At 11:30 p.m. on a winter night, I’ve joined a line of people pouring into The Futureverse at Zerospace, a trippy, immersive pop-up show billed as “Manhattan’s most mind-expanding multiverse.”
Not knowing how immersive “immersive” is, I’ve worn black jeans and matching sweater with a white T-shirt — an outfit that says, “I’m hip, but didn’t feel the need to dress up.” It turns out, I’ve underdone it. People are fashioning fanciful, flamboyant outfits: a king of spades, a gold statue, a man decked out in LED lights. It’s like Halloween without the candy, and with a $60 ticket price.
All signs suggest a night that’s going to be intense — maybe more intense than I’m ready to handle. The program ends at 5 a.m. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter in 30 years. I walk inside to find a stage, several bars, a few separate and sizable rooms, and a scene that’s half Alice in Wonderland, half Burning Man. In one room, people dressed in silver apply makeup to guests. In an “infinity room,” patrons lie on the carpeted floor, couches, and ottomans and canoodle, sleep, or trip out as a ceiling decorated with digital foliage changes colors. In another room, labeled “Birth of the Universe” and created by artist duo Hybycozo, a three-foot illuminated pendant changes hues while shapes projected onto the walls dance. A floor designed by the artist Josh Davis explodes in vibrant disco colors as you walk on it. One wall is divided into three different floor-to-ceiling video projections, which move in sync with a deejay’s electronic house music.
The Futureverse is one of a handful of theatrical nightclub productions that invite guests to dress up, interact with performers, and become part of the multi-sensory theatrics. Other notable examples include Sleep No More, an immersive show based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”; Elrow, a global touring showcase of performance art; and House of Yes, which offers interactive dance and burlesque productions. The idea is to provide an antidote to the time we all spend staring at phones or binging on Netflix — drawing people into a collective experience they can’t have anywhere else. Is this the future of entertainment or a niche event for a committed few? It depends on your perspective, and your stamina.
The Futureverse is produced by Pew Pew, the business name for a group of four friends, two of them in nine-to-five corporate jobs they later described to me as “non-creative.” Two years ago, they decided to create a different kind of nightlife entertainment. Pew Pew, when said quickly, is meant to sound like laser beams going off — the happiest noise that co-founder Daniel Pallozzi could make inside his brain. The goal, says Pallozzi, 27, was to mesh music, art, and immersive theater in the hope of celebrating the surreal and the imaginative — in his words, to “create a connective euphoria and cerebral pyrotechnics.”
“It opens creative outlets for…those who feel constricted in the corporate world,” she says, as a performer on a bicycle types a poem on an antique typewriter.
Pew Pew holds approximately four events every year, at different venues; previous ones were inspired by the ocean, the sky, and by the childhood game Candy Land. This time, their first step was partnering with Zerospace, a 25,000-square-foot venue that houses a large-scale art installation. Then came developing a theme: an imaginary landscape, set in the year 2050.
This futuristic world, they say, is loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Veldt.” Published in 1950, it tells of a family that moves into a smart home where technology quickly substitutes for many of their needs, until human connection is lost. At a time of smart speakers, smart doorbells, and high-tech baby monitors, Pew Pew founders say, Bradbury’s story didn’t seem far off.
“We’re at a moment where technology is starting to feel overbearing,” Pallozzi says. Some of the entertainment, he says, is meant to suggest a fight against machines — such as the moment when two performers enter the main room on stilts, one dressed as a robot, the other as a tree, and face off in Western gunfight stances.
The event’s theme is “a bit of foreshadowing,” says co-founder Nancy Song, 29, who works by day as a senior vice president at CitiGroup. “As of now, technology is a supplement to living, though some are teetering towards relying on it too much.”
Being surrounded by creativity, Song says, helps people connect in ways they otherwise might not. “It opens creative outlets for those that attend and for us who feel constricted in the corporate world,” she says, as a performer on a bicycle stops pedaling nearby to type a poem on an antique typewriter attached to the bike’s frame.
A highlight of the 25,000-square-foot Futureverse is a massive dome. Inside it, two musical tour guides sit on the floor with microphones in their hands, greeting visitors. They instruct us to sit, either in a padded reclining chair or a large beanbag, and put on glowing neon red headphones, which play their chanting and music. I do as I’m told. Through a 3D video projection, geometric shapes, sky, space, and buildings turn into liquid visuals, pouring onto the dome’s ceiling and spilling onto the walls, then the floor.
It’s here that I meet Mimi Levine, a 33-year-old publicist who has come with 12 friends to celebrate a pal’s birthday. “I’ve been to raves before, but never to an art show like this,” she tells me. “Everything is super-sensory. It’s mind-blowing.”
It’s such a sensory overload, though, that I only make it to 1 a.m. In the intervening hours, drinks continue to be poured and consumed. People dance with one another. Some try to be heard over the deafening music; others remain silent, engulfed in their surroundings. People pose for photos. Bodies sparkle with glitter. Couples kiss in different corners. Visual installations mesmerize guests — and with the costumes, it can be hard to tell the difference between participant and hired performer.
“I’m part of a culture of self-expression, of people who are not afraid to dress up and go to weird and exciting things,” says Chad Steinglass, 40, a patron decked out in silver lamé and electric lights, including a headpiece that could double as a prop from “Game of Thrones.”
The next day, Levine tells me she stayed at The Futureverse until 3 a.m. When she left, a handful of people were still waiting to come in. “I had a great time experiencing things I’ve never seen before and connecting with the people I went with,” she says. “It was a fun, shared happening which made me feel closer to everyone.”
I liked it, too. But I’m not surprised I didn’t last. Truth be told, how many hours can you handle before an event that bombards you with light and sound becomes overwhelming, or takes on a feeling of step-and-repeat? Still, it was visually interesting, something truly different than I’ve encountered in a long time, and pushed me into a multi-sensory experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Just as Pew Pew predicted.