How will VR transform the theatre of the future - Dr Zhang


At any forward-looking film festival, you'll find a section devoted to virtual reality. Even at dinosaur festivals like Cannes, where cinema is so sacred that critics are baffled by TV's inclusion in the lineup, VR has crept in. At this year's festival, Alejandro Inarritu, the Fugitive's Oscar-winning director, premiered Carne Y Arena, a refugee VR experience. Hollywood is clearly taking the technology seriously, but what if they're just indulging in the wrong kind of augmented reality?

Anyone who has experienced VR will tell you that it's not particularly similar to movies." "Think about it," says Ian Garrett, a designer and producer working on Transmission, a multi-location project. If you're a filmmaker and you move from 2D to 360 or VR shooting, then you've gone from this limited frame where you can completely control the audience's POV to a broad environment where nothing is hidden and you have no control over what your audience is looking at."

In other words, in VR, you, the viewer, control what you see; In a sense, you are the director. Many argue that the absence of a director makes VR a has-been fad, but as Garrett points out, there is already one medium that requires creators to relinquish control over the audience: theater. "As theater producers, we put ourselves in the position of the audience in the chair or in the environment," Garrett says. So in that sense, the technology lends itself to this kind of immersive recording of live experiences without making too big a jump or a change in how we think as theater producers."

For example, one of the most immediate and practical uses of the technology is to allow remote viewers to virtually watch a show, such as Hamilton, without having to physically visit the theatre or buy expensive tickets. "When you start thinking about immersive theater, where the audience is at the center of the dramatic action, rather than behind a stage arch, the parallels between theater and VR become even more obvious." "With both, you have an audience that doesn't want to remain passive," notes Megan Reilly, lighting designer at Transmission. "They want to be an active participant in a story and have some level of agency. They give the audience the opportunity to explore a storytelling environment."

Of course, there's one stumbling block for VR that seems insurmountable in the early stages of the technology: headsets. One of the greatest joys of theater is experiencing it with an audience; VR headsets turn theater into a solitary experience. There is, however, an exciting intermediate solution: augmented reality.

"A lot of AUGMENTED reality relies on the participant being in a specific place to experience it," reilly explains, thinking of games like Pokemon Go and Ingress. "Immersive theater requires the same kind of active engagement and location," she says. Augmented reality means that layers of narrative can be embedded in a particular place and can only be accessed when the viewer is physically there."

You can see this augmented reality drama in action in Reilly and Garrett's upcoming "Teleport" project -- described as "an immersive theatrical production about two extraordinary sisters chosen to join a mission to meet our celestial neighbor "-- at this year's Fringe Festival. "We're working with the idea of a 'technological ghost' that uses VR and AR recording," Garrett explains, "but requires the viewer to experience them simultaneously with the live experience."

For example, one scene takes the audience to Arthur's seat. "You're going to go where it's being recorded and then watch a 360 video that's consistent with the actual view on your device," Garrett explained. In this way, you look through the device as a window into the past. It informs your understanding of the space by showing you the 'ghosts' of previous events."

Garrett believes that in contrast to VR's dystopian vision of us putting on a headset and not interacting with real life, the technology could ironically help reduce our screen time. Pokemon Go is getting a lot of people out! They may have been looking for Pokemon. They may have been looking for Pikachu, but they also began to see parts of their city that they might not have seen. It's about introducing people to new and novel real Spaces by enhancing some type of digital magic.

Garrett sounds almost metaphysical: "Finally, what I look back at is an idea someone told me about understanding VR. VR is not necessarily a technology, but a state of implementation.