A Theatre Director, Virtual Reality and a leap into the unknown.
A year ago I headed back to the gym as many of us do at the start of a new year. However, this year was to be different. I decided to offer myself up to both a physical and mental challenge, so in addition to weights I added in podcasts ... no funky workout music for me ... it was time to enhance my brain as well as my body. As it so happened every fourth podcast or so brought up VR in some fashion and my reaction to these perky conversations about this new technology grew from minor irritation to an all over discomfort. This inevitably resulted in this phrase being repeated in my head whenever the subject would arise: " I HATE VR!" Over the weeks, as these interviews continually veered into VR territory I'd find myself railing rather loudly (in my head) about how this was isolationist technology and how it was presaging the end of community and interpersonal interaction, blah, blah, blah. The gym was supposed to be helping me get calm, into the zone and more connected to me... this VR stuff was throwing a serious wrench into my efforts. Funny thing was, tuning out of these podcasts was somehow counter-intuitive for me. Part of me knew that these clever, well respected people must know something that I didn't. Eventually, I sat myself down for a stern talking to. I decided that I was perfectly entitled to my negative, aggressive and technophobic response provided I did some research so I could back up my opinion... going on a gut feeling was not an option. So off to Amazon I headed and research began in earnest.
It's a funny thing when you open yourself up to information - your hard and fast feelings about something can change rather swiftly. My vitriolic reactions to VR began to soften after discovering Sky Nite's guide to VR titled: Virtual Reality Insider: Guidebook for the VR Industry. I wanted a quick overview of the VR landscape, as admittedly both me and my opinions were woefully ignorant of concrete facts, and this book provided some basic but necessary info. During the course of this quick tour of VR I uncovered the surprising fact that theatre makers are well disposed to working in virtual reality; we use space and proxemics to tell stories and these skills are wholly transferable to VR environments. I also came to learn that telling stories in VR is a new an exciting playing field; directing narrative VR is a profound new way to connect audiences and stories.
You can only imagine how humbling these discoveries were after more than six weeks of convincing myself that this technology was the bane of man's existence. Looking back on it now I have to wonder if my anger was really just fear - that I innately knew that if I delved further into VR I'd have to step up and move into a completely foreign land and participate. I'm the guy who said goodbye social media in 2017... how could I now be the champion of VR and start working with it? Life is, I'm quickly discovering, about embracing contradiction.
So fast forward a year and as 2018 dawns I'm set to embark on two Arts Council England (ACE) funded narrative VR projects. The first will be the creation of a CGI VR drama and will see me take massive strides into uncharted waters with the help of the folks at Breaking Fourth Ltd. The second project is R&D that will develop a prototype for a narrative VR experience using Shakespeare as our jumping off point. Another leap into the unknown guided this time by Henry Stuart and the team at Visualise. Safer hands I could not be in on both fronts.
And so today I start my weekly record of these journeys. With a year's worth of research under my belt, and more questions than I have answers, I plan on offering up my thoughts as I learn by doing. I'm adding my voice to the conversations about narrative VR... Let the games begin!