James Turnbull, our newly elected ‘venue geek’ and I were standing in a room full of theatre makers and venue managers earlier this year, enthusing about the potential of using Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (virtual reality headsets) to change the landscape of live performance in venues. Half of the room looked at us with piqued curiosity, the other half with abject terror.
As a self confessed technophobe I can understand this reaction. What relevance does a gaming platform bear on the theatrical landscape and why should we arts venues embrace the very technologies that pose a threat to the ‘shared, live’ experience we are built to provide?
What happens to our live venues of the future if the need to physically be somewhere to experience something is no longer needed?
VR technology is developing quickly; soon the likes of Oculus and HTC Vive will be accessible to many households, a ubiquitous platform for gaming, but also a powerful tool for evoking the senses and telling compelling stories.
The theatrical ‘fourth’ wall has been crumbling for some time, for many stimulation seekers it’s not enough to come, sit still and be performed to, to passively watch a performance happen at you. Now, more than ever, we want to be a part of the action; to be in the middle of it.
We at The Old Market have long been fascinated with extending the audience experience beyond the traditional confines of the auditorium walls. New technologies offer us the potential to create more immersive environments than ever before, so surely we must learn how to use them properly to unleash the visceral potential of our performances and storytelling?
Shouldn’t we also be opening our doors to exciting new environments that better reflect the changing, more engaged way that audiences consume cultural content? And shouldn’t theatre makers and performers, some of our finest storytellers, be at the centre of the creative exploration in these new industries?
This year for Brighton Digital Festival The Old Market will be hosting events that explore the potential that new technologies can offer performance. We will create new work for virtual reality using 360 video; we will develop an innovative way of mapping visuals from portable projectors; we will turn the whole venue in to a Virtual Reality playground showcasing 15 different VR experiences from a cross section of the creative industries; and we will host a conference, StoryHack2016; bringing together artists, manufacturers and technologists to share and learn from each other’s practice.
(As appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent)