A Meditation on Theatre and Virtual Reality

At the end of October I was involved with a project at SomoS Art Gallery in Berlin. If you haven’t heard of them, check them out here.

I was working with artist and VR filmmaker Michel Reilhac to present his award-winning 2015 film Viens! as an installation; although the film had premiered at Sundance and had also played at Cannes, this was the first time it could be experienced as part of an art gallery, fulfilling one of Michel’s visions by blurring the line between the virtual and the real.

Read more about Michel and his work here. Read more about my involvement in the project here.

Throughout the process, I had many opportunities to speak with Michel about his thoughts on the growing medium of Virtual Reality as an art form, especially as compared to film and theatre.

In theatre and film alike—though more notably in film—we are presented with a frame, a window through which viewers project themselves until they find themselves caught in the reality of the piece. No longer am I aware of my seat or the people sitting next to me; rather I imagine myself in the universe of the characters before me. This imaginative leap and the eventual return to my own circumstance awakens my empathetic centers by offering me a new perspective. It makes catharsis possible.

Virtual Reality, by contrast, removes the frame. As soon as I put on the headset, I am enveloped in the world of the piece, surrounded by its characters. I am forced to let go of my known reality as my senses continue to feed me information from the artificial world, heralding it as real.

But, of course, it isn’t real. And I know it isn’t real. Even after donning the gear and immersing myself in an artificial world, I retain some consciousness of my external reality. Some part of me hangs back, waiting for me to reconnect with my senses. And therein lies the beauty of Michel’s installation. Removing the headset, I rejoin my known reality and yet remain in the installation, which mirrors the artistic (read: artificial) space created by the film.