Stranger Things: The Experience, an exhibit offering fans of the Netflix show an immersive, interactive experience, including a virtual venture to the frightful Upside Down, is under way in New York and San Francisco, and premieres in London in August.
The Experience offers a visit to Hawkins, Indiana, the fictional setting for Stranger Things, in 1986. Greg Lombardo, head of experience at Netflix, called it “an immersive, narrative-based adventure.”
The visit starts at Hawkins Lab, where attendees step into various lab rooms to take part in a sleep study. On a screen, Dr. Brenner, played by Matthew Modine, welcomes them to the study. Scientists instruct them on how to harness their unknown superpowers. Demogorgons lurk behind closed doors.
“Spoiler alert–something goes terribly wrong,” said Lombardo.
The lab visit leads way to the show’s frightful alternative universe, the Upside Down, a 3D experience in the woods, with an array of demogorgons looking to devour humans. Video images of cast members urge the attendees to help close the portal to the creepy netherworld.
“Visitors have to help Eleven and the gang escape from the menace within the Upside Down,” said Lombardo.
Attendees then move on to Mix-Tape, the lighter part of the visit. They can grab ice cream from Scoops Ahoy, pizza from Surfer Boy, try a Stranger Things-themed cocktail, shoot some photos, play old-school video games, groove to ‘80s music (think “Footloose” and Huey Lewis and the News) and share thoughts about their harrowing trip to the Upside Down.
“It’s a fun place to hang out as long as you like,” said Lombardo. “Take photos, eat and drink, and enjoy and celebrate the experience of surviving the lab.”
Produced by Netflix and Fever, Stranger Things: The Experience began in Brooklyn, New York in May, arrived in San Francisco June 4, and sets up in London in late August. Lombardo called those three cities “lead-offs, hopefully, to a global tour.”
Season four of Stranger Things began on Netflix May 27. Set in the ‘80s, the show, created by the Duffer Brothers, is a mix of sci fi, horror and teen drama. Dustin, Mike, Lucas and Will enjoy a good game of Dungeons and Dragons in the basement, and get around Hawkins on their bikes. When Will goes missing, the boys look for their friend, and get help from Eleven, a girl their age who has escaped from the clandestine government lab located in Hawkins, where she learned to fine-tune some unique superpowers.
Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp are in the cast.
Two more season four episodes are released July 1.
A ‘Bridge’ to 1800s England
Netflix offers experiential exhibitions for its most popular shows. Stranger Things had a drive-through event in a massive parking garage in Los Angeles, starting in late 2020 and ending in June 2021. Stranger Things pop-up shops, featuring merch and interactive elements, were in New York and Los Angeles, and recently opened in Chicago and Dallas.
The Queen’s Ball event celebrating Bridgerton is set up in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Chicago and Montreal, and will visit San Francisco this summer. Money Heist has offered immersive exhibitions in Paris, Miami, New York, London and Mexico City, with more cities to follow.
Sarah Unger, co-founder of media consultancy firm Cultique, said big-budget networks such as Netflix “have the dollars to fund the type of epic, role-playing immersive experiences that consumers gravitate to.” For people in New York or San Francisco or London, she added, “hopping to midwestern Hawkins, Indiana may feel exotic–especially with the ‘80s nostalgia factor woven in.”
While the superfans adore watching Stranger Things at home, Lombardo said The Experience offers a different, and more interactive, experience. “We’re really excited to bring this experience, our most ambitious yet,” to the select cities, he said. “We look forward to seeing fans go into the Upside Down and coming out on the other side.” ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.