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Storytelling in the Virtual Age at FoST Fest

The FoST Summit also offers workshops, like a mime class given by members of Cirque du Soleil or a lesson on drone photography, as well as performances from groups like Lin Manuel Miranda’s improvised hip-hop musical comedy troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme, and the Pilobolus dance company. FoST for Good, a charitable arm, is also part of the FoST Summit, with participants breaking into working groups to help nonprofits come up with solutions to various communications challenges.

The FoST Summit also creates its own sort of metanarrative. Last year it was based on the Woman in White, a ghost that haunts the Snug Harbor premises. A Brooklyn Ghost Squad was created, with its own costumes and logo.

The squad searched for the apparition and, as parting gifts, FoST Summit organizers distributed books that featured the participants inside sepia-tone antique-style photographs of the premises. “The books were tailored to their individual stories, with the concept that their ancestors had been brought to Snug Harbor long ago and knew the Woman in White, and their presence there had brought about her return,” Mr. Melcher said.


Flying in virtual reality. Credit Eliza Hoyl

Like many converts, Mr. Melcher, 52, began proselytizing about new media after reaching a crisis point. Until 2009, he had been a more-or-less traditional book publisher with a penchant for pushing the envelope, creating works like “The Pop-Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns” and “Aqua Erotica,” possibly the first book made of waterproof pages.

But Mr. Melcher’s fortunes changed with the Great Recession. “The year 2009 was pivotal for me,” he said. “I went through a lot of soul searching and faced the possibility of having to shut my company down.”

For guidance, Mr. Melcher turned to — what else? — books. In particular, Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” The book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, posits that the digital era has affected our ability to think deeply. It notes Socrates bemoaned that writing would lead to the erosion of people’s ability to memorize.

“At the time, the book industry was enraptured with Nicholas Carr, but I figured that if Socrates could be so wrong, then maybe Nicholas Carr is wrong too,” Mr. Melcher said. “Maybe each was so formed by the culture they grew up in that they could only see the loss and not the gains that were coming.”

In was in that moment, Mr. Melcher recalled, that he decided to stop mourning the questionable fate of book publishing. “I walked into my office and told my staff we are no longer in the book business,” he said. “We are now in the storytelling business.”

With this new direction, Mr. Melcher’s first move was to help create an app for “Our Choice,” the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the book about the environment that former Vice President Al Gore wrote. The app won Apple’s Best Design Award in 2011. Then, Facebook acquired Push Pop Press, a company in which Mr. Melcher was a partner, and with which he worked to produce the app.


A poster for “Flock: A Holojam Experience,” a virtual-reality adventure making its debut at the FoST Festival, which runs from Oct. 7 to 9. Credit David Lobser

The success gave Mr. Melcher entree into a new echelon of technology leaders. “I had the chance to talk to all these different people, and everyone was discussing how to use technology as a publishing vehicle,” he said, “but I realized that none of these people were speaking to each other.” He decided to bring these disparate industries together, creating the first FoST Summit in 2012. His company, Melcher Media, still continues to help create books, having recently worked with Mr. Seller, the producer, for example, on the best seller “Hamilton: The Revolution.”

As for FoST Fest, the new public festival, Mr. Melcher decided to pursue it after seeing the success of Sensory Stories, an exhibition he created with the Phi Centre in Montreal that was mounted last year at the Museum of the Moving Image.

FoST Fest is much larger, with more than 70 hands-on exhibits, as well as panel discussions and satellite events like performances from Punchdrunk’s immersive theater piece, Sleep No More, and “{THE AND},” an interactive documentary about human relationships by the Skin Deep, a creative studio.

The festival will close on Oct. 9 with a free community day for families that will take place outside the event space. The culmination will be a free concert by the rock band Mae (an acronym for Multisensory Aesthetic Experience), which will play music synced to a virtual reality video, viewable through Google cardboard devices.

The performance “grew out of a collaboration with people we met through the FoST community,” said Jacob Marshall, the band’s drummer and a board member of FoST. The video, which can be seen online, was a collaboration of the band, the artist David Lobser and the violinist Tim Fain.

“It merges indie rock and classical music and virtual reality and animation, something we could never have achieved by ourselves,” Mr. Marshall said. “It is art for the whole body. So what does music feel like, or taste like, or smell like? That’s what we hope to get across.”

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