Six weeks of intense tech-meets-arts programming at The Old Market is done and dusted – and we are looking back on a very hectic but incredibly successful second edition! This year’s #TOMtech was a thrilling experience and it was huge fun being “chief tweeter” for the @TOMtech twitter account.
I just LOVE #TOMtech and my temporary role as “the twit” meant I got a free IN for as many #TOMtech events as I could manage. I will admit a penchant for Virtual Reality … so all events where a headset was de rigueur went straight into my diary from the get-go.
The first #TOMtech in 2016 was a three -week foray exploring the possibilities that new technology offers live performers. Now #TOMtech is an umbrella for a host of events, workshops, conferences and performances throughout the year.
The Old Market also prides itself on being a true community venue so part of TOMtech’s goal was to expand theatre’s reach to new audiences as well as encourage local theatre-makers and technologists to converse, collaborate and explore.
We tend to see arts – and perhaps performing arts in particular – as a world apart from technology. But that’s ignoring a fundamental truth about theatre; it has always needed technology. How else do we light the stage, play the music or enable the gently-spoken to project their voices right to the back of a packed theatre space?
This year’s #TOMtech kicked off with Habitats – with VR pioneers Marshmallow Laser Feast taking over the whole of the Main Space with a harmonic, digital laser forest and two eco-themed Virtual Reality experiences. It was a dramatic start – with hundreds of people getting the chance to don headsets and soar to the top of a giant sequoia tree in Treehugger, or flit, leap and buzz around the forest floor via In the Eyes of the Animal.
Next up was Curious Directive’s pioneering piece of theatre, Frogman. This was perhaps my favourite performance work during the entire #TOMtech Autumn run. Director Jack Lowe has harnessed VR technology to tell a moving and suspenseful coming-of-age story set in Australia. The present day was told with a live performance by the brilliant Tessa Parr. She played Meera, a young woman being interviewed as part of a reopened investigation into the disappearance of a childhood friend some ten years earlier. All the flashback scenes were told through Virtual Reality, with the audience obediently donning headsets as required. As the story deftly took us back and forth, from present to past and back again, the Virtual Reality became our window into Meera’s remembered teenage world.
Another pioneering (and very different) VR work was Whist from Ashford-based dance company AΦE. Whist was a journey into the unconscious with a series of filmed episodes based on real-life Signmund Freud case studies. With 76 different ways to experience the narrative, Whist merged dynamic dance, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in an innovative and sometimes disturbing experience.
Half way through the #TOMtech run came the show-off flagship “VRLab”. This was a such a sell-out hit last year that this year’s programme was vastly expanded. Young and old alike came and sampled such varied delights as Google Earth VR, Spacewalk, VR art galleries, TiltBrush 3D painting, AR trips round the body, life as a baby, the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin, the bonkers Loco Dojogame and much, much more. I fully exploited my “chief twitter” access-all-areas pass and went five times, jumping into as many different experiences as I could.
TOMtech is the brainchild of tech-loving arts programmer James Turnbull and this year he went full hog with six weeks of productions, performances, conferences, talks and workshops which put technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality firmly in the public eye.
He said: “Last year was a bit of a trial run but lots of events sold out so we really went for it this year. On the VR side, we had around 5,500 tickets on offer this year and I’m pleased (and somewhat relieved) to say that we nearly sold out again. TOMtech is now one of the biggest tech-oriented arts programmes in the UK and I’m hoping that the work we’re doing will encourage even more theatre-makers and artists to explore what technology has to offer. Certainly we have achieved one of our main aims which is to get new people through the doors. That includes youngsters who wouldn’t normally dream of going to a theatre, and older people who wouldn’t normally believe they could have an enjoyable evening in a headset!
“The Autumn run is now done and dusted but we’re going to be hosting a lot more TOMtech events throughout the coming year. We want to keep up the momentum and we also have the security of knowing that audiences really appreciate what we are doing, and have a thirst for exciting and innovative productions.”
Details for the next #TOMtech event will be announced shortly. You can get all the latest #TOMtech updates our @TOMtech_ Twitter account.