In a world where immersive theatre is becoming ever-more popular, theatre companies need to find new and innovative ways for the audience to interact and get involved in the action. AΦE, the dance company behind WHIST, have achieved just that.
Brighton Digital Festival is a month-long exploration of digital culture, which is currently running until 13th October. The festival celebrates the richness of the creative and cultural industries in Brighton and explores the ways in which digital technology continues to shape our lives and our thinking.
One of the events which I was fortunate to attend this week at The Old Market Theatre is WHIST, a major new ground-breaking VRx production. “Inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, WHIST invites you on a journey into the unconscious mind, through the dreams, fears and desires of a fictional family. It is a one-hour experience that merges Physical Theatre, interactive Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and an art installation, in an environment that blurs the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and fiction, the physical and the virtual”.
Before commencing the experience, we are led into the theatre and asked to take a look at the large abstract art sculptures around the room. The audience is unaware at this stage how the piece is going to play out around these objects. We are then handed our individual Samsung Gear VR Headsets which we will be wearing throughout the performance.
It becomes clear that the abstract sculptures trigger virtual experiences, transporting viewers between reality and the virtual world of the play. We are no longer the bystander, immersed into the heart of dream-like sequences. Each sculpture we connect with through our VR headset takes us into a different room within the play. This is where we start to explore our own stories, as the viewer becomes challenged in a series of different ways, by what we are drawn to within that particular scene.
The audience naturally take ownership of how they want to view the play. Some remain still as they explore their dream world, others sit or lay down. Occasionally we would bump into each other, while engrossed in our own virtual worlds. Which, during one particular scene startled me, adding to my own feelings of unease from what I was experiencing.
There are 76 different perspectives to the play and your instincts will guide you through a narrative of this surreal world.
WHIST have revealed that there are 76 different perspectives to the play and your instincts will guide you through a narrative of this surreal world. They explain that the process for filming this was the same as any traditional feature film, where the whole experience had to be divided and managed into individual shots.
Happy Finish is the production company who produced this innovative 360 Virtual Reality film installation for AΦE. Their goal was to push the medium’s storytelling capabilities by merging live performance with the digital experience and the reality of the viewer. The team have said that one of the biggest challenges they faced was trying to coherently explain the 76 possible pathways to their developers! “It was a challenge to create a malleable app that could host a number of large video and sound files, whilst maintaining good playback and resolution on the Samsung Gear VR”.
At the end of the experience you’re given a number, which when entered onto their website, tells you about your psychological mindset during the experience, what your eyes were drawn to in each of the scenes you witnessed, and why you saw what you saw. I found this particularly fascinating as the psychoanalysis I received after was very accurate!
An incredible visionary experience, redefining what theatre can and most likely will be in the future.