Lego bricks of VR theater

I am currently working with a diverse group of people at NYU to create live theater in shared VR. Generally speaking, our project is inspired by Janet Murray’s seminal book Hamlet on the Holodeck, although I am starting to suspect that there may be a contradiction in that title.

Specifically, it may be that Shakespeare’s emphasis on using words to carry the dramatic action stands in direct contrast to the need in VR to carry dramatic action through spatial awareness. It is possible that these two divergent sets of priorities can be reconciled, but I do not yet see a way to do that.

One thing we have discovered, not surprisingly, is that there is no way to reason your way into knowing what works and what doesn’t work in VR theater. You need everyone to get into the space, put on their VR headsets, and try things out. Ideas that seemed perfectly plausible on paper tend to fall apart when you actually try them, and vice versa.

In a sense, we are looking for what might be called the Lego bricks of VR theater. What are the equivalents to elements of film vocabulary as establishing shots and cut on action? Or of elements in traditional theater such as blocking and sight lines?

We are starting to figure these things out, through the slow and highly iterative process of workshopping. But it’s worth it. After we have all our Lego bricks together, we will be able to use them to build a Lego castle.

But maybe not in Elsinore.

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