Five otherworldly, humanoid entities stand side by side in formation, moving in perfect harmony. They wear hooded, iridescent robes, and intricate masks obscure their faces. Each mask radiates out from the entity’s face in a steampunk-meets-Aztec halo of metallic fractals; where the eyes should be are three small, reflective lenses arranged in a pyramid. Behind the entities looms a towering wall alive with projected black-and-white patterns. The wall itself seems to breathe, washing ripples of light and shadow over the entities as the patterns expand and contract. Before each entity stands a hand-picked audience member, all of whom suddenly seem insignificant in comparison with the grandeur of the scene unfolding before them. The ritual has drawn a crowd, but each entity’s attention is focused solely on the person in front of them. To them, these audience members are far from insignificant. As I watch, captivated, I find myself longing for a chance of my own to interact with one of these entities. Their touch is kind and reassuring as they produce a small orb of light from the head of the person in front of them. The light is withdrawn, considered, and then ceremoniously deposited in each person’s heart. To conclude the ceremony, the entities gently place their arms around the person they face, and lead them away to secluded chambers for intimate, one-on-one conversations. The crowd disperses, and I resume my exploration. As I wander the space and digest what I’ve witnessed, I experience a fresh wave of wonder for this alluring and fantastic world the entities have created: ZeroSpace.
ZeroSpace is a collection of large-scale art installations housed in a 25,000 square foot space in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, and was founded by Jordan Lejuwaan and Jon Kreutzer. During the day, the space is open as a museum, but the evening is dedicated to their immersive show. Though all ages are welcome during museum hours, the show is strictly for patrons ages 18 and older. In the show’s story world, ZeroSpace is a realm accessible only through a mysterious inter-dimensional portal that is monitored by a covert government agency. This realm was created by peaceful alien entities as a place for humans to recharge, and, in return, the entities use ZeroSpace to learn about humanity. Actors lead groups of up to 24 participants at a time through an orientation process that culminates in a trip through the portal itself. Start times are staggered in ten-minute increments. For the rest of the show, participants are free to explore the sandbox-style story world, complete missions and side quests, and interact with actors roaming the premises. The experience can be comfortably completed in about an hour and a half, though guests are free to leave whenever they want. If you’re the type of audience member who likes to leave no stone unturned when exploring a story world, budget two to three hours for exploring the installations and interacting with the actors. Participants can expect the use of gentle touch throughout the show. Though food and drink are not part of the show, ZeroSpace does have snacks and non-alcoholic beverages for sale in both the lobby and the museum.
ZeroSpace: The Show prompts participants to embrace the value of being fully and joyfully present, and seeks to guide them to a state of authentic self-reflection. Though every audience member goes through the same orientation process, the second half of the show is highly personalized. Once within the space, there is no linear narrative to follow. Instead, participants are cast as the lead in their own quests for self-discovery, and the actors play supporting roles. Throughout the evening, actors give audience members missions that focus on teamwork, empathy, and perseverance, each of which pull audience members out of their comfort zones and into incrementally greater levels of self-refection. ZeroSpace: The Show is intentional about forcing strangers to rely on one another to complete these missions and progress through the experience. For example, one mission requires participants to gather into groups with people they don’t know, and untangle themselves from a human knot. While these interactions with strangers have a tendency to feel silly at the time, they ultimately have a disarming effect that helps participants warm up to the idea of being vulnerable and authentic in their later conversations with actors. A limited number of audience members also have the chance to experience private, one-on-one sessions with the alien entities. These encounters are the pinnacle of ZeroSpace: The Show, and are marked by deeply intimate conversations about topics like love for others and self, human legacy, and identity.
Though the first portion of the show is precise and guided, the latter portion presents guests with a considerable amount of ambiguity. Progression through the experience relies a great deal on audience members taking initiative, revealing an assumption on the part of the creators that every guest will be curious and proactive. This simply isn’t the reality. There is a noticeable subsection of the audience that quickly becomes disengaged from the show when it’s not immediately clear what their next steps should be. ZeroSpace originally prohibited the use of cell phones within the experience, but that decision has since been reversed. Ironically, an experience all about celebrating presence has shot itself in the foot by implicitly encouraging guests to live the show through their screens. The suspension of disbelief is easier when everyone in a show has bought in, therefore audience members have to exert extra energy to disregard distracting guests if they want to truly immerse themselves in this experience.
Regardless of whether or not the audience stays engaged, each and every actor displays a consistent commitment to their role. Throughout the show, actors playing government agents and alien entities patrol the space, interact with guests, and stage short, 3–5 minute scenes. The agents carry themselves with confidence and authority, while still remaining approachable. There is also an undercurrent of camaraderie present in all the agents’ interactions with each other, which makes their performances feel natural. Equally impressive are the performances from the alien entities. These actors face the unique challenge of trying to build connections from behind a mask, without the ability to speak or make eye contact. They navigate this challenge with skill, using lingering glances and gentle touch strategically to make audience members feel uniquely seen and valued. They are almost birdlike in their movements, moving gracefully at times and abruptly at others. Across the board, the actors demonstrate an ability to pivot and tailor conversations to each individual participant, ensuring no two audience members leave with the same experience.
Though the acting is impressive, the set is what truly sets ZeroSpace: The Show apart. The show begins in a series of rooms reminiscent of a high-tech, top-secret government site. Orientation occurs in clean, brightly-lit rooms with walls of corrugated metal. These rooms lead into tunnels lined with sheets of plastic and are dimly lit by red, wall-mounted lights. The tunnels conclude on the inside of a geodesic dome, where projections simulate inter-dimensional travel through a portal to ZeroSpace. Once on the other side of the portal, the installations housed within the museum double as the show’s set. The space is inherently whimsical and otherworldly, giving guests permission to suspend disbelief long enough to convince themselves they’ve truly been transported to another dimension. Use of geometric sculpture, light, and ambient sound are common threads linking each of the installations. Four of the installations are participatory, allowing audience members to rediscover a sense of joyful play. One such installation is a waist-high, interactive sandbox. Colors are projected onto the sandbox, and these colors change in real time based on the depth of the sand. The remaining installations are meant only for viewing, and three of them are housed in rooms filled with comfortable bean bags for the audience. The simple act of including cozy seating as part of the set makes room for resting to be part of the experience.
The show’s lighting and sound design work together to create a dreamlike atmosphere. Once audience members have traveled through the portal, there is virtually no lighting outside of that coming from the installations. Most installations use sophisticated, multi-layered projections, though several also use LEDs. The darkness enhances the brilliance of each installation, and shrouds the entire space in an air of mystery. The music playing throughout the experience is ambient, slow, and amorphous, consisting primarily of sustained electronic notes. Though solemn in tone, it also has a calming effect that helps nudge audience members toward a more contemplative state of mind.
ZeroSpace: The Show is an exhilarating, wholesome exploration of what it means to be human. While the spectacular art installations are busy capturing participants’ eyes, the acting sneaks in and captures their hearts. Participants will get out of this experience only what they choose to put into it; those that choose to engage fully will walk away full of wonder. This show is perfect for anyone willing to let their guard down long enough to play, reflect, and be fully present in each beautiful moment.