard Business Review; as companies are better prepared to solve rapidly changing, complex problems. Immersive brand experiences that used to be bound by physical locations can now be reimagined through the lens of augmented reality.

“We can imagine a future where audiences are individually distanced while intimately immersed in intensive performances and simultaneously connected to one another on a global scale” according to Helen W. Kennedy and Sarah Atkinson; professors of Creative and Cultural Industries and Screen Media, respectively.

Cross-sector collaboration in a crisis results in much stronger commercial results

During the lockdown, we witnessed many attempts at remote experiences; however, none could quite match the depth of engagement of live, unscripted, two-way interaction. We are now seeing a glimpse into a future where physical distance is no longer a barrier to immersion and where reaching audiences at scale doesn’t take away from the live 1:1 experience.

On the flip-side, however, this approach is not without risk. The lockdown also put into sharp focus the importance of unmediated access to public spaces such as parks. One of the biggest criticisms of augmented reality is that it has the potential to corrode the sense of a public sphere. As tensions regarding common access, private space and right to roam intensify, we need to be mindful of the possible unintended consequences.

 

New Normals is a content series focused on the rapid evolution of the experience economy in response to the global pandemic. TRO, the brand experience agency, in collaboration with the global network of Omnicom Experiential Group, will share weekly stories and insights from around the world.

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