Technology is enabling encouragement and engagement in a younger demographic in regards to theatre. Virtual reality (VR) is elevating a lot of economic and cultural barriers that have given the theatre a reputation for being inaccessible. With the popularization of 360-degree videos being posted online, more and more people can be exposed to this form of theatre. The art form which has entertained audiences for centuries is now going digital and revolutionizing everything we know about the theatre. Whether it is as complex as projecting a 20ft computer-generated Ariel in The Tempest or simplistic enough to bring a dead character back to life, theatre is being exposed to a range of pioneering technologies.
VR and Theatre
Industries are experimenting with many immersive technologies, but VR is making a big impact on almost every sector and field. Participants essentially put on a headset so they can enter a computer-generated world through motion capture. This enables actors to control their digital avatars through their movements in real-time and project mapping allows physical environments to appear real. This also allows any changes to be seen in the blink of an eye for the fully immersive experience. Some of the biggest theatres in the world, like the Royal Shakespeare Company, are exploring how best they can use this tech.
Ever since the 1990s, the theatre has done some experiments with VR. Audiences have been invited to play active roles in immersive and site-specific performances. In 1993, Brenda Laurel’s Placeholder was one of the first to use VR through head-mounted displays in a show. Three-dimensional graphics, integrated sounds, character animations and other additions were given to participants for a creative and innovative experience. VR was then used by Char Davies’s Osmose in 1995 to add interactivity to the installation and experiment with real-time motion tracking. All of these instances have led to what it is today.
Immersive VR Technologies
Unlike normative VR experiences, immersive VR theatre is allowing audiences to interact with each other inside the simulation in real-time. Both performers and physical objects are able to create a sense of being deeply immersed and still being present. This isolating endeavor is made into a unique community engagement process as participants are tethered with each other during their VR experience. They are even able to “roam free” during these kinds of experiences by wearing a backpack or other accessories.
A huge example of immersive tech within the theatrical revolution is the Tempest. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Intel, this is one of the more interesting plays that William Shakespeare wrote. Compared to previous adaptations and performances, the play has undergone many transformations. The iconic and classical work of art was exposed to VR which absolutized the atmosphere of the story. The VR interior design which creates the set, alongside the digital characters, has changed the essence of the play from its intent in the early 1600s. The real-time data that the sensors collect powers these “illusions” and project them live on stage as if they are real and alive.
VR as the Trend of the Moment
In the art world, VR is regarded as the trend of the moment. In 2018, Marina Abramović and Anish Kapoor created amazing new VR experiences that debuted at an international fair in Hong Kong which dipped some tentative toes into the sixth dimension. This aside, in early 2019 the world’s first feature-length VR movie premiered at the Raindance Film Festival which had a huge budget of $3.5m. Special VR effects were used to depict characters who had magical powers and made everything appear lifelike.
The Role of Organizations
Organizations are further trying to engage more audiences to interact with each other during stage shows. This can happen by taking on some roles and increasing empathy among viewers for the story. What roles does VR play here? With immersive tech, these people are able to gain a stronger understanding and appreciation for collaboration and innovation. Organizations like 3-Legged Dog, CREW, Rimini Protokoll, and the Void are holding their performances with these ideas in mind by giving out VR headsets and jetpacks with instructions to audiences.
Can VR Take Hold of the Industry?
If full shows in VR are going to take hold of the industry, the need to navigate a range of challenges must be addressed. Broadway workers and their counterparts are heavily governed by union rules and producers are worried about conservatism. Charging higher ticket prices is a lot harder if a show can be experienced anytime, anywhere. This isn’t just an experience that’s for the VR community alone, but immersive theater is enhancing experiences in all aspects.
In conclusion, full productions may not be set on the map as of yet, but times are liable to change.