philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


This immersive theatre project is so psychedelic it’s now become a science experiment

waldorf-pic-2“The show ended, the lights came on, and the guests are lying on their backs, holding hands, shaking, sweating – tears, snot, drool – vibrating, unable to move for about 45 minutes,” says Sean Rogg. Surprisingly, Rogg isn’t describing the scenes of an internment camp or some other unspeakable horror. He’s talking about his latest art piece, Barzakh, an immersive experience like no other.

Staged within an old factory in Welwyn Garden City, a misleadingly idyllic town north of London, entrants will be grilled through a four-hour-long trial of reverence and rebirth. Their clothes exchanged for uniforms, the willing group will be subjected to blinding light, chilling darkness, biting sound, and, ultimately, a palpable sense of a higher power. This is not a pleasant trip to the gallery.
“We use every phobia you can imagine: suffocation and isolation and degradation, just one after the other, slapping the outside world out of them; cleansing them, and then preparing them for the final moment,” says Rogg. Indeed, given its hellish toll, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to experience Barzakh at all. But Rogg insists that entrants experience far more than just distress; they achieve true empathy.

And this newfound fellowship wasn’t just a surprise to Rogg, but to psychologists, too. Startled by Rogg’s results, and unable to replicate them in their own regulated workplace, some scientists are now turning to the artist for answers.

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