In the age of Netflix binging, live streaming Instagram stories, and arena scale virtual reality gaming, how can theater compete with such engrossing technologies? Consumers seem to expect an extra level of engagement when it comes to entertainment. People no longer look for a simple place to go or movie to watch, they want a lasting “experience”.
What is special about these immersive technologies? They give the user a personal and intimate experience, one that seems catered to them. I’ve recently gone to the performance Sleep No More and was caught by surprise when, as a handful of us entered the set through an elevator, the elevator-conductor and actor stopped at a random floor and pushed a single audience member out onto that floor, and closed the elevator door. That single person got a very unique experience, different than my own or anyone else’s.
So what is immersive theater and what can it be? What if the performing artists created some sort of relationship with the audience, pushing the boundaries of contemporary theater allowing the audience to become a character in the piece itself? Or what if the audience could leave a note for an actor during a virtual interaction before the play even starts, that somehow alters the path of that actor’s character? What if during intermission audience members were invited to discover mysteries on the set through augmented reality?
The Immersive Theater project, housed in the VR club at University of California Berkeley, will play around with all of these ideas in the upcoming months. This project is a creative collaboration with the Theater 166 class, lead by the internationally acclaimed director Stan Lai, and scenic and costume designer Sandra Woodall. The play and the immersive component will be organically designed and created through improvisation and experimentation throughout this Spring 2019 semester.
Let’s see what cool things we come up with, perform and exhibit in April!