The iconic marquee was lit up. Every seat in the legendary 100-year-old theater was filled. And on the same stage where Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, and James Brown once crooned, the all-star band, Kennedy Administration, stunned the crowd with a gorgeous, transportive performance. The only difference this time is that it all took place in a virtual venue, modeled on a digital scan of the real location, with people attending in real time, at home, from around the globe.
Welcome to the new Apollo Theater—a digital twin of the legendary performance space now quite literally open to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
The virtual Apollo marks a new chapter in the venue’s storied history, which began as a segregated burlesque hall in 1914, reopened as the theater with the renowned Apollo name in 1934, and has since become the burning-hot center of R&B, jazz, soul, gospel, and comedy.
But the virtual theater also marks the beginning of a new era within the events and hospitality industry: With digital twins, attendees no longer need to drive or fly hours to attend an event or performance at an iconic theater; the venue can come to them.
While new to the events industry, the concept of creating digital twins of real-life objects, places, and products was dreamed up decades ago. Today, manufacturers use digital twins to test a product—say, a jet engine—under a variety of circumstances that would be too costly and time-consuming to do with physical materials, and to observe how the asset functions in real time and how it will perform in the future. This is accomplished by tethering the digital twin to its real-world brethren via a “digital thread” that simultaneously streams data back to the digital system, enabling machine learning to constantly analyze what could be improved. The term itself was dreamed up by a NASA technologist in 2010, when the space agency began creating virtual copies of the vehicles it launched into space so that data from their sensors could enable a digital twin to “mirror the life of its flying twin”—and, eventually, reveal its full life cycle before it actually occurred.
Beyond jet engines and spacecraft, vast networks—like GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine manufacturing system—have used digital twins to figure out how to adjust production, where to expand and where to downsize, how to minimize their carbon footprint, and how to manage their inventory. The 41-square-mile Port of Rotterdam—which dates back to 1360 A.D.—has been developing a twin to coordinate marine traffic that carries nearly half a billion tons of goods across 1,000 ports worldwide. Buildings have very much begun using them too. For instance, University of California, San Francisco Health used a virtual 3D model of the recently opened Precision Cancer Medicine Building at the Mission Bay Hospital to detail with critical precision the positioning of not just plumbing and electrical systems, but hospital equipment.
And now come digital twins of venues like the new Apollo Theater. By tethering the virtual venue to a virtual events platform like Touchcast, which can track and analyze audience attendance, participation, and how event content is consumed in real time, venue owners can get instant feedback and insight into how to make their performances or conferences more successful and engaging.
Since its founding, the Apollo Theater has been both the heartbeat of Harlem and a cherished memory for everyone who has attended a show there. With the new virtual Apollo, the reach of this uniquely special and storied place has been infinitely expanded.
The Apollo has always welcomed everyone—no matter their race, religion, or station in life. And now everyone, everywhere can experience its magic from home.