All the world’s a stage

By Julia Zaltzman
14 February 2023

Is it time you augmented your reality?

“The conversation starts with ‘What do you dream of?’. They say, ‘Burning Man in the Arctic’, and we say, ‘we can build that’,” explains Andrew Grant Super. And he’s not kidding. Broadway’s Hamilton on water, the 1942 Battle of Midway or a Tomorrowland-style music festival erected in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Nothing is off limits.

Super, a former marketing profiler, is at the forefront of yachting’s burgeoning stagecraft industry. It’s a world in which trickery art and creative installations are used to allow the heart to believe it’s seeing what the brain knows it’s not. He refers to it as “traversing the ‘rand’ of human exploration”. Put simply, it’s next level theatrics spiced up with some seriously cool tech.

“We are experiential travel designers, an engineering house of sorts,” he says. “We came to yachting to bring fresh ideas from different industries, different people, different skills.” Fresh is the word. Picture this. You’re standing on the aft deck of your yacht, a crisp Pinot Gris in hand and the salty sea breeze ruffling your hair. The ocean stretches for miles around. It’s summer on the Italian Riviera. And then you see it. Bubbling beneath the gin-clear water. The legendary sunken city of Atlantis, almost within your reach. Disbelieving, you take to your private submersible for a closer inspection, only to find yourself gliding past turrets, diving towards towers and swooping through arched colonnades.

“We came to yachting to bring fresh ideas from different industries, different people, different skills.”

“Do we build the whole of Atlantis?” he grins. “No. The budget would not allow for that.” Though find him an owner willing to finance such a gig and he’ll surely make it happen. But the timings, planning and logistics of such an endeavour also prove problematic. “We’re not a McDonalds drive thru,” he jokes. “Recreating Atlantis already takes the best part of a year to pull together. It’s the Disney EPCOT principle, whereby you don’t need to build the entire city to give guests a sense of what it might feel like. They’ll see some physical structures that they can weave in and out of, built in such a way that it gives the perception that they’re seeing, breathing and living within Atlantis. The rest is stagecraft, augmented reality projections and visualisations.”

Strictly speaking, the term ‘stagecraft’ refers to the technical aspects of theatrical production, such as set design, lighting and stage machinery. But Super has elevated it to superyacht-worthy status. His bespoke experiences range from around €350,000 to the €2 million mark. And demand is through the roof. Berkeley Rand, the design and engineering house that Super founded in 2020 in partnership with BWA Yachting, is so oversubscribed that it’s taking bookings into 2024. It’s easy to see why.

By engaging highly skilled maritime off-grid experts and experiential engineers who use immersive AI technology to push the envelope of explorative discovery, Berkeley Rand creates a personal adventure tailored to each guest. The ideas range from Broadway at Sea, for which exclusive licences have been obtained to stage full costume shows like Hamilton on water, illuminated by 2000 drones that light the stage and create shapes deep into the night sky. On a sand shelf in a Maldivian atoll, guests dine at pop-up Michelin-star outposts, such as Nobu, designed by world-class architects and sprinkled with an element of Harry Potter magic. Using advanced digital panels with 3D layering that were originally developed to redefine camouflage in the U.S. military, the waiters and staff are invisible. The effect is an out-of-this-world culinary adventure. “It’s all about the magic of having waiters turn up out of nowhere so that you feel you’re immersed in a dream,” says Super. “The food’s appearing from every direction and you’re dining on a temporary sandbar in the Maldives in a restaurant designed by Foster + Partners. It’s insane! Once home, you’re the only people in the world to have eaten at a Nobu in the Maldives. It’s an experience created exclusively for you.”

The re-enactment of the Battle of Midway is one of the company’s more famous events, staged for a client in 2020. Wearing augmented reality goggles, the guests saw their superyacht converted into a World War II American battleship. The kids shot at fighter jets tearing through the sky as the smell of cordite and cannon fire drifted on the sea breeze.

“We tap into all the senses, equipping guests with full-body haptic suits so that when they pull the trigger on their virtual gun, they feel the haptic shakes throughout their legs and torso as though they’re really shooting,” explains Super. “It’s about getting the experience from every angle, so you really feel as though it’s happening.”

It’s no mean feat putting on immersive maritime experiences on such a grand scale. It requires engagement with global heritage brands, such as Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and NASA. Experts from Apple and Google bring digital clout, while those from Aston Martin, Bentley and Prada bring the luxury. From Snapchat to the Royal Navy, the list of contacts reads like a Who’s Who.

Last year, the company employed around 500 marine planners across various events, often running concurrently. Each trip is orchestrated on-the-ground, overseen from Berkeley Rand’s Mayfair headquarters, and supported by a further 40 creative brains around the world, all leaders in their respective fields of engineering, design and technology. It’s their role to conceive the inconceivable, and then make it happen.

It’s not all high-tech trickery, of course. On occasion named faces are roped in, too, such as extreme athlete Wim Hof, a.k.a. The Iceman, who is noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. The Dutchman leads an Arctic Man experience – a Burning Man of sorts, recreated in the Nordic countries that sees guests undergo an enlightening physical experience that tests their mental resilience. For those who wish to sail alongside historical discoverers or commune with a pod of migrating whales, it takes a little more than a few celebrity faces. “It requires artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to create sonic sounds that enable guests to talk to whales,” he explains. “They’re either in submersibles or we build immersive freestanding pods aboard the yachts from where guests ‘communicate’ with the mammals as they pass around the ship.”

Does it push the realms of fantasy? Yes. Does it appeal to everyone? Probably not. But by playing to the advantages and natural beauty of each fixed location, it elevates the yachting life, rather than redefine it. At present, the Mediterranean is Berkeley Rand’s major stomping ground. During Covid, the company’s activations in the Riviera and Baltics ramped up. But looking ahead, Super’s eyes are firmly set towards the Caribbean, which he describes as “a major hunting ground”, the Indian Ocean, now that the experiences are becoming more remote, and the US, which accounts for 40% of the yachting market. “West coast tech titans are critical to us,” he says. “They run through our veins. Power families are our classic clients who love what we do. The complexities around trying to entertain a three-generational family who have seen it all is stifling. Adapting immersive technology to augment, enhance and capture the moments we create for our guests to provide maximum visceral enjoyment is what we’re all about.”

If seeing is believing, don’t be surprised if you hear about a legendary lost city turning up at a yachting hub near you.

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