HSF Final: When We Die

The ability to contemplate our finite existence is a fundamental part of the human experience, but we rarely reflect on it in our daily lives until it is often too late or under traumatic circumstances. This is particularly apparent in Western culture where death has been largely removed from modern life and when apparent, is an intensely medical process.

Granted, it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our eventual nonexistence, our vulnerability and fragility, and the idea that all that we have in this world – material and immaterial – will be lost. However, if we are able to confront the idea of our mortality more often, perhaps it can be motivating, even clarifying. It can help us focus on the things that are truly important to us, as well as prepare for when the inevitable occurs.

When We Die is a virtual reality experience that guides users through the process of contemplating their own mortality and presents points of view that may not previously have been considered.

The experience is divided into two parts:

  Part 1: A guided mediation asks users to open themselves to the idea of their nonexistence using the analogy of a tree cycling through seasons. The imagery consists of an open field with a single tree in the foreground and takes on the style of a color film negative. In other words, a world that is both familiar and dissimilar to their own. The world cycles from night, into day, and then back into night. As the meditation brings the user back to their awareness, the world transitions to scene 2.

Cycles – Part 1

Stephanie’s meditation (voice of Richard Lapham)

Part 2: The user is transported to a colorful night sky above and  a calm and reflective ocean of water below. In the sky are glowing, rotating shapes. An audio cue informs the users that they may select from different audio clips by holding their gaze momentarily over the shapes. The audio clips are snippets from our interviews with our experts, Stephanie Hope, RN, BSN & Gayatri Devi, MD.

Devi Audio Clips

Hope Audio Clips

During the show, we set up a white tent in the corner of the room and lined the floor with pillows and soft lights. Given the madness of the ITP show, it was a relatively comfortable and serene space.

Joe Mango
Joe Mango
Winslow TPIII
Winslow TPIII
Stephanie Hope et al.
Stephanie Hope et al.











We were fortunate in that both Stephanie and Dr. Devi were able to come and try the experience. Happily, both of them expressed how impressed they were and thought it was really well done. Stephanie watched it twice and told us that it felt really validating from a professional standpoint, which is perhaps the highest praise we could have received throughout the evening.

Overall, we had some really great conversations with people over the course of the 2-day show. The vast majority of people described the experience as “beautiful” and “moving,” even “serene.” We also had a handful of people who chose not to partake due to recent circumstances in their own life or who felt really uncomfortable afterwards, for the same reason. Fortunately, they were very explicit with us about their criticisms. For example, one woman with such recent experiences told us that the fact that the trees and grass weren’t realistic in color was disturbing to her. She wanted the contrast of a “living” environment when listening to such a narrative, which is something to consider.

We also had great conversations with many health care professionals who work with dying patients. Many of them (and others) implied that this might be an interesting piece to show to terminally ill patients, not dissimilar to what the Psilocybin Project does.

Somewhat hilariously and serendipitously, one man who had actually done a project about dying in VR recently also went through the experience and thoroughly enjoyed it. He is listed in this article that was published barely a month ago, so it seems it’s a hot topic. He has actually already reached out and was interested in chatting further.

Importantly, we gathered a list of a lot of technical details that we need to iron out, including:
* Make time restraints in last scene known
* Move the shapes down so they are all in people’s immediate field of vision
* Disable already played audio clips
* Work on transition scenes

In summary, the show was immensely useful from a user-testing standpoint both technically and conceptually. We weren’t sure how something like this would be received and though we had a few negative reactions, the majority were overwhelming positive and emotionally touching. People seemed really excited by the idea of meditation in VR and thought the technology paired incredibly well with the idea.

I think we would all agree that this is something we would like to continue to work on in the future. We are working on the website and hope to reach out to some of the people from the show to continue to gain feedback about future iterations.





Final Project Idea: Death

Present your group’s chosen project (1) Frame the problem (WHY), (2) What’s the story / idea (3) Inspiration / References (4) Next steps

For my final project, I am working with Leslie Ruckman and Paula Ceballos Delgado.

When we sat down to chat about ideas, Paula explained that she had just lost a past co-worker in Chicago due to a car crash and had consequently been spending the past week thinking about death and about how we rarely consider our own mortality. From here commenced a discussion about different cultural views surrounding death and how western society tends to ignore its existence in our daily life.

I expressed that I had been to a lecture a couple years back by a researcher at NYU who was involved with a study that used psychedelic drugs for therapeutic treatment with terminal cancer patients. During the lecture, he cited how many of these patients would come for a single session and that they expressed having ‘spiritual’ experiences during the sessions. Many of them cited feelings of relief and said they felt as though they had come to terms on some level with their impending death.

What interested all of us about this story wasn’t so much the aspect of psychedelics, but the unique cross-section of individuals who were involved with this study. These are people who are facing their own mortality and given their willingness to try a psychedelic session, seem to be open to exploring alternative narratives to typical western ways of dying.

From there, we knew we wanted to explore the concept of Dying in a Western World. What does that mean? Why do other cultures have much more intimate relationships with death? What happens when you must face death head on? How can we re-write our own cultural associations?

Our story as of now is more about presenting narratives and/or presenting different ways in which people face death. Much of how our story is formed with hinge on with whom we can speak.

Right now we are entertaining the idea of overlaying a narrative in VR and creating more abstract visuals that pertain to the story.

I remembered a friend of mine from a “past life” went to NYU Nursing school and ended up working with this team of researchers, so I reached out to her. She now lives and practices in Connecticut as a hospice nurse and we are slated to have a discussion with her on Sunday morning.

She is also trying to contact members of this team to see if they would be willing to have a discussion, though we have reached out on our own.

Listening Project
New Yorker
Dying in VR
Tibetan Book of Dying

Our next steps are to speak with some people and do some more research to really solidify what the project looks like. We are keeping it open in order to make sure that we create a project that is relevant and gives the concept the respect it deserves.

Midterm Concept & Demo: 100 ppb

100 ppb

Since my last iteration of this project, I realized that my thinking became too large, as did my subject matter. I decided to narrow in and focus on the originator of the Citizen Spring project, which was the water crisis in Flint, MI.

The crisis is one of those issues of which people are aware, but which the details are unknown or relatively obscured in rogue papers and news sites. I haven’t lived in Michigan for years, but I did grow up an hour from Flint and have been to the place that is only a sound bite in most people’s minds.

I knew that I wanted to create something for the web, so that it was the most accessible to everyone since truly every person in the United States drinks water, most likely from the tap.

My idea was to create a 3 part project: An informative story that used the voices from those who lived and are living through this crisis, an amalgamation of accurate information about our country’s water infrastructure (ie. how does lead happen in the first place), and a tool for people to help take control of their own water quality.

After presenting the idea, I received a number of good pieces of feedback that I took to heart.
1) I need to figure who this project is for? My original intention was to make something for the people of Flint, but I realize now that that is not clear. It almost seems like something aimed toward a more general, affluent user group.

2) Another interesting comment was that it seems like I should make something that extends beyond the simple interaction of a mouse scrolling. In other words, if felt like it lacked interactivity. I whole heartedly agree and I don’t think the demo clearly demonstrates the interaction that I intended. Perhaps that interactivity comes from user’s being able to submit their own stories?

3) My last and favorite comment was, if I intend this to be for the people of Flint, there is something powerful in simply asking, as a designer and person with access to new technologies, what is needed, instead of trying to guess. I love this idea, but I still feel reticent to reach out without feeling like I have more to offer at this point.

I’m not sure if this is a path on which I want to continue yet. While I feel it is important and current, I’m not confident that I’m the one to tackle it at this point. It seems so large and important and I would love to have something tangible at the end of this class.

Demo of Website

100pb Demo from Dana Abrassart on Vimeo.

Week 4: Concept Design Package

This Week
1. Create a User Persona
2. Start designing the project based on what you know about your users, goals, vision: A mix of spatial maps, sketches, etc. Must include a user journey. Use pre-during-post framework
3. Mood boards, Mock-ups, Wireframes, Sketches in response to what you identified above

Building upon last week, I knew that I wanted to keep on the water theme, but I wanted to expand and move beyond just lead in water. But in order to move beyond, I had to move backward: Where do lead and other potentially harmful water contaminants come from? When was our water and sanitation infrastructure laid? By whom? Where does our water come from? Who controls and regulates our water sources? Who should? Is clean water a human right?

It was the last 3 questions that really interested me because the answers to these seemed to be at the heart of the “What’s in your water?” issue. They also made reference to the future circumstances of water. I did a bit of research and ended up reading more about water control and privatization and the story I found was conflicted and complicated. As with most issues, there are advocates on most sides of the coin.

It left me confused and wondering what the reality of the situation is for those who live this. Perhaps there is a unanimous and resounding opinion or maybe experiences greatly differ depending on geographic location. What does privatization look like in New Jersey vs. Bolivia? How do local custom and cultural shape water consumption habits and would big business be sensitive to these aspects of life?

It was here that I realized my attempts to help solve a problem of epic proportions were beyond my current scope. Instead, I wanted answers to these questions and an interesting way to help engage others in these questions.

I wanted something that would use technology to help tell the story, but I didn’t want the technology to limit who can access the project, so I decided on the web, probably the most democratic of new technologies.


Our own Rebecca Rick’s animated rainfall chart : I could see animated graphics and data like this working well to tell the story
Quipu Project : Inspired by the “narration-less” style. It adds power, depth, and ownership
Virtual Water : Fantastic way to disseminate info in an engaging and visually appealing way. Simple and clean.

Proposed Project

BODIES of WATER ~ an interactive webdoc

Bodies of Water is a project to explore the effects of privatization of the water sector through presentation of personal narratives of those who live in such municipalities or “conflict zones” and an interactive dashboard to present technical information in a visually pleasing and interactive way. It is about giving a human face to those who are and may be subject to the effects of water and therefore, human life as a commodity.

* Explore privatization of water through personal narratives and daily blogs/vlogs.
* Each story and body will have a dashboard of information about water sources, quality, news. Short intro doc told through images, news, etc — not traditional narration.
* Page will also provide resources and ways to take local action. Can sign up

User Persona:



User Journey/Mockup:

Guerilla marketing on public faucets
Internet searches
Directed from associated sites (NRDC, UN, etc)





Advocacy and Action Links
Ability to contribute to the project – add your own story (blog, vlog) that is location based
Links to local municipality information

There is still quite a bit to design and figure out how to layout, but the general framework is coming along. I also think the story can be pinpointed further, but

Wk 3: Mapping Midterm Ideas

Midterm Idea: Lead in Drinking Water

Over the summer, I worked on the design aspects of a project that was trying to build an app to crowdsource the location of lead in tap water, called CitizenSpring. Through this process I learned a lot about the issue of lead contamination in US drinking water. I also learned that while ample coverage of larger disasters, like Flint, exists, it’s hard to find a lot of good awareness information about the topic. Most people know it’s a problem, just not for them.

Most importantly, the most striking piece of information I gleaned was just how utterly complicated this topic can be. Obviously, it’s a health issue, but it’s also political as illustrated in this Times piece about insufficient testing of daycare centers in the city.

The challenge here is to filter through complications of the issue – see MindMap – and focus on some aspect that is both important to talk about and will make for a compelling storytelling experience.



Narrowing an audience with this project is difficult as it’s truly an issue that affects every person who drinks tap water, especially regularly. For this reason, I envision an accessible platform that could potentially reach a large audience and doesn’t require access to fringe technologies, like the web.

I’ve yet to settle on an iteration, but just brainstorming, I came up with the following:
1. Follow your H2O
This would be a way to both inform audiences of how water gets to you, where it travels from, and what ends up in your water? This ends up being more of an informative story that would hopefully be enlightening, but it feels a bit too dead end for me.

2. What’s in Your H2O?
Simply, this would be a way to dissect all that ends up in tap water, not just lead. It could be an interactive visualization that allows you to scroll over and find information about potential contaminants.

3. Create a Conversation
This idea feels more about working toward a solution than just being informative. I’m not sure exactly what form it would take, but it would invite users to be part of the conversation. I’m excited by the prospect of decentralizing some of these processes which are controlled by governing bodies and leave citizen’s feeling powerless over, like public water. I need to really work on fleshing this idea out.



1. Why?
The challenge is to present a non-linear, absurdist narrative in a new and engaging format that preserves the tone of the novel.
   ※ Engage with a single heightened sense – an exploration of minimalism in an age of multi-sensory overload.
   ※ Provide a cohesive narrative while allowing for audience autonomy
   ※ Keep absurdist tone intact, as well as preserving and enhancing the non-linearity of the narrative
2. Who? (Audience)
   ※ Adults
   ※ Consumers of culture and art
Motivations include new and immersive experiences, personal enrichment, and self-discovery.
Reach these audiences in urban centers with a vibrant art scene
3. The Concept
2 Layers
     Layer 1: The curated experience
     Layer 2: The interactive experience
The story is written and pre-scripted – adapted from the novel-, but through physical space and sound, participants can craft their own narrative.
4. Story Design
※ Layer 1: The curated experience
Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” is a story of Joseph K.’s entanglements with an invisible Law for an unknown crime. It is a non-linear story with an unclear development, the order of the chapters of which have been open to debate. The plot never seems to settle in any one place, but instead revolves around central themes of power, isolation, and existential absurdity.
Large, white, spherical seamless (liminal) space that uses light to give the feeling of expansiveness and nothingness. It is neither here nor there and feels directionless. As participants walk around the space they are immersed in laser beam, unidirectional sound that tells part of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” When the space is traversed in a particular order (spiraling from the outside in with markers on the floor), one can hear the entire novel as it is written. However, given the non-linear narrative and non-diligent way the novel was put together, participants can choose to experience the story in whatever way they choose.

※ Layer 2: The interactive experience
          Participants can leave their virtual mark on the space and direct other users to the story order of their choosing using augmented reality. The hope is to illustrate the chaos of absolute choice and ability to find a narrative in a void.
5. How/The Implementation
     Extreme space and technical limitations. This must be a very particular space and can only exist with a significant budget.
         ※  Unidirectional speakers (much cheaper now than ever)
         ※ Space (Likely a modified pre-existing space with the work of Doug Wheeler in mind)
         ※ Time/$
6. MVP
     Mockup space demonstrating technical feasibility with speakers, as well as imagined aesthetic.

Inspiration: YOUARENOWHERE by Andrew Schneider

“Research inspiring storyteller or project and prepare a blog post and presentation for next class on how they’ve changed or influenced storytelling or their field”

This week I have chosen to highlight Andrew Schneider’s recent immersive theater production called YOUARENOWHERE, which premiered in NYC this last spring.


I was racking my brain for a more classic and less incestuous – Andrew is an ITP grad – example, but this performance remains strongly ingrained in my mind. And I think it’s worth dissecting something so recent and tech-integrated.

Let me directly to the points that I feel make this project so inspiring and influential.

Literally breaking the 4th Wall
In this production, Andrew literally breaks the 4th wall, as in it drops to the floor. It’s probably one of the most notable moments in the show as the audience comes face to face with another audience on the other side. It is one of the most clever ways I’ve seen any theater production attempt to immerse an audience in the show.

Tech – All the Senses
  As an ITP alum, Andrew has an inclination towards technology, but in this category, I think he uses admirable restraint. ITP has made me extremely cognizant of “technology fetishism,” something to which creators of VR content can easily fall victim, as powerful a medium as it may be. In this show, the tech doesn’t feel gratuitious. If it is gimmicky, it’s acknowledged and serves as a humorous moment. In this, I’m including the lights and sound/music, which as far as theater shows go, are flawless. They were really one of my favorite parts and at times, made the show and set the entire tone.

Stream of Consciousness Narrative
  I’m sure if there is a major criticism of this project is probably has to do with narrative and it’s sometimes very unclear direction. Andrew himself would admit to this at points, but for me, it works because it feels like we are sitting and listening to the ramblings of one person’s mind. He has really made it feel like a stream of consciousness, which is admittedly hard to follow and sometimes nonsensical. But at the same time, that chaos and uncertainty is a relatable feeling, especially as it pertains to our inner thoughts. Andrew delivers this whole production while shirtless and writhing around on the floor to the point that he’s drenched in sweat at the end, thus marrying very physical and mental performances.

Interactive & Audience Participation
 I have been to a number of interactive performances that have asked the audience to get up and move, interrupting the show and inevitably pissing people off. In YOUARENOWHERE, Andrew does this, 3/4 of the way through and everyone was game.
Beyond this, you are given the opportunity, after first seeing the show, to be a volunteer in the “secret” audience. I did this a couple times and they sit you behind the 4th wall with a monitor where you can view the show as it progresses on the other side. They make it very clear that the success of the secret and the show rests on you and your ability to be quiet and play along. In a sense, the success of the show rests on the audience member’s participation, which is a truly novel concept.

In summary, YOUARENOWHERE is not perfect, but it brings together classic and novel elements of theatre that create a show unlike any I have ever seen. It’s a show that is tailored specifically to the short attention spans of this generation, but still manages to be meaningful, funny, and completely energizing. Andrew has definitely changed the game.