Cyrielle Garson: “Reinventing VR during the Covid-19 Crisis: A Preliminary View of its Potential for the Theatre Sector”

Arguably, for an industry that is still reeling from the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, as well as the impact longer-term they will have on performance-making, theatre attendance and tickets sales, the ability to offer an immersive theatre experience in perceived safer environments could be decisive.

For one thing, the recent crisis has significantly highlighted the lack of digital contingency plans, and the growing need for immersive audio and visual technology like Virtual Reality (VR), which has the capacity to give the spectator the experience of being in that front row seat with the complete agency to watch the performance where, when, and how they wish. Indeed, 360° video contents in particular bring with them a range of new and innovative possibilities for the performing arts. Not only do they constitute a means to share creative content across borders and boundaries, they also enable new types of audience engagement, which this paper will especially seek to address through recent Anglophone examples.   In the face of media hype, however, it may also be useful to consider the reasons why VR audiences are still a relative minority in 2021 and look closely at VR’s current problems and technical execution including its various Head-Mounted Displays (HMD) and what LIVR – the world’s first virtual reality theatre content platform – is now able to achieve thanks to innovations in the field. In other words, will VR, as Shane Pike and others have argued, take “artists and makers to the next stage of human creativity” (Pike 2020, 120), or will the much-vaunted VR revolution never come?¹

¹ Shane Pike “Virtually Relevant: AR/VR and the Theatre.” Fusion, vol.17, 2020, pp. 120-128.

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