Empathy at 35,000 feet: staging immersive art onboard a transatlantic flight

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For most of us, flights are dead time: a book, a film, or if you’re lucky, an uncomfortable bit of sleep.

But what if your flight was transformed into a talk, discussion, or even an immersive art performance?

Lufthansa’s FlyingLab has been pushing the boundaries for in-flight entertainment and beyond. Aboard their flights, experts have been talking about a range of hot topics such as sustainability, technology, and well-being to an entire aircraft of passengers.

But on 7th March, passengers flying to Austin’s infamous SXSW festival were treated to the world’s first immersive and integrated performance at altitude: The Waldorf Project’s FUTURO – A.


When the team behind FlyingLab met Sean Rogg, director of radical immersive experience The Waldorf Project, they decided a lecture would not be enough. Instead, on March 7th, 2019, the 255 passengers aboard Flight LH448 experienced ‘FUTURO – A‘, The Waldorf Project’s truly ground-breaking and technologically radical performance.

In order to host a groundbreaking work of art, the entire Airbus A330 had to be transformed. The Waldorf Project team were given unprecedented control to take over the aircraft’s interior, redesigning it to suit the immersive experience. The interior lighting system was augmented. A bespoke, plane-wide sound system has been installed, to fully realise its overwhelming and powerfully emotive soundscape. A whole range of technical elements were adapted, in close partnership with aeronautical engineers, scientists and even the fleet captain.

The result? All 255 passengers on board, regardless of their seat, were fully immersed in an collaborate experiment which counts the audience not as passive recipients but as active participants. FUTURO – A is about empathy. The performance boldly attempts to synergise strangers on board the flight, breaking down the boundaries and making them feel – temporarily – as one. Director Sean Rogg calls it ‘empathy engineering’, adapting the infrastructure of our environments to influence our compassion.  

With the rules and restrictions around aviation being so tight, the challenges in overcoming the strategic, legal, and logistical hurdles faced by the Waldorf Project were immense. And yet, as with previous ‘Chapters’ – thanks to the bravery of partner FlyingLab and with the support of Lufthansa – Sean Rogg and his team have been granted the extraordinary opportunity to be unrestrained in imagination, making the impossible possible.

‘FlyingLab is mostly just to see where it could all lead one day’ says Sissis Laios, a FlyingLab VR specialist within Lufthansa’s digital innovation department. ‘No-one dared to do this thing before, and we just teamed up and did it. This was the most complete FlyingLab, it was the fucking greatest FlyingLab we ever had’

So what next for The Waldorf Project? Where do you go once you’ve reached for the sky? Chapter Four, called BARZAKH, is coming to London’s Old Shredded Wheat factory. Measuring 300,000 square feet, just forty participants will be released into an immersive environment designed to break down the barriers and push their senses to the limit.

Barzakh, meaning ‘purgatory’, is a state between this world and the hereafter. The performance intends to create an experience so profound that it will induce the feeling of what it means to be in the presence of a higher power. Moving from the primal, organic and inherently fearsome, the narrative guides participants towards the final apex, a fierce yet blissfully psychedelic, Sci-Fi conclusion where true transcendence occurs.

Over the course of a four-hour experience, guests will be guided through this enormous, immersive space, creating the impression of being in the presence of a higher power.

Intrigued? You can get a taste of the experience with a series of preview nights from just £16 from the 9th April. Once the full run starts on the 19th, tickets will be £72.

Anyone who’s been immersed in a FUTURO Chapter will confirm that it’s an unforgettable experience – just prepare to be challenged, surprised and deeply unsettled…


Event: The Waldorf Project: Chapter Four / BARZAKH
Venue: The Wheat Quarter (The Old Shredded Wheat Factory)
Address: The Wheat Quarter, Hyde Way, Welwyn Garden City. AL7 3BU
Dates: Tuesday 9th April – Sunday 12th May 2019
Times: 19:00 – 22:00
Tickets: £16 – 72 (40 guests per night)
Email: info@waldorfproject.com
Website: www.waldorfproject.com


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