Theatre and virtual reality: new experiences for tomorrow’s theatre.

Technology has invaded today’s society, becoming part of people’s everyday life. In a period of total emergency, like the one we have been experiencing for a year now, new media can become an important tool to rely on. If we think about virtual reality (VR) for example, its introduction in the audiovisual world has revolutionized the production system, changing working methods and entire professions. Indeed, it is now possible to reproduce lost sites through 3D environments. Returning to the present day, one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic has been the arts, specifically theatrical performances; just like cinemas and museums, theatres have also been forced to halt their activities for almost a year, and there is still uncertainty about their reopening. So, in this article I would like to focus on the great potential of virtual reality in offering concrete help to this “small but great slice” of the arts sector, dwelling as usual on experience.

A well-known 20th-century filmmaker, Morton Heilig, began to focus on the experience of the audience by introducing the notion of Experience Theater; Heilig talks about “an activity that involves all the senses realistically, immersing the viewer in the action taking place on the screen”. Based on this statement, we can refer in the same way to the experience of people watching a theatre performance. But in a complex period like the one we are living in today, during which theatres remain closed, what can be done to continue to live the experience Heilig is talking about? Virtual Reality (VR) seems to be the most appropriate technological tool to answer this question. The idea behind the use of virtual reality in the theatre is to merge real space and physical actors in the virtual environment; the most used scenario is the 3D one, characterized by very high quality and definition images, almost able to replace reality. The innovative aspect of this means of representation is the wholeness it allows in the simulation of reality. In other words, a fictitious world is created at the same time as the concentrated experience, which becomes multisensory and interactive. From the observer’s point of view, his role changes radically: he is no longer a passive subject observing the work but becomes a co-constructor. Consequently, the role of the artist is also different, and the nature of the work changes in the same way. The theatrical performance thus becomes a co-constructed spectacle that manifests itself in its multiple aspects and through a process of integration and relationship whose outcome is not always determined by the artist. This kind of technological experience also leads to the loss of temporal and spatial boundaries, in which the flow of information seems to flow in the same way as thoughts: “cyberspace confuses concepts of identity, unity, and location” (Pierre Lévy). One could conclude this discourse by saying that virtual reality can be an important means of support for theatre, especially in a time of emergency like the one we are forced to live in today. The use of this technology in the arts is a recent phenomenon and still, at an experimental stage; some examples are cyber theatre (performances using virtual space), augmented theatre (theatre enhanced by digital technology), we theater (plays using remote presence), online performance (performances using online role-playing environments and devices). A direct consequence of this innovation is a change in the modes of representation: new processes of dramatic writing, online transmission of plays, and the use of avatars and virtual environments. In this sense, the actor-spectator relationship is overturned, which, through interactivity, allows the latter to modify the course of the performance. Today, Technology, Theatre, and Art can finally express themselves at their best in an innovative way to enrich and expand the experience of 2.0 spectators: that is, to create new ways of enjoying Theatre and Art, which are immersive, enveloping but always complimentary to and never replace the beauty and uniqueness of the live experience of our Theatre.

VRAINERS is also specializing in this field through experimental projects (youtube.com/watch?v=tgFWFtMVaBM) thanks to which people can watch a music concert or theatre show from the comfort of their sofa at home. How is this possible? Through a virtual reality visor, you can immerse yourself in a computer-generated setting and have an immersive experience. Of course, this is not able to completely replace reality, but it is certainly a good compromise to continue to live certain experiences in a period like the one we are living in where you can go out very little. The Vrainers team is also working in this field, with the main objective of allowing artists to continue to disseminate their art, albeit in an alternative way, and to anyone who wants to continue to cultivate their artistic passion. To achieve this, the most powerful means is virtual reality, as it allows us to create and live highly immersive experiences that are as close as possible to the real thing.

I would like to conclude this short article with a statement by Pier Luigi Capucci that sums up what has been said so far: “it can be said that a good part of the most interesting experiences of recent years (…) goes in the direction of the transformation of the work from “material object” to “process of relations”, from immutable form to metamorphic form in perpetual transformation depending on the interaction with the observer, with the environment, with the context in which it is situated, and how the interaction with the human element is carried out under the sign of multimodality and polysensoriality”.

Bibliography and Sitography

Antonio Pizzo, Teatro e mondo digitale, Venezia, Marsilio, 2003.

Riva G, Wiederhold BK, Gaggioli A. Being different. The transfomative potential of virtual reality. Annu Rev Cybertherapy Telemed (2016) 14:1–4

Pier Luigi Capucci, Realtà del virtuale, Bologna, CLUEB, 1993.

www.artispresent.it

Bates, J. (1992). Virtual reality, art, and entertainment. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 1(1):133{138.

Riva G, Mantovani F, Capideville CS, et al. Affective inter- actions using virtual reality: The link between presence and emotions. CyberPsychology & Behavior 2007;

www.noemalab.eu

Riva G, Wiederhold BK, Gaggioli A. Being different. The transfomative potential of virtual reality. Annu Rev Cybertherapy Telemed (2016) 14:1–4

Author:

Francesco Palazzo

Degree in psychological sciences and techniques from the University of L’Aquila. Master’s degree in Psychology of Well-being: empowerment, rehabilitation, and positive technologies, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. Specialized in the use of Positive Technologies applied to different psychological fields, conducting an experimental study on cognitive enhancement and technical-motor gestures on young competitive tennis players through an integrated training of mental training and virtual reality.

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