Produced by A Banksperience
As experienced in Santa Monica ~ September 2022
The Experience & How it Works:
ModelLand is a real-life immersive experience that takes place at the Santa Monica Place mall in Los Angeles, California. You arrive at the second floor of the mall, just past Forever 21, and are welcomed with a serving of Tyra Banks’ very own Smize ice cream — better known as “Smize cream.” Then, you and the people signed up for your time slot are welcomed into the lobby, where there are some gift shop items to browse. Beyond them is a chandelier, under which the first performance begins.
Your host introduces you to the ModelLand experiences and gives you a brief tutorial on how to take a good selfie. This is followed by a video of Tyra Banks, after which you’re ushered into the next room: a vestibule that leads to a catwalk. After walking the catwalk, you’re ushered through a few more rooms: a stylized classroom in which you learn how to pose and take pictures, a wig room where you can try on wigs, a video library with tutorials by Tyra herself, a Glounge (glamour-meets-lounge) where you learn how to incorporate fashion into the everyday, and a dance studio where you practice a series of can’t-fail poses. Between rooms, you’re offered the opportunity to try even more Smize cream flavors. And, at the end, guests are released back into the world, via the gift shop, energized, and with some newfound knowledge that’ll come in handy when stopped by a shutterbug, whether it be the paparazzi or your Aunt Clara.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
Um, the name alone. Who doesn’t want to know WTF something called “ModelLand” is?!
Beyond that, this experience is part entertainment, part education, part retail, part photo-opp, part dessert. It’s an uncommon combination to be sure and I was curious how it all played out. Some articles even went so far as to call ModelLand a theme park — a bridge too far, IMHO, but definitely a moniker that got me wondering.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
I give ModelLand two thumbs up. Is it quirky? Yes. Is it unconventional? Yes. Is it a well-executed immersive experience? Absolutely.
ModelLand is surprisingly substantive. First of all, the hosts are excellent. They’re not merely ushers or tour guides, they truly give a performance. They come in costume and bring energy and character. They also personalize the experience, lending the experience one of the (several) sources of interactivity.
Second, there’s real information to be gleaned here. I volunteered myself and my guest to be guinea pigs in the photoshoot classroom; she wanted to be the photographer and had me be the model, and when she looked at her work, she was like, “Oh wow, that is good.” (Note that two weeks before we’d gone to an Emmy party and struggled to get a good picture in front of the step-and-repeat; needless to say this photoshoot knowledge actually would’ve come in quite handy. I used it at the Magic Castle later that night: see evidence below.)
We’ve barely covered two rooms so far and you’ll notice I’ve already mentioned two different types of interactivity — and those don’t even include the selfie taking and catwalk walking. Another opportunity for interactivity comes in the wig room, which, let’s just say it, is way more fun than you’d even imagine. It’s remarkable the transformation a hairstyle can make and it’s a fun opportunity to see that in action. Everyone in my group was a bit surprised by the results! And there’s something about changing your look that gives you permission to be someone other than you are in everyday life, an exercise that’s wholly in keeping with the theme of ModelLand and the idea of a “posing party.”
Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the Glounge is a space that allows for interpersonal connection between yourself and another guest, a welcome opportunity that helps us see the beauty in ourselves that others do, and that we sometimes might miss.
Finally, if you want to talk about interactivity, there’s no sitting on the sidelines when you get to the mirrored studio. Whether you strike it like a flamingo, peacock, swan or hawk, after you’re done, you’ll be prepared to vogue like the posing-party animal you now are.
- Glamour not Gram-er. Despite being a “posing party,” ModelLand is actually not all about taking Instagram-worthy pics. A few of the rooms are actually low-light. You’ll likely find a few opportunities to snap some good photos (e.g., if you volunteer in the classroom, in the wig room, in the Glounge before the presentation gets going), but this isn’t the Museum of Ice Cream (even though it has ice cream!)
- Don’t Come Full. You’ll be offered three scoops of ice cream during the experience, so when you’re planning your meals for the day, plan to leave room.
- Pret-a-Photo. Guests walk the catwalk individually, without being seen by the rest of the group. This is great for allowing you to practice being bold and not having to worry about what other people think. That being said, if you want a record of your catwalk walk, send a camera-shy friend ahead with a camera and have them wait at the end of the catwalk and capture your moment.
- Try & Buy. ModelLand has “shopportunities,” so when you’re given the opportunity to try something on (think: wigs), put your shopping hat on, too, since you may have a limited time to make your purchasing decision.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 1st person visual, 1st person narrative, participant, mortal
You may find your own personal narrative upon attending — complete with a turning point, but everyone’s story is different, so I won’t venture to guess at that here.
Pillars of Game:
Voluntary Participation — check!
Goal — learn how to add a bit of model-like flair to your everyday life.
Rules — no formal rules; listen to the emcee of the room you’re in.
Feedback — commentary from hosts and/or other participants, occasionally giving feedback on photos, often giving general reactions to actions taken as part of the experience.
Conclusion: This isn’t quite a game, though I have to say, it comes a lot closer than expected. To make the case for it being a game, we could be more inclusive in the “rules” section (e.g., face the light when taking a selfie; stand with hips back, shoulders forward when being photographed from a low angle, etc.) and then, the goal might be “posing well for photos.” Perhaps where it most falls short is in the specificity of the goal; achieving it is challenging to measure (which doesn’t invalidate its pursuit). We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Who Should Experience This?
Anyone who might ever be photographed and is open to letting go and having some fun.