Thursday, December 03, 2015

Virtual Reality Shakespeare is Coming

I first heard the term "virtual reality" 30 years ago and oh mama look how far it's come.  I've got not one but two sweet looks into the future of Shakespeare performance for you, my geeks.

First is the Google Cultural Institute, who in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company brings you a 360degree Henry V experience. You're placed right there on stage and you get to look around in all dimensions, just by dragging around the screen. Don't miss the numbered buttons at the bottom that will switch your camera view!  

That's neat and all, but I'm wondering if any of you are lucky enough to have gotten your hands on Google Cardboard? A couple of years ago everybody was coming out with these thousand dollar virtual reality headsets and Google being Google said, "You know what? There's enough power in your phone to do simple VR, all we need to do is give you a way to put a screen in front of each eye." 

Thus Cardboard was born.  You put your phone in it, get a Cardboard-ready app, and you're in virtual reality baby. It's really hard to explain until you try it.  You look left, the screen follows you. Look right, it follows. Look up, look down.  There's something there, in every direction. You keep thinking "I will reach the end of the screen" but you never do.  It really takes awhile to get used to.

Still, though, my kids and I played with the obvious roller coasters and things and got bored with it after awhile, and it sat in my gadget corner collecting dust.

Then I met Vrideo.  Much like the Google experiment above they are offering 360degree videos.  Only these are immersive.

I fired up Macbeth and there I am on stage at the beginning of Act I Scene 7 (Macbeth is talking himself into killing Duncan in the "If it were done when tis done then twere well it were done quickly" speech).

It's neat, but neat in the same way Henry V is neat, above.  I'm watching.  I mean, I'm there on stage, but still.  It's not like he's looking right at me.
Then I hear, "He hath almost supp'd, why have you not left the chamber?" come from behind me.  I whip my head around to find that Lady Macbeth has entered, and I am standing right between them as they argue.  Ok, now I'm scared.

I love this stuff. I want more!  I'm not really sure that it's likely we'll ever see a full production like this, though. In both examples it's clear that these versions were not made during an actual production, but were specially created just for this purpose.  I wonder, then, how much effort it would take to show a real scene that goes beyond just one or two characters speaking? Could we see a VR scene from the inside of a battle scene? Could we see the same scene available from the point of view of one of the characters?  What if, instead of watching Macbeth deliver the speech, my view was Macbeth's point of view? The sound could still come through as if I'm doing the speaking, but now it would be up to the "user" to keep your eyes on the other characters while you're interacting. Although, I suppose, there wouldn't really be much of a penalty for not paying attention.  I'm still working on it.

Definitely check these out, if you can.  The Vrideo films are available in traditional format even if yu don't have Google Cardboard.  

This is the kind of stuff I was thinking of when I named this site Shakespeare Geek!

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