The drama of the epidemic turns to virtual reality - Dr. Zhang Weiluo
As real theaters close, theater actors are turning to virtual reality
Now, actors perform online all the time. There's another way. Since November, The actors have been conducting a virtual theatre experience called The Under Presents. I regularly visit the Oculus Quest and Rift headsets and now Steam VR for games/experiences. There are many acts in this cartoonish world, such as the cabaret space in the Twilight Zone. Also, live performers invite you to join them. The actors trained with Piehole, a New York theatre company, and Tender Claws, a VR company, for months before the outbreak began. Samantha Gorman of Tender Claws said: "We suddenly realised that we are actually the actors' main job in the performance... Because it's too far away. We couldn't have predicted that."
The live show has now been extended until the end of May. Tender Claws is also exploring how The ticketed performances within The Under Presents can be a gateway for live drama to exist in a virtual space.
In The Under Presents, or most VR, it's The opposite of what we get in Zoom. On Zoom, Hangout, or Facetime, we see a lot of real faces, but we're just on a flat screen. In VR, there is interaction, there is a sense of presence, my body is completely under my control, but no one knows who I am. It's like a game, but it's also a constant world of performance. And one of The biggest surprises so far has been The Discord division for games, which is an active community where The interaction feeds directly into The world of The Under Presents." "Sometimes even actors are very aware of the discussions that take place online, "Gorman said. And then, because it's real time and evolving, then they can feed it back into the performance. It didn't really happen. And this has become a very interesting level of how things are going."
In Zoom (or other video-based) performances, it's all about the actors and their faces. In VR, theater is the opposite: there are no real faces, but a lot of body movements. With a controller and a headset that tracks head movements, the audience appears to be dancing. Actors in The Under Presents can talk and have their own unique identification to provide more interaction with audience members. They can also look like unique things: tiger men, dancing crabs and so on. "One of the things that surprised me the most was the ability to communicate without talking," actor James Cowan said. "So many live immersive theater performances are cues that the audience can take from the body language, the short responses that people post, the eyes that stare at them." "But when you go digital... You know, we met at one time. We're adapting, we're communicating, and there's still physical interaction, like, basically, people can shake their heads, or not shake their heads. People have learned to use certain body language in performance, how to do it and how to communicate." Dasha Kittredge, co-star of The Under, agrees. "I couldn't make eye contact, but it made me notice some really beautiful, subtle body language," she said.
"In a very knowledgeable way, they will overemphasize their emotions to show you their reaction. They are adapting their emotions to the experience."
And to everyone's surprise, over time, the performance is becoming a continuous narrative. "We've developed these characters and we actually have a real relationship with the regulars and they love to be seen. They all look the same, but they figured out how to be seen, and it's cool because they have these totems that they make."
"When you recognize them and see them this way, or acknowledge that you remember them, even without seeing their face, you can tell them that they like it and that it means something to them. That's really cool, "Kitridge said. "I never expected to have that relationship with the audience. Especially when all of us feel lonely."
Virtual reality is bringing huge changes to people because we have nowhere to go in the real world. Virtual performance may be the only option for some time. Under's actors have seen the virtual world change since the outbreak began.
"When the outbreak started, I noticed in the game that people were more violent," Cohen said of the transition. "They don't have to be just for fun. They need a space to deal with what's happening in the real world. And they can do that in this virtual world. "There is a greater need for human interaction."
"In the first week, I saw more people come up and hug me or try to stay close and interact with me in a sweet and gentle way," Kitridge observes. "At first there were these jokes and they would offer me toilet paper. Sometimes tons of toilet paper. I found a place to hide them all... It became a joke."
Will the whole world become a virtual stage?
What's the difference between the VR theatrical experience and the real thing? It's a question of experience. But I think the silence of VR is what attracts me. On Zoom, it's about holding still conversations and stares. But the world of virtual reality is about movement and space. Maybe one day the two will be intertwined. And when does the audience become more like the performer? Under Presents still divides these worlds, allowing actors to use specific tools and notice where people are. Could someone like me end up improvising, becoming an actor, or playing a bigger role in the creation of the experience?
It's too early to figure out how, and even opinions are changing. "Restrictions breed creativity. The absence or limitation of sound forces you to come up with another approach, "Kitridge says of the way current audience presentation tools work.
Much like what it felt like to be immersed in a theater in Sleepless Night, wearing a mask and quietly succumbing to the new reality, the next wave of VR's immersive cinema could bring new experiences sooner than expected. In the absence of live entertainment, the actors will continue to live in these worlds.