The New Backstage

5 min readJul 31, 2020


The actor takes a deep calming breath. The actor runs through a complex passage of text. The actor checks their microphone. The actor prepares.

Dedicated focus, a quiet mind and eyes on the scene, the actor waits. Backstage, the actor focuses in the wings to take their special place on the stage.

But this backstage and these wings may not look like the ones we are all familiar with in the Theatre. This backstage is a new backstage. These moments took place for our production in the “backstage” of CultureHub’s LiveLab — a digital platform where artists can live stream multiple video feeds.

My team and I at Double Eye Studios are based in NYC and we were looking forward to testing our new work in development, Pandora X, in front of a live audience at LaMama’s Downstairs Theatre. As part of CultureHub and LaMama’s Experiments in Digital Storytelling Series, we were thrilled to fill this vast space with many projection screens and interactive experiments with the audience.

Jenn Harris, Jonathan David Martin

Our team works with Virtual Reality. We have been mixing Live Theatre and Virtual Reality for years, working with Social VR worlds. In 2019 we premiered an original work, “Loveseat”, at the Venice International Film Festival. We performed simultaneously to a live audience and to a Virtual audience.

We had rehearsed “Loveseat” in the amazing CultureHub space, which had plenty of projection screens and an intelligent staff to meet all of our technical needs. Our performance in Venice has a lot of meaning due to the world crisis we are all enduring. All of the VR productions for the Venice FIlm Festival took place on an island they fondly call “VR Island.” There we built a theatre inside a medieval building that historically was known as a “quarantine station” where they built the first Venetian hospital to treat lepers and victims of the plague. Inside those storied walls we built a theater on the barren dusty floors, we gathered an audience of 50+ festival attendees, and we strived to push the XR industry. We connected our production in Venice to an even wider audience through Social VR. From this tiny island we sent up a beacon of a future reality where theater was accessible to many more outside of those medieval walls. And etched onto the walls were images, names and writings — of the people who lived their last days from the plague. Surrounded by their stories we took our place on this imaginary stage, and told a new story.

Jenn Harris, Samuel Kebede

In Venice there was no traditional backstage before the performance began. Our performers guided the audience on a tour and transitioned by taking their places when the audience had quieted their energy. A sense of readiness that can only be described as a feeling, when you are in a Theatre and in a shared space.

The way we staged this production as well as our ongoing VR Theatre productions we put all of the action and technology on full display. The VR headsets and cords tethering our actors to their powerful computers can be seen in the middle of the stage. I want to show what’s happening, all of the guts of the tech, and the messiness. I want to show the choices the actor makes as they embody their avatar. At this point and in this dual format I am not looking to hide the technology and the imperfection that comes with XR.

Venice: Jenn Harris, Samuel Kebede, Jonathan David Martin

Inside the virtual world watching the actors perform, much of the sense of the human disappears. They simply perform and appear as avatars. In the production of “Loveseat” we streamed live video of the actors performing and putting their motion tracking equipment and VR headsets on.

Jenn Harris as Abby

Now, in this Experiments in Digital Storytelling series we have been reversing this. We streamed from VR into LiveLab which then was streamed to many places like the CultureHub watch page. We began to share a glimpse of our new world with the digital audience; that of Mount Olympus. Thanks to the abilities of the LiveLab software and the CultureHub team, we created layouts so that we could show the Virtual world of Mt. Olympus while simultaneously showing our actors inside that world. For example, our VR Actor Jonathan David Martin could be seen side by side embodying his avatar and character Zeus.

After sharing the few scenes from this evolving work, our moderators took to the digital stage and welcomed the talent for the Q&A. Every time we had someone waiting to make their entrance on the LiveLab stage, they would wait in the backstage area. In this digital space, just like in the physical space, magic would occur. New writers would meet and chat with each other, exchanging thoughts on how they approached writing for VR. People would joke and laugh, while simultaneously listening for their cue. A person might grab some water, check their wardrobe, and fix their microphone; just as if they were in the real world. And as their entrance neared, awaiting their cue, everyone would quiet their mind and focus.

While this backstage might not be what we are used to (the heavy curtains, the dark lighting, the tight NYC halls organized cleverly with props and costumes stacked awaiting every quick change) — it is a potential space. And a potential space holds a potential for magic.

My team and I love the NYC theatres but we’re not going to let the rules of the world hold us back from performing. We will continue to make theatre in the digital and virtual spaces. And there is room for this audience to grow. For our VR world of Mt. Olympus we are currently building all kinds of new seating for the virtual audience. The sky is the limit. I mean this literally, because in our VR world we can fly.

We are finding our way from this new backstage onto new stages. We’re ready to emerge from the darkness. Come and join us there.




AKA Double Eye. Multi-dimensional Director crossing the mediums of virtual reality, theater and cinema.