VR in Theatre? And a Belated Birthday! Kevin's Summer Abroad, Part 3

Happy Belated Birthday to our very own favorite producing artistic director and noted adventurer, Kevin! Kevin spent his birthday (yesterday) like any other person does, in the natural glow of scenic Italy, where he continues his experience at the LaMaMa artists’ retreat. Our last check-in saw movement exercises, debating the re-creation of truth on stage, and spending time under the tutelage of some seriously talented theatre minds. Check it out to read more!

But for now...What other activities has the trip had to offer? I’ll leave that to Kevin.

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I guess the lesson here is even if you don’t understand what it is you’re making, push through and make SOMETHING, and who knows what you may learn from that."

"Buon Giorno! Here’s another missive from LaMaMa Umbria.

Week two brought in two more Master teachers; only this time we got three! Paul Zimet and Ellen Maddow are two legendary downtown NY theater makers who’ve been creating groundbreaking work for over 40 years and Krzysztof Garbaczewski is a very well known Polish director who’s interested in breaking the bounds of traditional theater by using Virtual Reality. Again, two wildly divergent styles of theater and storytelling, I knew it was going to be a fascinating week!

 Kevin with Paul and Ellen

Kevin with Paul and Ellen

Paul and Ellen’s company in New York is Talking Band, which is a spin-off of the pioneering work they did with Joseph Chaikin as part of the groundbreaking Open Theater. They’ve worked with some of the great minds of the last 50 years including Joseph Campbell, Alan Ginsberg, Susan Sontag and more recently Taylor Mac. You would never know they had spent so much time in such heady company as they are two of the sweetest, most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. Their workshop had a theme: we were each to bring in an example of a border, either physical or not, that we had some experience with.  The most important element of our selection was that when the border was crossed it was a truly different place, somewhere where the rules were no longer the same. My fellow classmates selected things like the first time they did drugs, or the time they realized that the world treated women differently than men. I chose to speak about the change I experienced between active alcoholism and sobriety. These stories became the basis of the exercises we would do over the next five days which included physicalizing this story by actually going through a portal, showing the difference between one world and the next, only using one line of text from either your story or someone else’s. We ended the week by creating group projects about passing through a portal. The instructions for the project came with a long list of requirements (no longer than five minutes, must include a change of tempo, must include making the common place uncommon, text spoken in unison, unrecorded music etc.). These were SO much fun to work on! Somehow the group I worked with choice the portal of Life/Death—it included a dinner, masks, a wake and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday!

 A VR mask in use

A VR mask in use

 Krzysztof Garbaczewski

Krzysztof Garbaczewski

Krzysztof’s area of expertise is Virtual Reality and its use in theater. I will admit I balked at this proposition, but more on that later. He had VR equipment with him and it was the first time I’d ever had one of those VR masks on; I can tell you it’s quite the experience!  Incredibly vivid colors and shapes and you ‘move’ through the world as if floating, all in all very cool. He charged us with creating an analogue version of Virtual Reality. Hm. Isn’t Virtual Reality without the Virtual just…Reality? I will admit I was flummoxed by these instructions and opted to be more of a spectator to see what my fellow classmates would create. A cop out, I know…but the whole thing really made no sense to me, and it also felt like the antithesis of theater. He wanted us to create these experiences that would be for one person, and as far as I’m concerned that’s not theater, that’s gaming.  For me the beauty of theater lies in the experience an audience has going on a journey together. To make that journey for one person negates that experience. Just to be clear, I was not alone in my confusion, and the fact that this was the only exercise he wanted us to work on for five days caused some tension. A lot of tension. Like, he threatened to quit when we expressed that we’d like to work on something else. Anyway, tempers were calmed and Analogue Realities were created. My group ended up doing more of an interactive story telling than a game. We based it on the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree, and in the end it was pretty successful.  I guess the lesson here is even if you don’t understand what it is you’re making, push through and make SOMETHING, and who knows what you may learn from that."

 https://thetheatretimes.com/virtual-reality-in-polish-theatre/

https://thetheatretimes.com/virtual-reality-in-polish-theatre/

Kevin also included a link in his email to an article about VR in Polish theatre. Click on the photo below to read more. This sounds like something I’d absolutely love to write a separate blog on. What are your thoughts on it? Do you think theatre and VR are media that can (or should) be successfully integrated? And, as per the other exercise -- what "borders", physical or not, have you come into contact with?

Check back soon for Kevin’s insight to the food at LaMaMa. After all, what’s international travel without trying some new cuisine? And happy birthday again, Kevin. Hope the day was virtually perfect!

 - Lucas