In a bid to engage new audiences, theatres are turning to virtual reality (VR) technology. The immersive experience provided by VR headsets allows viewers to feel as though they are part of the performance, bringing the characters and stories to life in a way that traditional theatre cannot always achieve.
A Memorable Experience with Smile
Roberta Doyle shares her unnerving experience at Dundee Repertory Theatre while watching the play Smile. Instead of a conventional performance, she was offered the chance to try out a VR headset before the show began. Little did she know that this would completely change her perspective on live theatre.
Through Box Office VR, founded by Kelman and Gemma Greig-Kicks, Roberta found herself transported into the world of legendary football manager Jim McLean. In an intense scene set in the dressing room at halftime, she experienced firsthand what it felt like to receive a passionate rant from McLean himself. Despite feeling uncomfortable during this immersive encounter, Roberta admits that it added depth and realism to her theater-going experience.
Extending Theater’s Reach with VR Technology
Kelman and Gemma Greig-Kicks have backgrounds in film-making and touring theater. Their goal is simple: they want to use VR technology to make theater more accessible and appealing to untapped audiences. While their service requires users to purchase their own affordable headsets like Google Cardboard VR Glasses, Box Office VR aims for inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
To watch a show using Box Office VR, customers insert their phones into the device which then streams recorded performances directly onto their screens via an app. Once inside the virtual theater space created by these cardboard goggles, viewers can enjoy a 180-degree view of both stage and auditorium – all from the comfort of their own homes.
This innovative approach opens up opportunities for those who may not have considered attending a live theater performance due to various limitations. Although the current audience for Box Office VR remains relatively small, with only around 100 downloads of shows thus far, Gemma Greig-Kicks believes that the potential is significant.
Expanding Theater Boundaries
Box Office VR has collaborated with renowned institutions such as Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in London and York Theatre Royal to film productions exclusively for their virtual platforms. By doing so, they offer audiences a chance to experience these shows remotely through VR headsets.
While this use of virtual reality may not make a substantial impact on the multi-billion-dollar investments made by tech giants like Meta and Apple in the VR industry, it does provide much-needed exposure and additional revenue streams for cash-strapped regional theaters.
A Tool for Education: Introducing Schoolchildren to Theater
Lisa Kilbride, drama teacher at Monifieth High School in Dundee, recognizes the value of using Box Office VR as an educational tool. With many students having long commutes from rural areas, attending evening performances becomes challenging. However, incorporating virtual reality into her teaching allows her pupils – studying Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams – to explore different aspects of theater beyond acting alone.
Excitement sparked among Ms. Kilbride’s 12- and 13-year-old SQA students when she introduced them to VR headsets. The simple goggles provided a gateway into an entirely new theatrical experience that none of them wanted to miss out on.
For Ms. Kilbride, these headsets serve as valuable additions to her teaching toolkit; they enable her students to gain insights into lighting techniques, sound design elements, and set construction within immersive environments created by recorded performances.
Moreover, using Box Office VR aligns perfectly with Lisa Kilbride’s mission: introducing young minds to theater while fostering excitement about experiencing live performances firsthand. If even one child expresses interest in attending a live theater production after using the VR headset, she considers it a success.
Unveiling New Perspectives
The beauty of virtual reality lies not only in its ability to transport viewers into captivating narratives but also in its capacity to offer glimpses into the world surrounding the stage. Ms. Kilbride recognized this potential and encouraged her students to explore their virtual surroundings, including aspects of the Dundee Repertory Theatre they had never seen before.
By tilting their heads up and around while wearing the headsets, these young theater enthusiasts were able to observe intricate details of an auditorium that would otherwise remain foreign territory. This newfound familiarity with theatrical spaces added another layer of appreciation for what goes on behind-the-scenes during live performances.
A Personal Connection: VR’s Emotional Impact
Liam Sinclair, business manager at Dundee Repertory Theatre, acknowledges how early encounters with theater can shape one’s career path. He attributes his own passion for theater to a brilliant drama teacher who sparked his curiosity about the inner workings of this art form.
Sinclair recalls Smile attracting new audiences who were avid football fans as well as supporters of Dundee United – Jim McLean’s team. The impact made by Box Office VR extended even further when members of McLean’s family attended a press night showcasing VR excerpts from Smile. Watching these scenes through VR goggles evoked strong emotions among them; it felt as though Jim himself was present in the room once again.
This personal connection exemplifies how virtual reality can evoke deeper emotional responses compared to traditional stage performances. While communal experiences are integral to live theater, there is something uniquely intimate about engaging with stories through a personalized lens provided by VR technology.
Virtual reality has opened up exciting possibilities for theaters seeking innovative ways to engage audiences and expand their reach beyond physical venues’ limitations. By embracing this technology, theaters like Dundee Repertory aim to attract new spectators who might have previously overlooked live performances.
Box Office VR, founded by Kelman and Gemma Greig-Kicks, has become a pioneer in this field. Their commitment to making theater accessible through affordable VR headsets demonstrates their passion for the art form’s inclusivity. While virtual reality may not rival the massive investments made by technology giants, its impact on regional theaters cannot be underestimated as it provides exposure and additional revenue streams.
Moreover, the educational potential of VR is significant. Teachers like Lisa Kilbride are utilizing Box Office VR to nurture students’ interest in theater while offering them immersive experiences that transcend traditional classroom boundaries.
As virtual reality continues to evolve, it will undoubtedly play an increasingly vital role in shaping how audiences engage with theatrical productions – both now and in the future.
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